Having missed a tornado-warned storm on Wednesday (5/10) evening I realized I’d underestimated the severe potential this week. A warm/wedge front wavering across Virginia and some decent upper level dynamics combined to make Thursday the 11th look like a chase day. Sure enough here was the SPC Day 1 outlook:
After poring over models Thursday morning and chatting with the local TV chief met I rolled down the driveway just after 2 pm to pick up my chase partner and head east across the Blue Ridge. The goal was to stay south of the front and catch a discrete storm that could fire and interact with the shear zone along the boundary.
We were in place in Gretna before 4 pm to observe the sky and watch radar. When a couple of cells went up west of Martinsville we conducted a rolling reconnaissance south to the Tightsqueeze area along US Route 29. One of the cells actually split:
However both the left- and right-splits soon dissipated so we retreated back northward to Gretna to watch and wait a while longer. While there we noticed a line of weak convection to our east and suspected it was the eastern edge of the warm/wedge front. Turns out we were correct.
Finally a small complex of radar returns showed up to the north, gradually sliding south and east. After a brief stop at a local fast food joint to grab a to-go dinner we moved east several miles on VA Route 40 to this vantage point looking north:
Noticing the smoothed appearance of the base and the generally murky look to the convection I checked local observations and concluded that, yes indeed, this cell was along the front itself. So when the rain approached we dropped south to stay in the warm sector and keep an eye on this action.
Unfortunately the trajectory of the storm prevented us from using Route 40 to move east and stay ahead of it so we had to use rural roads to keep up. That resulted in a scramble through the wilds of Pittsylvania and Halifax counties that was only possible because I could act as radar operator and navigator while my partner drove. (This would have been impossible on a solo chase.) The drawback to this was the roads we took had ZERO open vantage points from which we could watch the storm. Meanwhile here are a couple of radar velocity views as we struggled to get more than a brief glimpse of a lowering under the base:
Finally reaching US Route 501 we dropped south and then pushed further east along more rural roads with equally dismal viewing prospects.
We wound up getting a lot closer to the mesocyclone amid heavy rain than I’d wanted simply due to the woeful road system and lack of visibility,. We stopped completely at one point because I was concerned about getting too close to the robust hail core and because if there was a ground circulation we couldn’t have seen it. This was an example of the murky view we had after letting the storm move away a bit. The rain shaft was less than a mile ahead of us at this location. (This was a rare open vantage point we found in eastern Halifax county.)
We continued south to VA Route 360 and stopped at the intersection with US Route 360 (yes, it’s confusing) to figure out what to do. Given the yucky visibility at the rear of this rain-wrapped cell and knowing we couldn’t get south of it using the available roads we pulled off it to check on convection firing further west. Thus we dropped down to US Route 58 and rolled westward toward Danville.
However by this point the warm/wedge front boundary had sagged almost to the NC/VA state line. The convection we had been watching via radar now exhibited a huge hail core that straddled Rte 58 west of Danville so we took the sane route and motored north on Rte 29 toward Chatham. From this point all we experienced was heavy rain north of the front so we bagged it and drove toward home.
Overall it was an okay chase. We did get on the “storm of the day” and successfully followed it across two counties. However the overall lack of visibility reinforced my negative feelings about chasing in and around warm fronts. But sometimes you gotta take what you can get!