Plenty of shear, moisture, CAPE, and lift…sure doesn’t sound like August in Virginia but Monday August 7th proved to be an anomaly. An East Coast trough coupled with some potent shortwaves and a vigorous surface front led to a compelling desire to chase. The best parameters were well east of my normal territory as exhibited in the SPC Day 1 outlook but they weren’t ballistic enough to tempt me to head out that far:
The most worrisome factor was a persistent overcast left over from morning rainfall which limited the available sunshine and thus instability. However old Sol peeked through the clouds enough to boost CAPE values over 1000 j/kg east of the Blue Ridge so I headed down the driveway just before 2:30 pm. Given a wide variation in short term model solutions (both between models and run-to-run) I chose to head toward Gretna on the US Route 29 corridor to split the difference between a northern and a southern target.
Another factor that didn’t help was that the NWS Blacksburg radar – KFCX – was down (and will be down most of the month). I used a plethora of other sites to keep checking for over-the-horizon convection but obviously details were fuzzy at the edges of the coverage areas. I paused along VA Route 40 a couple of times as I motored eastward and noted the relatively vigorous southwest surface winds. Low level shear was very obvious…again, rather unusual for August.
Finally reaching Gretna around 4 pm I ambled around the area a bit while awaiting the action. I did note an impressive updraft to the north associated with a cell over Buckingham county that appeared to be near or along the surface cold front. After twiddling my thumbs for a while I decided the southern stuff wasn’t going to happen early enough so about 5 pm I pointed the chasemobile north toward the cold front.
Rolling north on Rte 29 I diverted east on VA Route 24 through Rustburg to the US Route 460 corridor east of Lynchburg. I kept heading north across 460 via rural roads and found an open vantage point near the hamlet of Stonewall where I could see the base of a cell near Amherst:
I switched on the live stream and began snapping photos as I watched scud gather and coalesce under the base:
When the rain approached (never heard thunder from this storm) I pushed east along a rural route to another spot where I paused for the six o’clock TV news to use the stream. This feature got rather close:I was almost convinced this was just another typical late summer shelf cloud except that I never felt outflow. As I faced this feature surface winds were quartering from behind me toward the right (eastern) edge of this cell. At the same time this was the best radar velocity view I could obtain:
The radar view of the storm structure didn’t look like a shelf cloud producer and my suspicion that this was actually a wall cloud grew as I continued east and then south to avoid the precipitation. Traveling south back to Rte 460 I used the highway speed to scoot east a bit and found a vantage point from where I had this view of the feature:
To my chaser-trained eyes this was a wall cloud at this point, although I hedged my bets when I sent out a photo on social media stating that it “looks like a massive wall cloud”.
As this storm steamed almost due east I decided to get ahead of it via Rte 460. I wound up going all the way to US Route 15 near Farmville where I turned north. Jumping on a rural route as I neared the leading edge I wound up with this view of an obvious shelf cloud at this point:
I bade farewell to this storm just after this and rolled into Farmville for a late dinner break. By the time I pointed the chasemobile westward on Rte 460 several line segments had developed with areas of heavy rain along my path homeward. During one such downpour just west of Concord (intersection of VA Rte 24 and US Rte 460) I had slowed to ~45 mph due to poor visibility plus water ponding on the road. About 100 feet ahead of me I suddenly noticed headlights wildly gyrating before coming to a quick stop.
An older model SUV laden with all manner of tools and equipment had spun out, making a couple of 360 degrees spins before rolling on its side at least once while spewing construction material all over the roadway. To make a long story short the driver was immediately treated by an ambulance crew that fortuitously arrived on the scene just after I did. I got completely drenched during the ongoing downpour and grew a bit concerned about the lightning that began to flash around the scene as local emergency crews arrived and took charge. Once law enforcement arrived and spoke with a couple of us witnesses I finally continued homeward in my wringing wet clothes.
It was a rather eventful day!