Here’s the second installment for “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing”. This one is from the March 29th 2003 chase:
“The forecast for March 29 contained a strong signal for severe weather with a significant probability of tornadoes for northern Virginia. As a cold front approached from the northwest my son and I deployed just after lunchtime to intercept cells east of the Blue Ridge mountains. Soon after arriving at our initial target in rural Culpeper county we observed convection firing both east and west of us, leading to the ubiquitous chasers’ debate: which storms to target? We first chose the eastern activity – likely along a lee trough – and then promptly waffled as we suddenly noticed very vigorous convection boiling up to the west. Reversing course we sped west to Sperryville and then wove our way back east amid growing storm bases, dodging the first cloud-to-ground lightning of the year. Stopping just south of the town of Culpeper we experienced a pronounced windshift and temperature drop and realized we were actually under the cold front itself.
We scrambled south on U.S. Route 522 and then east on Virginia Route 20 to Locust Grove to get back ahead of the boundary. We made a brief fuel stop at the Wilderness intersection while keeping a wary eye on the intensifying action. Pulling out from the gas station literally yards ahead of a heavy rain shaft we fled eastward on Virginia Route 3. When the radio blared a tornado warning for Spotsylvania county we left the busy highway and ducked into a subdivision for a closer look at the southern part of the line. While there we both glanced northward and to our astonishment spied what appeared to be a thick funnel snaking down from the cloud base just ahead of the precipitation shaft.
Whipping out my cell phone and trying to simultaneously dial, watch the feature, and snap photographs I finally connected with the National Weather Service and learned that our report provided instant ground truth for a new tornado warning they had just issued to our north.
Determined to keep abreast of the rapidly developing action we dove back into the chasemobile and maneuvered our way eastward around Fredericksburg via back roads. As my son struggled with the typical afternoon traffic congestion I briefly glimpsed a substantial wall cloud to our north.
This feature was tantalizingly close but we lost sight of it due to tree lines and terrain as we scrambled northward through the traffic.
We eventually wended our way to the southern bank of the Potomac River in rural Stafford county where we had to wave goodbye to the storm for lack of an amphibious chasemobile.
After suffering through months of dreary winter weather our storm chasing ardor had been thoroughly rekindled. We were ready for the rest of the 2003 chase season now!”