Introduction: On the bitterly cold Valentine’s / Presidents’ Day weekend of Feb 2016 I finally decided to write up my 2015 Virginia storm chasing results. This discourse is the result, written partly as a sop to winter-induced cabin fever and partly as a desire to preserve the memories. Rather than repeat the format of previous writeups I have delineated each paragraph by date.
March 26th: A cold air damming (CAD) wedge supposedly eroding ahead of an approaching cold front sounds like a questionable chase setup but I bit on it anyway. It was late March and I had a desperate need to get back on the chase trail. The successful part of the jaunt was in checking out this year’s chase gear, including a live stream demo for the 5 pm broadcast of the local TV station from a static position near Wirtz VA off Rte 220. What wasn’t so successful was seeing anything worthwhile.
April 3rd: After several days of promising model results the morning HRRR runs showed a decent potential for storms east of the Blue Ridge. Even the SPC got into the act, upgrading their Day 1 outlook from a “Marginal” to a “Slight Risk”. Unfortunately we were all wrong and nothing severe occurred even tho’ I wandered over much of Bedford county while waiting for the action. The SPC reports for this day show a big blank over the entire Old Dominion.
April 8th: A false hope on 4/7 gave way to some real potential on the 8th. An MCS barged across the Appalachians firing some cells ahead of it and I caught the only severe storm of the bunch. I wandered about Bedford and Franklin counties for a while until things took shape. Stopping just west of the intersection of Rte 122 with Joppa Mill Rd in Bedford county I live streamed for the local TV station while watching this approach:
The storm was warned for large hail and contained visible greenage so I grew a bit nervous as I waited for the TV broadcast to finish. I did manage to get back ahead of it but was cut off by heavy rain from a path eastward to the Rte 29 corridor. Thus I stopped at a spot where I was relatively certain I wouldn’t be pounded by hail and conducted a static core punch before heading home. I was no longer 0 for April!!
April 10th: Joining forces with some VT students out chasing this day I started near Blairs VA on Rte 29 waiting on another CAD wedge to break. When it did we were rewarded with a couple of storms that formed in North Carolina and steamed northeastward toward us. Following a short diversion southward to check out one cell we pushed back north to chase a more dominant storm. Unfortunately the forward speed of this storm plus its propensity to develop on its northward edge made it almost impossible to keep up with. Here’s one photo of the rain free base before it got away from us:
We followed this complex quite a ways east into Charlotte county but finally gave up on it even tho’ it exhibited some interesting interaction with what was quite possibly a warm front. Pushing north to the Rte 460 corridor we turned west to meet the oncoming cold front near Farmville. After observing a line segment pass by I parted ways with the Hokies and headed home, witnessing a fantastic sunset over the Peaks of Otter:
April 20th: A very encouraging forecast made for some excitement this day. The SPC issued an “Enhanced Risk” for much of Virginia and had favorable things to say about rotating storms, etc. I first took up position in eastern Franklin county along Rte 40, expecting updrafts to start punching upward in this vicinity by early afternoon. When that didn’t happen I started questioning the setup and wound up diving south and east to catch a supercell that had split in North Carolina. The left hand split was reachable just south of Blairs Va off Rte 29 so I diverted there to check out the wall cloud underneath it:
Despite the fact I was in good position to chase this cell I expected it to fade quickly as most left hand splits do. Thus I pulled off this storm and rapidly headed south and east to intercept the right hand split, which was now tornado-warned. Unfortunately this cell – as per most intensifying right hand splits – had turned right and was now steaming almost due east, still in North Carolina.
Being woefully out of position I used the highway speeds on Rte 58 east of Danville to get ahead of it before diving south across the state line. As I watched it alongside a North Carolina rural route some Hokie Stormchasers passed by me and I met up with them at my next stop, where we had this view:
We followed this cell into and thru Roxboro NC where I stopped for a quick live stream and chat with the TV station. That pause kept me out of position on this storm so when I reached Rte 58 in Virginia again I turned west toward Danville only to stop near Turbeville to watch yet another cell split while I watched it cross over plowed fields:
I backtracked toward South Boston in an attempt to keep up with the new right hand split but gave up the chase since (a) the storm was really whistling along to the northeast and (b) I really needed a potty and dinner stop!
April 22nd: This day’s chase was undertaken in very marginal conditions and I knew it…I just couldn’t resist. I started in Bedford county along Rte 122 and gave up after 45 minutes yielded only a little convection that went up briefly along an old outflow boundary. Heading back into the Roanoke valley I watched a couple more cells behind a cold front but neither one contained any lightning. What had tempted me to head out? Cold air aloft – meaning steep lapse rates – and insane shear values.
April 30th: Another cold pool generated under an upper level low tempted me to head out again this day, albeit with little or no CAPE or shear to contend with. My expectations were of storms with small hail and some structure and that’s pretty much what I witnessed. I wound my way to a point east of Danville and just south of Rte 58 where I watched and live streamed a cell to my south. When that convection passed my longitude I pulled up stakes and headed west to check out some activity near the North Carolina visitor center just off Rte 29.
However convection showed up via radar to my north so I sped in that direction, stopping off Rte 29 between Chatham and Gretna to watch a “Tail-End Charlie” storm west of me. The cell just to its north had broad rotation showing on velocity scans but this last cell along a line offered the best view of a wall cloud that day:
I live streamed this action for the end of the 5:00 news broadcast and the beginning of the six o’clock news before pulling away from this storm. I’d planned dinner in Rocky Mount but diverted to observe yet another storm north of Rte 40 under which I saw a hail shaft. It had some indicated rotation on it but not enough to tempt me to follow it further.
May 11th: The near approach of remnants from Tropical Storm Ana plus an approaching cold front resulted in a two phased chase on this Monday. I first drove south along Rte 220 to a south of Martinsville VA to intercept some cells that went up along the Blue Ridge mountains. I did observe some convection there but as it faded I moved further east along Rte 58. Finding a quiet open hilltop north of the highway off a county road I live-streamed a view of a weak-looking wall cloud that was picked up during the local TV station’s five pm broadcast. However this cell dissipated and I was a bit dismayed at the bright blue skies to my east thanks to subsidence behind the departing tropical remnants.
Looking northward I could see an anvil from a storm more than 90 miles to my northwest over the Shenandoah valley. Thinking this might represent the leading edge of convection from the approaching cold front I decided to pull up stakes and motor northward. Grabbing a quick dinner in Gretna I continued north on Rte 29 toward the Lynchburg vicinity to intercept a cell that was crossing the mountains near there. Sure enough this storm became severe-warned so I diverted east at Yellow Branch, thinking I would head northeast to Rte 460 near Appomattox. The storm had other ideas and turned right to a southerly direction.
Thus I stopped on an access road off Rte 24 a couple miles west of Rustburg to watch and wait. Surface winds were at my back as I faced the storm, a sure sign that it was inflow dominant and worth watching. The radar also showed a velocity couplet on its southern edge that was moving directly toward me so I stayed put:
As I watched the slowly moving storm cycled several times, with each cycle resulting in some form of wall cloud. This was the overall view of the storm with the main updraft and anvil behind this rain-free base and wall cloud:
Inflow bands also developed east of the storm during at least one cycle, and I saw what looked like a hail shaft at one point as well. When sunset neared I headed back home, driving under another cell with heavy rain and frequent lightning that eventually became severe-warned after dark.