Day 6 of “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing”: The 2007 chase season proved to be almost as frustrating as 2005 had been. The “almost” part comes from having seen a few decent storms but without many interesting views or photos. After poring through my chase accounts I decided this August 16th 2007 chase was one of the more interesting.
“Given the three H’s (heat, haze, and humidity) of a typical Virginia dog day afternoon I really didn’t feel much like chasing when conditions ripened on August 16th. I’d had a very draining week at work and was not in the mood to hop behind the wheel and engage the trying summer afternoon traffic conditions. However when supercells come calling in Virginia I usually take notice and that’s exactly what the forecast indicated. One Storm Prediction Center parameter worth noting is the “supercell composite”, which – as its name indicates – is a collection of several environmental quantities that together provide a numerical indication of supercell potential. A composite value of one is decent for Virginia and that afternoon the index value was a mind-numbing twelve for the area that several growing storms were entering!
Faced with such potential for convective mayhem I couldn’t resist the temptation to troll for storms so I called my son and found that he had been in bed sick all day. After I relayed to him the existing supercell composite value he quickly healed enough to leap out of bed and chase with me. We elbowed our way through rush hour traffic southwestward into rural Orange county to get ahead of a now-exploding complex. We had dallied too long and our initial intercept location was nixed when the strongest cell made an abrupt right turn (a characteristic of supercells) and accelerated. This resulted in the storm being south of us and steaming rapidly toward the southeast. We were thus in a tail chase of a monster with cloud tops over 50,000 feet. Moreover we were hearing a steady stream of spotter reports of 70+ mph winds and two-inch hail just a handful of miles from us.
We managed to parallel the northern edge of the storm by streaking southeastward via U.S. Route 522 into the town of Mineral where we stopped briefly to inspect a lowering that may have been a dissipating wall cloud.
We had two options at this point: continue paralleling the beast on its northern side or dive through the core to reach the southern edge where the main action was. Since I don’t willingly core punch cells containing 70 mph winds and large hail amid limited visibility on narrow country roads I chose the first option. Barreling down Rte 522 we diverted onto US. Route 33 and found this vantage point in the small ‘burg of Montpelier:
We huddled under a convenient metal car shelter in a hardware store parking lot when the storm struck with heavy rain and vivid lightning. We emailed in a situation report to a Richmond TV meteorologist regarding the fury of the storm several miles to our south and he confirmed our observations, noting that large hail was falling not far from us.
With the approach of nightfall and with the storm engulfing metropolitan Richmond we pulled off the chase and grabbed a quick dinner before trudging home, still tired (and sick in my son’s case) but gratified we had made the effort.”