I had a really tough self debate on which chase account to post for the final day of “Sixteen Years of Virginia Storm Chasing”. I almost chose May 27th, a very cool chase which was also the sole 2017 chase with my son. But in the end I couldn’t leave out the July 5th 2017 chase that resulted in the best view of a Virginia supercell I’ve ever seen.
“A backdoor/wedge front sagging south through Virginia plus an upper level ‘wrinkle’ approaching from the west were the two factors in the July 5th chase decision. The Storm Prediction Center had the southern third of the state under a Marginal Risk with mostly a threat for damaging wind from wet downbursts.
After perusing short term model solutions I decided to pick up my chase partner at 1 pm and head east to the U.S. Route 29 corridor. The models had storms firing by mid-afternoon along the backdoor front just east of Rte 29 with another convective round due from the upper level support after 6 pm further southwest. As we rolled east the low clouds cleared and sunshine began destabilizing the very juicy airmass over the Piedmont. Shear values weren’t very impressive at the beginning but promised to increase as the front crawled south and west.
We sauntered to Gretna, sat for a while, and then moseyed south to the Blairs truck stop while keeping an eye on both the sky and radar. Storms did fire along the front but the radar depiction was of a globby unchaseable mess (been-there-done-that too many times). Moreover the action was a bit further east than I’d anticipated and I was concerned if we went after them we’d be woefully out of position to catch the later convective round.
So we sat…and waited…and sat some more. Finally giving up on the eastern activity we motored south to Danville and turned west on U.S. Route 58 to await the upper air disturbance that was to fire the later storms. At Martinsville we continued west on Rte 58 and stopped at the Blue Ridge airport to wait a while longer. From there we had this view to the west:
Tiring of this magnificent view (we wanted storms!) we backtracked to Rte 58 and drove west through the municipalities of Patrick Springs and Stuart VA just to say we did. After a U-turn literally at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains we rolled back east to a convenience store that we knew from previous experience had some palatable eats for dinner.
With our repast in hand we trundled outdoors to a shaded picnic table to partake of our feast. Naturally just as we sat down we heard the first peal of thunder. This was the radar view a few minutes later (Six o’clock magic works in Virginia too!):
The second wave had arrived! Since this cell with its interesting radar-indicated rear flank appendage was moving rather slowly we finished our dinner and then pushed back west to an open field where storm #1 was in full view:
It was visually rotating – note the striations – and the lowering on the leading edge was likely a wall cloud that didn’t last long. We watched from here for a bit before diving back east and parking alongside Rte 58 for this awesome sight, absolutely the best view of a tilted Virginia supercell updraft I’ve ever seen:
This full-fledged supercell complete with mesocylone and tilted updraft spun for quite a while as we watched it majestically drift eastward. It exhibited a definite inflow tail along with occasional lowerings, none of which lasted long.
Meanwhile a line of more discrete storms had formed across the mountains and were marching eastward. Reluctant to leave the open vistas showing storm #1 we finally capitulated and pushed back west to check out the new activity. Storm #2 was approaching from the southwest with a wall cloud growing under its western edge:
Meanwhile storm #3 was moving in from the northwest with additional interesting features so we pivoted the chasemobile from southwest to northwest to catch this view:
For a better glimpse of storm #3 we again moved back east to our previous vantage point to watch this cell. As it crossed the mountains a large shelf cloud pushed out ahead of it:
Even while we observed this I had the itch to head back west to recheck storm #2. We couldn’t see it from this vantage point and it was booming out almost continuous peals of thunder. My recollection of the nascent wall cloud we’d seen kept eating at me so we moved back west (again!). We were thus rewarded with a clear view of a much bigger (and obviously rotating) wall cloud as this storm literally headed directly toward us:
As storm #2 with its wall cloud neared our location storm #3’s shelf cloud – backlit by the evening sun – approached us from the west. It was about this time I realized we were sitting under the spot where these two storms were going to collide:
As these two convective complexes neared each other the outflow from storm #3 interacted with storm #2. The latter’s wall cloud then morphed into a shelf cloud as we watched. Some interesting greenage was evident right in front of us:
After my chase partner reminded me (hey, I was very busy looking at other things!) I checked the radar’s VIL output on storm #2 and became a bit apprehensive about being blasted by hail. I almost decided to scoot west on Rte 58 to avoid it but voted to stay put. Fortunately the heaviest core passed by just to our east and also weakened as it neared.
As the two systems collided overhead we were treated to a tremendous display of numerous nearby CG strikes as we huddled inside the chasemobile with windows rolled up, not touching anything metal.
Surprisingly enough the rain wasn’t that heavy at our location and we completely avoided any hail that may have resulted from this merger. We let the action move off to the east a bit before calling it a day and rolling back toward home with an ultimately very successful chase under our belts.”