After perusing models for several days it became obvious that a chase was in order for the last day of March 2017. A low pressure center interacting with a cold air damming wedge east of the mountains provided a forecasting challenge worthy of a Google Hangout with Andrew Smith from Richmond (this may become a regular thing before chasing setups). We postulated that the models couldn’t be trusted to handle the wedge scouring and that the storms that did form would turn out to be hailers. Both of these hypotheses were correct.
SPC upped the severe risk level to Slight for the Day 1 outlook across the Piedmont and Tidewater of Virginia:
Upon reviewing the short term models (and taking their wedge handling with a grain of salt) I decided to target the Rte 29 corridor at Gretna. Early in the target area forecast process I thought the Rte 460 corridor would be my initial target but I was wary of being too far north. Turns out I was right to be wary.
I picked up my chase partner at 12:15 and we motored south on Rte 220 and east along VA Route 40 from Rocky Mount. While he drove I checked surface observations and observed the sky before coming to the conclusion that the wedge boundary was well south of where the models had predicted it to be (imagine that). Thus after a quick lunch stop in Gretna we turned south and stopped near Tightsqueeze to watch a line of storms approach from the west. The “Tail End Charlie” cell north of us went severe warned and we chose to chase that one.
To do so we reversed course and quickly rolled along rural roads north and eastward just ahead of the oncoming line. Reaching Rte 40 east of Gretna literally as rain began we fled east to get ahead of the action. We dove south on the Cody Road and barely managed to avoid a hail core by jumping on Rte 501 southbound:
Since this cell was the strongest one available we chose to continue chasing it by heading to Halifax and turning east and north on Rte 360. During a potty stop in Halifax the core of “our” storm passed by just north of us with greenage:
We were barely able to keep pace with this storm as it paralleled U.S. Route 360 but did see a partially rain-wrapped wall cloud. However we could never find a vantage point from which to gain a clear view of said feature. We got uncomfortably close to the hail core before calling off the chase on this storm:
We diverted east to U.S. Route 15 where we turned south toward Clarksville to intercept another complex steaming eastward near the VA/NC line. On our way south we plowed thru a hail shaft under a developing cell and stopped for a couple minutes to let the half-inch diameter stones cruise thru the area.
As we cross the Buggs Island bridge around Clarksville the southern edge of our new target cell looked pretty good: We pushed south to the airport and stopped to snap a few more photos of this rain-free base:
Moving further we attempted to get below the southern edge of the storm but wound up having to maneuver between two hail cores:
After that tricky maneuver we chose to call it a chase even though a Tornado Watch had been issued for that county and areas further east. Given the growing distance from home and the linear vs. discrete nature of the storms we had little incentive to continue. Thus we rolled back west for a dinner stop and then home.
A pretty good chase even if the wedge didn’t behave as advertised.