Friday August 18th had been looking good per the models for several days before the SPC issued its Slight/Marginal Risk Day 1 outlook covering Virginia:
The Slight Risk over far northeastern sections of the state was prompted by stronger shear levels up that way and – in fact – almost provides the exact outline of a Severe Thunderstorm Watch that was issued a few hours later.
A very oppressive airmass with temperatures in the 90s and dew points in the mid- and upper 70s was draped across the Old Dominion as a cold front approached out of the Ohio Valley. A lee trough east of the Blue Ridge was forecast to set up after the lunch hour so I dutifully headed out of town for Bedford just after 1 pm. (I should also mention that the KFCX Blacksburg radar was still down so I was forced to bounce between the Charleston WV, Raleigh NC, and Wakefield VA sites for radar data.)
My plan upon arriving there around 2 pm was to sit tight at a park and await convection that was supposed to fire within an hour or two. However after a quick bathroom break I noticed this updraft along with others boiling upward further east:
The lee trough was evidently still east of me so I maneuvered further east and south via back roads into rural Bedford county. I watched from almost underneath the trough as several showers developed but nothing really took off. I wound up ambling over to Altavista via VA Route 43 and camped out east of US Route 29 in northern Pittsylvania county. Here I could see updraft bases lined up along the lee trough stretching southwest to northeast along my line of sight.
Even after 4 pm none of the visible cells were exhibiting any signs of development beyond the light shower stage. However there were both visible and radar hints that a cell at the southern end of a broken line segment – Tail End Charlie – was growing. Thus I rolled southward along rural routes to a point just east of Gretna where I had this combined visible/radar view:
After switching on the livestream and watching for a bit I noticed some activity under the rain-free base just north of the southern rain shaft:
The hints of gathering scud looked like a moisture feed from the rain shaft to the north and very much resembled a small but growing wall cloud especially when I zoomed in on it:
Within a very few minutes the feature had grown to this size but also appeared to be connected to a developing shelf cloud to its south: The available radar views were of no help since none of them could image the storm at this low elevation given their distances. Thus I am left to speculate that this could have been another hybrid shelf/wall cloud feature in its early stages.
When the rain approached I retreated a couple miles east for this view:
The cell had intensified quite a bit at this point and was spitting out CGs at regular intervals. As it continued left-to-right in front of me the lowering on the northern edge dissipated and the feature morphed into an obvious shelf cloud. I continued another mile or so east to keep an eye on it but after a few more minutes this cell began dissipating both visually and on radar.
Knowing that more storms were approaching the Rte 29 corridor south of me I pushed west into Gretna for a brief food and comfort stop before dropping south. A couple miles north of Chatham I paused to observe and snap a few photos before reversing directions to zoom north on Rte 29 and then turn east on a county route to get ahead of a line segment. Near the hamlet of Sheva I stopped in a church parking lot to watch and snap more photos:
As the rain from this complex approached I resolved to conduct a “static core punch” and let this activity pass me by. Just before the rain hit I had this lateral view of the approaching rain curtain:
After the bulk of the heavy rain – no hail – passed I pulled up stakes and left for home. Along the way I had to pause just north of Rocky Mount on US Route 220 to snap a few photos of the sunset:
All-in-all it was very enjoyable chase!