Day 14 of “Sixteen Days of Virginia Storm Chasing”: As mentioned in previous posts tropical remnants sometimes provide very productive chase opportunities. The June 20th 2015 passage of Bill’s remnants through Virginia proved to be one such instance.
“I had a feeling the tropical remnants of Bill would provide a productive Virginia convective setup. As such I cleared the decks and dedicated the entire afternoon and evening to giving chase. After poring thru the data and models I decided to start out in the Blairs area close to 3 pm even tho’ the primary feeder band wasn’t due out that way until later.
By locating that far east I was hoping to catch some cells out ahead of the line that might take advantage of the abundant low level shear. That goal was definitely met as several discrete storms moved into Virginia from North Carolina. I retreated north along U.S. Route 29 to a point between Chatham and Gretna to observe a severe-warned storm to the west over Franklin county. This lowering was on the southeastern flank of the warned storm:
I live-streamed for a while from this location before noticing two more storms approaching from the south.
The cell in the foreground exhibited a funnel-like lowering that caught my eye (left side of photo) while the storm in the background also looked very impressive both on radar and visually. The close approach of the nearer storm with scud rising into its base convinced me to retreat northward. Thus I pulled up stakes and headed up Rte 29 to Gretna where I watched that cell pass over the town a half mile to my east containing another lowering as I continued to live-stream.
As this storm passed by I kept one eye on the next storm which was heading directly toward me with a wall cloud underneath it.
When this cell neared I decided conducting a “static core punch” under a storm with an active wall cloud wasn’t a good idea. I expeditiously leapfrogged west in a futile attempt to miss the growing precipitation shaft. Fortunately there either wasn’t any hail. However I certainly didn’t miss out on the heavy rain which quickly erased my situational awareness.
After the rain eased I motored back east toward Gretna to regain perspective. The storms I’d been watching had escaped to the northeast with all recognizable features now rain-wrapped. However the main feeder band, lined up NE/SW, was now approaching the U.S. Route 29 corridor. Thus I dove south on Rte 29 to go take a peek.
As I was passing Chatham my son called to ask if I’d seen the most recent velocity display on radar. I quickly punched it up and my jaw dropped as I saw a large and powerful velocity couplet on the leading edge of this line. Said couplet was due west of me so I pulled off Rte 29 at Tightsqueeze and hurriedly searched for a vantage point. This is the view I found to the southwest:
I couldn’t see any definable rotation but it was obvious this shelf cloud / squall line meant business, likely with damaging winds. Maneuvering desperately along back roads I finally wound my way north to Virginia Route 57 just outside Chatham and drove east as fast as I could legally go. Not only was I was racing away from the squall line I was also searching for a safe vantage point. I needed to live stream and conduct a phoner with the local TV station at the top of their six o’clock broadcast.
Finally east of Chatham on Rte 57 I breathed a sigh of relief as I sped along at highway speeds until…this:
Three miles east of town this tree completely blocked Rte 57, apparently felled by one of the previous storms that had rolled across the area. As blue lights flashed on the other side of the tree I had very little time before the squall line caught up with me. I suddenly remembered a side road I had just passed that ran along the edge of an open field so I quickly did a U-turn in the middle of the empty highway.
Turning left on that side lane I parked along the edge of the field, hopeful that I was far enough away from the trees in case strong winds blew them down. This was my view of the shelf cloud as it neared:
After switching on the live stream I dialed the TV station and conducted the phoner without difficulty. Right after I hung up with them the rain – but no hail! – began pounding down. Once the precipitation let up I cautiously reentered Rte 57 and headed back west to Rte 29 where I rolled southward once again.
At this point I needed both a bathroom break and dinner but unfortunately the series of storms had shut down electrical power to the Chatham area. I continued south to the Blairs area truck stop just of Rte 29 but that, too, was sans power. Sitting in the parking lot I was puzzling over what to do and where to head next when I glanced west and saw this feature peeking over the crest of White Oak Mountain:
I assumed from appearances that this was a wall cloud and gave chase, scooting back north – again! – on Rte 29. I pulled off the highway in Tightsqueeze and snapped more photos as the feature crossed Rte 29 ahead of me:
It turned out this likely wasn’t a wall cloud but it was the leading edge of a bowing section of this storm with more strong winds behind it. When heavy precipitation blocked the road ahead of me I dithered once more about where to go before Nature (or was it Bill?) provided yet another storm to intercept east of Rte 29. This, too, had a lowering which could have been a small wall cloud given its location under the rear of the updraft (rain shaft was just to the left of the photo frame):
I followed this cell for a bit before getting swallowed by more heavy rain and decided that I’d had enough chasing for one day. Heading back north to Gretna I kept my fingers crossed that municipality still had power. It did, so I grabbed a very late dinner and visited with my son and daughter-in-law who dropped in to chat.
Needless to say it was rather late when I finally arrived home…but it was all worth it!!”