Chase Report: April 20, 2009 Tornado-Warned Storm in central Virginia including Petersburg and Hopewell

storm video, chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.

I had been expecting severe storms across the mid-Atlantic for several days as an approaching trough was expected to become a closed low over the Great Lakes area. There would be 40-50 kt southwesterly winds at the 500 mb level across the Mid-Atlantic. As Monday arrived, models indicated that a small mesolow would form and shift northeastward from southwestern Virginia producing backed surface winds in central Virginia. Tornadoes were possible, especially along a warm front draped across Virginia. My main concern was instability as the best dewpoints and heating were mainly expected in southeastern Virginia away from the boundary.

I finished with my last patient just before lunch and had some time to check data. The warm front boundary had shifted just north of Richmond and it curved to the southwest. I waited until about 2PM checking data. I had initially planned to wait just on the east side of Richmond but decided to go southwest as there was some initial development in Mecklenburg, County. I expected these storms to slowly move northward and hopefully interact with the boundary. I drove south on I-95 watching the storms slowly develop on radar. At Petersburg, I turned west of 460 and stopped near Sutherland. The boundary was to the west but several storms were developing more to the south. One storm south of Kenbridge appeared more dominant. I received a call from Dave Hoadley who said the dominant storm had a nice base. He was just south of Kenbridge. Since nothing was happening on the boundary to the west, I decided to drop south and follow the intensifying storm. I turned south on 627 (Courthouse Road) as the storm (1V) (4:05PM) approached from the west. Visibility was good though I wanted to see the southern side of the storm. At Route 1, I drove slightly south with the storm to the north while observing for any signs of rotation. I quickly turned around and headed northeast on Route 1 following the storm (2V)(4:18PM). Its motion to the northeast was quicker than I expected. As the storm reached the more populated area of Petersburg, it rapidly strengthened and began rotating. I struggled to keep up with the storm as traffic increased. At times, I could see glimpses of a wall cloud or lowering through the trees. In Petersburg, I turned east on 460. Traffic became heavy. I grazed the core of the storm with blinding rain and I passed an accident. A rainbow (3V) was visible in front of my car as the sun came through the storm clouds. The storm was getting ahead of me. It was cycling with periods of intense rotation according to my XM Satellite Radar and GR Level 3. I was out of the core but still encountering heavy traffic and pokey drivers. I turned northeast on 106 that changed to 156. I passed areas of hail fog but no evidence of wind damage. I crossed the James River on 156 and turned east on Route 5. I encountered hail (4V) (image taken in Charles City County along Route 5 near intersection with 106 at 5:13PM) up a quarter in size. The storm was to my northeast. Although traffic had lightened, I was hopelessly out of position for the storm that was still tornado-warned and cycling in intensity. I meandered up to I-64 and then headed back toward Richmond. There were some more storms to the west of Richmond, and I hoped for another chance at an intercept. I waited just south of Richmond, but the storms were weakening as evening approached. The chase was over. I wasn't able to get video of the possible wall cloud and lowering near Petersburg but I did see some cool hail up a quarter-sized. I was able to follow a tornado-warned storm. More importantly, I tested my equipment for the 2009 season and have functional XM-Satellite radar, GR Level 3 with Verizon wireless and Spotter Network. I am ready for the 2009 storm season!


(All images are video stills)

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All images Copyright 2009 William T. Hark