Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties, Virginia: Tornadic Supercell with Funnel and Wall Cloud


I had been watching an approaching trough for several days with the expectation of possible severe weather in the Mid-Atlantic region. I had already delayed my annual storm chase trip to the Plains due to the Omega Block that had eliminated the chance for severe weather in the near future in Tornado Alley. By May 11, there was a deepening low in the Great Lakes area and associated cold front approaching the Mid-Atlantic. Surface winds were forecast to be from the southeast across central and eastern Virginia. With the trough and backed surface winds, deep layer shear would support tornadoes especially along a diffuse warm front moving through the area. Limiting factors included a lack of instability due to cloud cover.

I was able to leave work at approximately 4:30PM. Richmond was in the center of a tornado watch box that covered central and eastern Virginia. A north-south line of storms was already forming near Charlottesville and slowly moving eastward while individual cells were moving to the northeast. There were scattered showers across central Virginia. The warm front was across central Virginia and this would be the most likely focus of tornadic development. I had planned to wait just north of Richmond and watch the radar on my XM system when I noticed that the western line of storms was becoming more organized. One storm in Fluvanna was dominant and slightly isolated. The storm quickly became severe and tornado-warned. I blasted west on I-64 hoping to reach the storm as it crossed the interstate near exit 143. A tornado was later reported for Kents Store, just south of I-64. Unfortunately, I couldn't reach the main storm before it crossed I-64. I was only 14 miles away from the crossing point. The storm continued to show significant shear on XM. I chose to follow the storm northward through a difficult road network. I was concerned about intensification of the southern storms, but I decided to stick with the known tornadic storm. I could always drop south if I lost this storm. I turned north following some back roads before picking up 522 just south of Mineral, Virginia. I blasted north on 522. The storm was still showing significant shear and it was moving at about 40MPH. At Wares Crossroads, I turned right onto 208. The storm was to my north, moving northeast while the road initially turned due east before a gradual turn to the northeast. Almost immediately after the turn, I sighted a wall cloud and possible clear slot at 5:38PM looking to the northeast. At 5:40PM, a funnel was visible (close-up). I should have stopped, but I was hoping to get more ahead of the storm that was moving away from my position. The video is shaky and I can't confirm an actual tornado. By 5:41, the funnel was further away but actually appeared more elongated (close-up). I was crossing Lake Anna at 5:42PM and could observe a distant, ?shrinking wall cloud. At this point, I was slowed by an increasingly difficult road network and my storm moved away. There was another storm to the south that appeared more impressive on reflectivity. I stopped in Snell to wait for the second storm. It produced a lot of rain and some lighting but never developed much shear. Meanwhile, my original storm that appeared ragged and unorganized on reflectivity, continued to show intermittent areas of significant shear prompting more tornado warnings for Stafford County. There was another tornado report for Holly Corner, approximately 15 miles north of Snell. At this point, I ended the chase and headed home. I was annoyed to hear of a tornado report for eastern Henrico County, a few miles from my home in Richmond, Virginia.

Often while chasing, I have noticed that the more northerly storm will weaken as close storms form to the south. In this case, the main storm had decreasing reflectivity and a more disorganized appearance on radar yet had fluctuating high levels of shear and continued reports of tornadoes. The almost adjacent and southerly storm had strong reflectivity but never showed much shear and there were no associated tornado reports. Still, an enjoyable if slightly frustrating chase with wall cloud and funnel sighting (I can't confirm tornado though suspect I saw it based on radar images, reports and my position.) Video was shown on Channel 6 and 8 in Richmond and The Weather Channel.


5:05 PM

5:35 PM

5:38 PM

5:40 PM

5:40 PM

5:40 PM

5:41 PM
close-up

5:42 PM

Map of area with my position, nearby towns and locations of preliminary SPC tornado reports.

SPC Preliminary Storm Reports

All images video stills.

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