Bowling Green, Virginia Tornado (Storm Chase Report & Video Stills)

September 8, 2004

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


September 8 was a wild chase day in Virginia. The remnants of Frances were southwest of Richmond and moving northward. Bands of showers and thunderstorms were expected to form across the area. Because of the tropical system, there would be strong low-level shear. Winds would be backed (from the southeast) across central Virginia. Areas of clearing would allow increased instability. Tornadic storms were likely.

This was my half-day at work. After giving a lunchtime talk, I checked additional weather data. A tornado watch was issued for central Virginia. Choosing a target was difficult as any storms could potentially develop rotation and produce a tornado. Chasing tornadic storms from tropical systems is difficult as the tornadoes are often brief and visibility is poor. I decided the best combination of instabltiy and helicity was just northeast of Richmond. There were already some developing storms east of the city. I left the Richmond area at 2:40PM and headed north on I-95. My departure was delayed by multiple factors including changing storm chase vehicles, getting gas and a traffic jam from an accident on I-95. I had earlier observed rock hard convection to the east of Richmond but the storms were now obscured by low level clouds. I turned northeast onto 207 and cut through some winding back roads (state road 656) to 301 to observe a storm to the east. I should have continued northeast on 207 directly to Bowling Green. I turned north on 301 and could see the storm farther to the north. A tornado warning was issued for Bowling Green (Caroline County), and I could hear Mike Goldberg on WTVR Channel 6 talking about a velocity couplet. The storm was moving north at 30 MPH. It was 3:30PM and I was only a couple miles south of Bowling Green. I continued north on 301 and reached the southern part of town at 3:38PM. Fallen trees (1V) blocked my route northward on business 301. Traffic was jammed and people were walking around in a daze looking at the sky. I had just missed the tornado by about 10 minutes. I avoided the heavily damaged areas and was able to find State Road 2. I headed north on 2 along the edge of Fort AP Hill. The detours in Bowling Green cost more precious time. I couldn't keep up with the storm. I reached New Post and turned east on 17 to observe another storm. The tornadic storm continued north across the Rappahannock River into Stafford County. The river blocked my progress and I wouldn't be able to reach any of the bridges in time to recover. The new storm in Caroline County didn't do anything except produce a nice rainbow (Image #1)(2V) ;(Image#2)(3V) . At one point, the rainbow (4V) was between my vehicle and some nearby trees. I turned around and headed south, briefly stopping in Bowling Green to look at the damage. (Damage Images: #1 (5V),#2 (6V),#3 (7V), #4 (8V)). Multiple trees were downed and several houses were without roofs or had other structural damage. From my observations of the damage (and from local media footage) I would guess a strong F2 or possibly F3 tornado.

With more potentially tornadic storms approaching from the south, I blasted south on I-95, then west on I-64. There was a line of storms west of Richmond slowly moving eastward while individual storms were rapidly moving in a north-northeasterly direction. Many of the individual storms were rotating and there were reports of funnel clouds in Chesterfield County. I drove west to Gum Springs (I was too far east for a tornadic storm near Zion Cross Roads), then south on 522 to Maidens to intercept a northward moving tornadic storm. I followed some of the storms in the line but visibility was terrible and the storms were weakening. After playing with the line of storms from Goochland through Short Pump, I ended the chase at dark. Many showed signs of rotation on radar but no visible funnels. Interestingly, when I returned to my house in downtown Richmond, a tornado warning was issued for the city. So far, I haven't heard of any damage.

This was a frustrating chase as I was minutes from seeing a large tornado. I later saw a digital photo broadcast on NBC Channel 12 of a large wedge tornado that was e-mailed by a viewer near Bowling Green. Arrghhh. At least I saw a beautiful rainbow.

(1V) (2V) (3V) (4V)
(5V) (6V) (7V) (8V)


Storm Prediction Center Preliminary Tornado Reports

(V -- Video Still)

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All images Copyright 2004 William T. Hark