Hurricane Ivan induced Virginia tornado outbreak: September 17, 2004

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


I was expecting possible Hurricane Ivan associated tornadoes across central Virginia and already had my equipment ready. The remnants of Ivan were expected to drift into southwestern-southcentral Virginia. Ahead of Ivan, surface winds would be from the southeast while upper level winds would be from the southwest. This change in direction with height would lead to increased shear, helicities up to 300 m2/s2 and the potential for rotating storms. By early afternoon, the skies had mostly cleared across Richmond. This would be an explosive day. A Moderate Risk was already issued for portions of southern Virginia. My initial target area was just north of Richmond with the best combination of shear, instability and isolated storms. I planned to leave work at about 2:30PM.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to stay at work until 4:45PM. I could see sharp convection to the northeast. Tornado warnings being issued for multiple storms. When I finally was able to leave, multiple storms were forming across the area and racing northward. Many were rotating. I was already "behind the eight ball" and would also have to fight rush hour traffic. A final check of the radar revealed a tornado-warned storm in Chesterfield moving north. I blasted west on I-64 and Route 250 (Broad Street) to intercept the storm. I arrived in Short Pump at about 5:05PM. The traffic in that area is miserable during rush hour. Looking northeast from the mall, I could see a possible wall cloud (1V) with some rotation. It was rapidly moving northward and soon disappeared from view behind the rain. (I have recently heard of damage in that area (Innsbrook area, no tornado is confirmed). The local television stations were giving continuous weather updates and live-shots of radar. Another storm was forming to the east. I turned on to I-64 and then I-295 heading east. At 5:26PM, I could see a new updraft (2V) to the east. I turned north on I-95 and could see a nice updraft and lowering (3V) to the north at 5:43PM. There was a ragged wall cloud (4V) . The storm appeared to be moving rapidly north-northeast. Unfortunately, I hit some traffic and my progress was slowed. Again, very frustrating. When I reached exit 89, I glimpsed a suspicious lowering to the northeast (5V) at 5:50PM. I turned east on 54 and north on 301. The storms were racing northward at 40 miles per hour. Route 301 turned northeast in Fort A.P. Hill. I crossed the Rappahannock River at 6:35PM after passing through Port Royal. I saw a lowering (possible tornado) (6V) to the northwest but couldn't stop on the bridge. Here is an enhanced close-up of thedistant lowering/possible tornado. (no thumb nails of enhanced image) I continued northeast on 301, then north on 611 and 610. When I reached the narrow east-west road (218) that borders the Potomac River, the storm was too far away. The chase was over. I headed west on 218 and was blocked by a damage path just east of Fairview Beach. I suspect this was from the storm I observed from the 301 bridge across the Rappahannock River. Luckily, a friendly local showed me a shortcut that was not marked on my map and I was able to continue west to Fredricksburg then south to my home in Richmond.

I saw some great storms but missed good views of tornadoes because of my late start and very rapid storm motion. I did see some storm structure, wall clouds and possibly a distant view of a tornado in King George County. Chasing hurricane related storms in the east difficult but possible and rewarding. Some other chasers (and locals) obtained amazing video of tornadoes in Virginia from this outbreak.


(1V) (2V) (3V)
(4V) (5V) (6V) (enhanced close-up)


(V -- Video Still)

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All images Copyright 2004 William T. Hark