Storm Chase, Portsmouth and Croaker, Virginia; Aug. 11, 1999

I didn't plan to chase today even though I had the afternoon off. Conditions didn't look good, and I planned to spend the afternoon with my girlfriend. She couldn't make it at the last minute, and I rechecked the data. Things were looking better but still not that impressive. There was a slight risk issued for eastern Virginia, north eastern North Carolina and the Delmarva. ("some rotation possible") A shortwave trough was going to move through the area. Midlevel flow at 500 MB was 30 knots and 12Z soundings indicated moderate lapse rates with 850-500 MB values of 6.5-7 c/km. CAPES were 2000 to 3000. There was also a weak vorticity maximum. In Norfolk at 1PM, the temp was 89; 75 dewpoint with SW winds at 16 gusting to 21mph.

Choosing a target area was difficult due to the geography. Storms moving east would eventually hit water or go over over the Norfolk/Hampton/Va Beach area during rush hour. I also had to choose a northern or southern route since the target area was split by the James River with no easy way to cross. I decided the moisture was a little better to the south and I headed down 95 from Richmond at about 2PM. East of Hopewell, I saw some Cumulus (Cu) but I wasn't impressed. I continued down 95 and then SE on 460 stopping for a bite to eat in Waverly, Va. There was some Cu over me but none to the south. Anything forming near me would go east and cross the river. I stopped at the Wakefield NWS to check their satellite and surface data. There was Cu to the north and south along with a faint boundry near Suffolk between higher and lower dewpoints. I figured storms would fire along that boundry. Unfortunately, that is getting into a metropolitan area. I had no choice but to continue toward it. The storms firing north of I-64 (my northern target area) were out of range now. As I reached the boundry in eastern Portsmouth, storms were already firing in a north-south line. I watched a more isolated one form a wall cloud (not rotating) but it moved into an area with poor roads and lots of traffic. I saw beautiful CG's (cloud to ground lightning strikes), some striking sunny and probably rain free areas. I went south on Route 17 to get a better view before they moved away. A portable LCD TV gave me good weather information. The local TV stations cut in and showed radar of my now dying storms plus a huge right mover in my northern target area which had tornado warnings before moving into the Chesapeake.

Wall cloud (nonrotating).
Sheared developing storm
near Portsmouth.
This storm was moving
over a poor road network.

By about 6:30 PM, I decided the show was over and headed home by crossing the James to Newport News and then going west on I-64. Near the small town of Croaker, I saw an interesting storm to the north. I didn't think it would amount to much since storms had already passed through the area and it was cooler. The storm looked rather small. I pulled off the interstate and headed north on 607 to get a good view of the base. Usually, this area has lots of clear cuts which provide good visibility but I kept seeing more trees. I should have turned around and tried a different road but I waited to long and the storm hit. The wind shifted and was blowing TOWARD the storm which by now I figured was right turning. With trees all around I had to park in someones driveway. Falling trees and limbs are one of the biggest dangers in Virginia chasing. The core hit with blasts of wind and pea sized hail. When things calmed down, I went back to the interstate driving around fallen limbs and branches. I got hit with some isolated marble sized hail but the trip home was otherwise uneventful. I couldn't follow the storm since it was going due south and away from good roads. There was a tornado warning for the storm but I saw no rotation. (Too many trees) A fun and exciting chase though no good photos. Also a good learning experience. Don't underestimate "small storms" and watch for for right turners.

Return to Storm Chase Accounts and Photos