Meteorologist Brent Watts
June 4, 2012
The images of the Hampton, Virginia tornado seem sureal. The ominous clouds and spinning debris. National Weather Service (NWS) rated the waterspout/tornado near Hampton an EF-1, with 98mph winds.
According to the NWS, the tornado began as a waterspout touchdown near the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge around 8:13 p.m. It then went over Chesapeake Avenue before moving through downtown Hampton and the Hampton Yacht Club.
From there, it went into the Chesapeake Bay before dissipating.
A waterspout is essentially a tornado over water. When the waterspout comes onto land, it begins picking up debris and gets the name tornado. Likewise, a tornado that travels into the water becomes a waterspout.
(PHOTO BELOW: Nancy Moore took this picture from her front window on Chesapeake Avenue in the Wythe section of Hampton right before it expanded and went towards Merrimac Shores.)
SOUTHWEST VA STORMS IN THE MAKING
We [WDBJ7 Meteorologists] knew Friday would be an active weather day. On Wednesday, three days before the severe weather outbreak, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma had placed the eastern seaboard under a "slight" risk for severe weather.
Our forecasts highlighted that potential starting Wednesday. By Thursday, it was imminent our region would see severe weather, and by Friday morning the line of storms was right at our back door.
8:00AM: Clouds and showers started the day along and west of the Blue Ridge. On days when severe weather is forecast, clouds are our friends; often keeping the atmosphere a little more stable. However, Friday's storms weren't driven by heat alone. An upper-level disturbance was adding a bit of "spin" to the atmosphere.
1:30PM: Small, compact yet strong storms began developing in Central VA ahead of the main line of storms approaching from West Virginia. It was in the same areas (Lynchburg and Southside) that had seen a good amount of sunlight earlier in the day.
1:45PM: The Storm Prediction Center issued a TORNADO WATCH for the entire WDBJ7 viewing area.
1:53PM: Doppler Radar detected rotation in a discreet cell near Forks of Buffalo. The first TORNADO WARNING was issued for Amherst.
1:56: Meteorologist Brent Watts took the air with tornado warning coverage. That storm moved into Nelson County, where the warning continued. Reports of small trees down and 1.50"+ diameter hail.
Meanwhile, the line of storms meteorologists had been watching since before sunrise was now approaching the KY/VA state line. While the 4KM Rapid Precision Mesoscale (RPM) models were a bit sketchy on the pre-frontal storms, it had seen this main line clearly the past several days leading up to the event.
The lines had a history of "bowing" (center of the line pushes ahead of the rest), with 50mph+ winds accompanied by sideways, blinding rain.
5:00PM: Meteorologists Robin Reed and Brent Watts take the air for the newscast, highlighting the rest of the evening's severe threat.
5:08PM: A TORNADO WARNING was issued for a cell over Rockbridge Co, Lexington and Buena Vista. First Alert Meteorologists immediately took the air from news anchor Hollani Davis. Viewer photos confirm skies, black as night. However, no damage reports from Rockbridge Emergency Manager.
At the same time as the tornado warned storm in Rockbridge, the main line of strong storms had moved through the New River Valley with nearly 50mph gusts. The line was moving into Salem.
As the storm approached Roanoke, Terry Aldhizer was at the Mill Mountain Star. A wedding was taking place on the main overlook, so she went to the second one to snap photos.
She recalls, "As the wall of rain steadily approached, I started running up hill in floppy soon to be soggy, slippery sandals back to my car. Big gusts of winds, and I heard the load roar of rain hit the mountain behind me. I was totally soaked by the time I got to my car. Lots of fun and worthy shots. (PHOTO BELOW)
The line raced toward Vinton and Bonsack in Roanoke County. Troy Mattox (PHOTO BELOW) was at his home in the Summerfield Subdivision of Roanoke Co.
"You could see the clouds rotating," said Mattox. "All of a sudden I saw insulation going up toward the clouds and then heard a loud boom down the road."
Turns out, that loud noise was an empty trailer toppled by the wind. And the insulation came from the roof of the Advanced Auto Parts building at Blue Hills Industrial Park.
5:20PM The same line of storms headed toward Botetourt County. Perhaps the most compelling photos of the day came from Cathy Benson of the Botetourt View. Benson was one of several people that saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud, or perhaps even a short-lived "rope tornado" coming down from the clouds.
Witnesses describe it as being near Old Fincastle Road.
"If there is damage, it would probably be hard to find," said Chief Meteorologist Robin Reed to Benson over the phone.
If it was in fact a tornado, it was very small, on the ground a very short amount of time and over a very rural area with lots of forest.
As the evening progressed, the line of wind driven storms headed toward Central Virginia and eventually Southern/Southside Virginia. Very few damage reports were submitted.
CUT IT CLOSE
This was one of those days where Southwest and Central Virginia cut it close to having a day similar to those in Hampton, Virginia and even Northern Virginia, where numerous tornadoes were reported.
Was it the clouds that kept the storms in check? Perhaps. Was it the mountains the weakened them some, only to re-fire toward the coast? Maybe.
One thing is for sure. Based on the past few year's, Southwest Virginia needs to be educated on where to go, how to stay informed, and be ready to act in a moment's notice when severe weather is forecast.
It appears severe storms, including tornadoes are the way of life in Virginia.
Copyright © 2013, WDBJ7-TV