Starting Thursday, myself and a few other UNCC meteorology majors were beginning to get worried about the potential of severe weather and tornadoes across NC Friday afternoon. Come Friday morning, it was evident that the threat was more likely, and Thomas Winesett (UNCC Graduate Student) and I decided to chase the storms.
There are many reasons why meteorologists and weather enthusiasts chase storms. Some do it for the thrill of being close. Some do it to try and get video to sell. Others, like me, do it to try and help the NWS and local media. Having interned with several TV stations, I’ve made connections with several TV meteorologists in the NC region. My goal on Saturday was that if we saw any tornadoes or severe weather, to get a picture of the tornado to the local TV stations and the report to the NWs, so that they could warn people on air about it. Social science has shown over the past few years that people want multiple and visual confirmation of a threat before taking action. Therefore, it was our hope that if the public saw the pic, they would take action.
SPC outlook with reports. Red dots are tornadoes. Photo via @USWeatherExpert ‘s blog
We started the chase by leaving from Charlotte around 11am after seeing that the NAM-4km model, one of the many weather models we use to make forecasts had a few discrete, strong supercells across eastern NC around 3pm. Heading east, we got the 12:30pm update from the NWS’s Storm Prediction Center and noted that they had upgraded a large portion of central/eastern NC to a hatched 10% tornado risk. Here in NC, a 10% tornado risk zone is pretty rare, and hatched risks are even rarer. A hatched risk is issued when there is a 10% or greater probability of EF2
– EF5 tornadoes within 25 miles of a point. Shortly after, storms started to develop just north of Fayetteville,NC around Dunn, and we decided that those would be the storms we went after.
As we got close to the storm near Dunn, the NWS issued a Severe T-storm Warning for the cell due to the threat of large hail. We noted what is called a Three Body Scatter Spike, which is where the radar hits hail coated with water in the storm and reflects it back as a false return on radar below the storm. This is great info for us to see, because it tell us we don’t want to drive our car into the storm!
The terrain of eastern NC is unique. In some spots, you have dense forest while in other areas, there is wide open farmland and clearings. This open terrain is great for us, because it allows us to stay a safe distance away from the storm while still viewing what is going on. When we first got a clear view of the storm, we noticed it had a wall cloud – a precursor to a tornado that indicates rotation in the cloud. The storms were in an environment that was very supportive of rotating updrafts, the kind of updrafts that storms need to produce tornadoes. We followed this storm north and east, eventually reaching the town of Goldsboro. By this time, the NWS had issued a Tornado Warning for the storm, saying that doppler radar indicated the potential for the storm to produce a tornado.
Short tornado to the right of me
Following the storm as it passed through Goldsboro, we took a few back roads trying to get out of the city and get another visual on the wall cloud. It was at this time, the storm really began to intensify. We parked at a church to watch, and a few moments later the storm produced a small tornado. The interesting thing about this tornado was that the main condensation funnel never touched the ground. If you look at the picture to the right, you’ll see the tornado in the haze to the right of me. The tornado was only visible due to dust and other debris being kicked up by the storm.
This tornado wouldn’t be the only one we saw that day though! We continued tracking the storms towards Snow Hill and Farmville, where the storm dropped another short lived tornado! Both times, I was able to get a picture out via social media where @nsj, @LeeRingerWX, @wxbrad and others were able to share it and at times us on air.
Around 5:30pm, the storms started to cluster together and become less organized. Due to this, and closed roads, we decided to bail on this storm and head back further south. Another storm had formed and we decided to towards it. After arriving, we noted a very strongly rotating wall cloud and shortly after, a funnel cloud formed. At this time, the rotation wasn’t strong enough for it to touch down but later it did produce an EF-3 tornado in Beaufort County. We never were able to catch up to the storm due to bad roads and nighttime, but did manage to find some over golfball sized hail!
Other pictures from our chase below:
BUFKIT Hodograph and Sounding for KRDU
Traffic on the highway as others saw the wall cloud and were hit by small hali