16 April 2011 Storm Chase (Pt. 3 of 3) – Chase Log

Jason Foster and I left Gaithersburg, MD a few minutes after 8am to make the trek down to North Carolina for what turned out to be one of the biggest East Coast tornado outbreaks in history. The plan was to be near Wilson, NC around 12:30-1:00pm to eat and begin our chase. However, being the first day of Spring Break for many, I-95 southbound was clogged with traffic, sometimes coming to a complete stop all the way from Washington, D.C. down through northern NC. At one point we even resorted to using back roads to help make up for the time lost in transit. We finally arrived at our target destination over an hour later than planned after 2:00pm when discrete supercells were just starting to get organized to our south and west. Having no time to stop and eat, Jason and I quickly fueled the car, grabbed some snacks and headed towards the cell that was tracking towards Raleigh.

We headed towards the Raleigh cell as the Raleigh metro area was getting tornado warned. Being a bit behind the cell, we had to play catch-up. Visuals weren’t spectacular as the circulation was rain-wrapped as it pushed through the southern suburbs. The cell showed signs of cycling, so Jason and I continued with it into eastern Raleigh, where we spotted a funnel cloud and possible tornado. Since trees were in the way, we could not see whether or not the circulation had reached the surface while we were observing it. Shortly after this circulation became rain-wrapped as well, so we headed back south to catch the nearest of several storms that had active tornado warnings.

After dropping south to come in through the western edge of the core, Jason and I turned back onto I-95 to get to the second storm’s circulation, which had also become rain-wrapped. The cell weakened substantially and didn’t look like it was going to cycle, so we dove back to the southeast to get behind another storm.

The third storm had produced a tornado over Snow Hill not too long before we had arrived in the outskirts of the town. A couple miles NW of town we came upon 3″ hail, took some quick photos and measurements and headed SE. We were stopped just short of town where many emergency vehicles were already on scene. A small community and a couple of commercial buildings had taken heavy damage by a small, concentrated tornado. Some of the homes had very little damage, but two homes in the direct path of the tornado had been completely ripped off of their foundations. One of these houses was still relatively intact within the property lines, but another house was pretty much gone.

Jason and I spent some time documenting the damage before hearing of another storm entering the area. This storm passed us to the east, and we headed off to try to catch the cell as it traveled NE at ~50 mph, which was actually one of the slower storm motions we had seen from the many warnings that had been issued in NC that day. Alas, the road network was not favorable for an intercept, so after a short chase with the daylight fading we started to trek back towards I-95 to get back home.

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