Guest post (part one): “Tornadoes DO Happen in Virginia’s Mountains”
Quick note on this week’s weather: today (Monday) we’ll have a decent chance at showers and perhaps a thunderstorm this afternoon with a high in the mid-70′s (F). The warm temperatures and generally dry weather we saw last week will continue during the remainder of this week as we’re still under the influence of the stubborn summer-like Bermuda high that lurks offshore.
Now for today’s guest blogger. Kathryn Prociv is a Virginia Tech graduate student – and my navigator during the May 2011 Hokie Storm Chase – whose master’s thesis research provides the blogpost title above. It is very timely in that tomorrow (Tuesday) the state of Virginia is conducting a tornado drill at 9:45 a.m. Today is part one of a two-part post; part two will be tomorrow’s posting.
“Yes, tornadoes do happen in Virginia’s mountains! I know what you’re thinking. “Tornadoes don’t happen in mountains!” Try saying that to the residents of Pulaski and Glade Springs, Virginia. These two quaint Virginia towns were supposedly nestled “safely” within the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia with Pulaski sitting around 1,900 ft. and Glade Springs around 2,080ft.; that is until last April when an EF2 tornado packing winds up to 125 mph tore through Pulaski on April 8th, 2011, and an even stronger EF3 tornado with winds up to 140mph devastated Glade Springs in the early morning hours of April 28th, 2011. That same morning an EF1 tornado (winds up to 100mph) tore through the Grindstone Campground in Smyth County, VA near Mt. Rogers at an elevation of nearly 4,000ft.
These three examples represent recent tornadoes that have occurred in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains in the past year. Think 2011 was just an anomaly? That it was a freak 100 year event that won’t happen again for generations? Let’s check the history books. Roanoke has been hit by confirmed tornadoes in 1974, 2003, and 2008; the 1974 Roanoke tornado was estimated to be a mile wide. Greenbrier County, WV also experienced a tornado in April of 1974, an F3. So what’s my point in providing you with all these documented cases of tornadoes? That strong and devastating tornadoes do occur in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. We have the documented National Weather Service reports, the photos, the oral tradition, and the memories to prove it.
Growing up I’ve always had a fascination with weather, and especially severe weather like thunderstorms and tornadoes. When I entered the Master’s program in Geography at Virginia Tech, I knew I wanted to do research on tornadoes. After reading countless academic journals I continuously read the same statement over and over again, “research is needed looking at tornadoes in mountainous environments.” Just like that, I had my topic. Over the past year and a half I’ve investigated fourteen cases of supercell thunderstorms crossing a 25 county study area centered on the Blacksburg National Weather Service office. Geographically, the study area encompasses the Appalachian Mountains of WV and VA in the west, crosses the Blue Ridge Mountains, and ends in the flatter Piedmont region of Virginia in the east. For my research I was interested in three main objectives: 1) If the storms differed according to spatial location of whether they traversed predominantly in the mountains or Piedmont region, 2) The effect of the terrain on the intensity of the storms, and 3) If vorticity stretching plays a role in intensifying these storms as they encounter a decrease in elevation.
Tomorrow: Part Two!