"April 28, 2002 Supercell Thunderstorm & Funnel Clouds Near Opal, VA"


After coming home from work this afternoon we heard a few rumbles of distance thunder. I looked to the west and saw a huge thunderstorm with an anvil that had already spread over our house. I could see the back edge of the storm from my location and it looked like a well developed Supercell thunderstorm that was producing at least large hail and strong winds. I immediately called the Sterling NWS office and they said the storm was over I-81, about 50 miles west of my home. I continued to watch the storm, while not knowing that it was producing a tornado along I-81. About 30 minutes later I decided to try and intercept this storm. I usually don't have the opportunity to do this in Virginia due to the normally hazy conditions, trees and hills that inhibit viewing. This day was different in that there was no haze. I have noticed that early spring thunderstorm days are usually haze free in Virginia and better for thunderstorm viewing. This storm was headed in my direction and I knew of a spot on a hill about 5 miles west of my home. My daughter and I drove west to our position and immediately setup our cameras. I shot 35mm stills with a 50mm lens. She operated the video camera. The thunderstorm was moving east at nearly 50 mph and it arrived almost simultaneously as we setup. The series of pictures follows the incoming storm as it overcame our position. We had to duck in the car for a few minutes as the gust front (rear-flank downdraft) moved by with strong winds and small hail. The funnel was ragged and poorly developed, but a good Virginia storm by anyone's gage. The main funnel disappeared into precipitation, while two smaller funnels briefly formed. None of the funnels ever touched down. As the storm exited our region, we could clearly see the notch associated with the rear-flank downdraft and the hail shaft on the backside of the storm. The storm continue moving east and out of our view within ten minutes. About one hour after it passed by our location this storm produced the La Plata, MD tornado which peaked at the Fujita F-4 strength.  The Doppler Radar presentation of this storm, at the time of the funnel formation over Opal, VA can be seen here


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April 28 storm near I-81 (about 60 miles west of Opal, VA)
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Rear Flank Downdraft heading right toward us
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Main Funnel Cloud forms almost overhead
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Main Funnel Cloud moves NE & becomes wrapped in rain
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Main Funnel Cloud rain wrapped Rear Flank Downdraft clearly visible
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Main Funnel Cloud behind trees, 2nd & 3rd Funnels forming
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Funnels dissipate as the Rear Flank Downdraft overtakes them (note white streaks to left) "its hail"
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Wide view of exiting storm with hail shaft on the left