Chasing Hurricane Ivan’s Tornadoes – A Storm Chaser’s Perspective

During the 2004 hurricane season, Hurricane Ivan became the only Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Basin. It made landfall in Alabama as a Category 3 on September 16th. An upper level trough interacted with the cyclone, causing vertical wind shear to increase which in turn began to gradually break apart the cyclone.

Radar loop of Hurricane Ivan
Radar loop of Hurricane Ivan

The hurricane progressively transitioned to an extratropical cyclone as it was making its way inland and towards Virginia. Chris White was monitoring the models when he noticed that there was potential that the atmosphere could produce tornadoes. When the time was right on September 17th, he took a few hours of vacation time and bolted out the door with his son and his son’s fiancée towards Fauquier County to intercept a few cells.

Photo Courtesy of Chris White

Using his paper maps that were rolled, not folded, he positioned himself onto some farm land that allowed him to gaze at the supercell. As we are all aware, east coast chasing comes with its downfalls: roads that are difficult to navigate, hills, and trees in every direction. Unfortunately for him, a ton of trees were in his way, which prevented him to see the base of the supercell. Little did he know at the time that the supercell he was looking at produced the F3 tornado that hit Remington a short time afterwards.

They jumped back into their vehicles and moved to a location which had less of these annoying trees and allowed him to see the base of the storm with ease. Despite having a great view of the storm, the team quickly realized that it cut them from jumping back on the highway. While finding another route, they came across some damage in southern Warrenton.





After chasing the storm for a bit longer and having to deal with traffic on a constant basis, the team stopped at a local fast food joint to grab some grub (most storm chasers would agree that fast food is practically a food group). Once they fueled up, they went back out and started chasing once again.

Photo Courtesy of Chris White

Chris and his team began driving through increasingly heavy rain, not realizing that he was in the core of the storm. When he emerged, he flashed his lights at the other vehicle that part of his team was in and told them to pull into a driveway. Less than 200 yards away, a funnel passed by them (the team couldn’t verify if there was ground circulation).

If the funnel passing close to them wasn’t worrisome enough, they quickly realized they were close to the mesocyclone that produced a tornado a few miles back. At least they didn’t have to worry about cows. Had there been a tornado, they would’ve been close to “The Suck Zone”. In case you’re unaware of what “The Suck Zone” is, it’s the point basically when the twister… sucks you up. That’s not the technical term for it, obviously.

Photo Courtesy of Chris White

After relentlessly hearing tornado warnings over the radio and seeing the storm escape into difficult chase territory in Faurquier County, they called the chase and went back home. During their journey back home, they were treated to a lightning show that lit up the sky.

Ivan brought a total of 117 tornadoes* during its time over land: 37 in Virginia, 25 in Georgia, 18 in Florida, 9 in Pennsylvania, 8 in Alabama, 7 in South Carolina, 6 in Maryland, 4 in North Carolina, and 3 in West Virginia. Ivan looped around, crossing the southeast side of the Florida peninsula as an extratropical cyclone, then reforming in the Gulf and making landfall in extreme southwestern Louisiana as a tropical depression. Ivan existed for 22.5 days and traveled over 6,000 miles.

*Note:  Per the Tornado Project, there were 120 tornadoes associated with Hurricane Ivan.

 

You can follow Chris on Twitter: @chrisvawx and visit his website: https://vastormchasing.wordpress.com/

 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2013/09/17/hurricane-ivan-and-virginias-largest-tornado-outbreak-september-17-2004/?utm_term=.e763eb212598

https://www.weather.gov/media/rnk/past_events/Ivan_Summary_10th_Anniv.pdf

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL092004_Ivan.pdf

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