From the ABC 7 Weather team

Four tornados sighted in region; flash flood warning in effect

April 27, 2011 - 08:08 PM
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The D.C. region is under a tornado weather alert tonight. What should you expect?

Funnel sighting in Stafford County. Photo by Mark Bautista.

4:40 a.:m. The entire Metro region is under a tornado watch until 8 a.m. Thursday after severe storms with powerful winds and rain pummeled our area overnight.

Four tornadoes reportedly struck near Stafford, Quantico, and Bristow in Virginia and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland Wednesday evening, and another round of severe weather is making its way across the D.C. region this morning.

10:40p: There's a new report of a tornado in Morningside, Prince George's County. It's the best radar signature indicating a possible tornado that our ABC7 meteorologists have seen all night. "That is a major hook," says Alan Auglis. Follow it on radar (unless you're nearby, in which case you should be hugging your basement boiler).

10:00: Check out the new photo gallery of tornadoes around town. Adding more wild photos to it as I write this.

8:00: The tornado warnings have been dropped, although a tornado watch stands until 2 a.m. And there are now flash flood warnings in effect for Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. There were three reported tornadoes for our region in less than 3 hours, says ABC7's Doug Hill. That's pretty damn insane. It looks like Tornadogeddon 2011 has lived up to its name. You can see the storm move from space here.

The fun part? We could do this all over again in the morning, as another vast storm powers through the Mid-Atlantic. This system is to our west right now, and at one point today had 17 active tornado warnings. That is not to say the D.C. area will see more tornadoes in the morning. But we'll be monitoring it closely. Here's where you can find the latest forecasts.

7:45: This is just what you want to see coming over the horizon when you're stuck in traffic. This is a tornado on the ground in Dumfries, near Route 1 and 234, from earlier this evening (sent to ABC7; am hoping to have the photog's name soon):

tornado dumfries

7:40: Photographer Mark Bautista in Stafford is totally on the ball tonight. Here you go:

stafford county tornado

7:32: A funnel cloud was spotted about 5 minutes ago in Brookville in Howard County, Md. Tornadoes to the north, tornadoes to the south? Anybody in a custom-built armor-clad stormchasing car taking pictures?

7:20: There is a new tornado warning until 8 p.m. for Prince George's and Charles counties. Firefighters have spotted a funnel cloud just southeast of Andrews AFB. There have been 300 to 400 lightning strikes in the past hour, an indication of the power of this storm. Get your candles out... Pepco will be tested.

7:15: There is a new tornado warning until 7:45 for Andrews AFB, Largo, upper Marlboro, Anne Arundel County. Stay put, folks. Just looking at our radar, it's possible a tornado could be on the ground in P.G. County right next to I-95. There have previously been reports of funnel clouds in Potomac Heights and Bryans Road in Charles County, Md.

6:50: Holy moly. What you see above is a real-deal tornado in Stafford County from just a little while ago. Mark Bautista took the photo.

6:45: New tornado warning for Prince George's and Charles counties until 7:15 p.m. The winds at the core of this system are spinning at around 120 m.p.h. The storm will move into Mount Vernon and southern Alexandria very shortly.

6:30: A tornado was spotted 1 to 2 miles west of Quantico. The storm is climbing through eastern Fairfax right along the Potomac River, and will move into Charles and Prince WIlliam counties and probably southwestern Prince George's County as well.

6:15 p.m.: Here's that hook, just to the west of Quantico. Is this the real deal? Anybody near Stafford hearing freight trains?

stafford hook

6:00 p.m.: Doug Hill says a funnel cloud was spotted west of Stafford, where our ABC7 radar indicates a "nasty looking hook" is trying to form (that's the sign of a tornado). But the velocity is pretty weak in this area and wouldn't be conducive for a large tornado. Still, the weather guys are keeping a very close bead on this area. The storm is moving into Dumfries and will be in the southern suburbs of D.C. in the next half hour.

5:30 p.m.: The storm that prompted a tornado warning in Orange and Spotsylvania counties has moved out and is headed toward the Quantico. Until 6:15 p.m., a severe thunderstorm warning remains for Culpeper, Fauquier, Spotsylvania, Orange and Stafford counties. Check out the lightning strikes in the past half hour: 

lightning27

5:00 p. m. Those strong storms near Orange County may move into Charles County next hour - Bob Ryan

4:35 p.m.: It looks like the tornado watch might end early. There's really only one storm we're looking at to the south, moving into Orange County. And when the sun goes down, the storm chances go down with it.

4:00 p.m.: The National Weather Service says that if storm conditions are right, the D.C. region could see damaging winds and large hail this evening. And there's still another storm on tap for tomorrow morning. If you tweet your weather photos and videos using the hashtag #StormPic and #StormVid, we'll put them into this post. -- Metcalfe

UPDATE 3:50: Strong storms moving through southern Calvert County but no warnings yet. -- Bob Ryan

ORIGINAL: It's time to play twister again, with tornado watches standing for D.C. and its suburbs until 8 p.m. tonight. (Forecast, interactive radar, weather alerts.) The watch will likely be upgraded to a warning soon as the storm draws near. So what, exactly, are we watching for?

Not the hulking tornadoes of the Midwest, often spawned by tilted, rotating mesocyclones. The twisters we could see (emphasis on "could") would be smaller varieties created by a lot of low-level wind shear, which is a measure of the rapid change of wind speed with height. Technically, they're known as squall-line tornadoes produced from a quasi-linear convective system, according to ABC7's Bob Ryan. These small-fry tornadoes would be isolated and probably rate at EF-0 strength, defined as 65 to 85 m.p.h. winds, although no tornado is really "small fry."

Here's the Storm Prediction Center's outlook:

SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS ARE INCREASING ACROSS PORTIONS OF NC/VA IN REGION OF WARM/MOIST AND UNSTABLE AIR MASS. INCREASING MID AND LOW LEVEL WIND FIELDS THROUGH THE DAY SUGGEST A RISK OF ORGANIZED/SUPERCELL STORMS CAPABLE OF LARGE HAIL AND DAMAGING WINDS. THE TORNADO THREAT IS NOT PARTICULARLY HIGH...BUT SUFFICIENT LOW LEVEL SHEAR IS PRESENT FOR A RISK OF ISOLATED SPIN UPS IN THE MOST INTENSE SUPERCELLS.

There's not a whole lot going on right now. The storminess looks timed for the evening rush hour, around 5 to 6 p.m. Check back for updates on how the storm is moving.

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