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Beyond The Forecast: How rare was the Botetourt County tornado?

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BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – Happy Tuesday! Thanks to how busy a stalled front and Isaias made us yesterday, you’re getting a special midweek edition of the Beyond The Forecast newsletter. In this issue, we’re digging deeper into the Botetourt County tornado from over the weekend.

Coming into Saturday, we knew there was a possibility of storms in the afternoon and/or evening. Your Local Weather Authority meteorologist Chris Michaels astutely pointed out on Twitter that the atmospheric profile favored some spin for a couple of those storms. What we look for when forecasting tornadoes is turning of winds with height in the atmosphere, or “wind shear.”

The Botetourt County storm strengthened to severe criteria around 6:30 p.m. and after a storm spotter sent in a photo of a funnel cloud to the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, a tornado warning was issued at 6:45 p.m.

We got plenty of great photos of what appeared to be a twister, but it wasn’t until Monday when NWS Blacksburg sent a crew to Botetourt County that a tornado was confirmed from damage in the area. That makes two tornadoes so far in Virginia in 2020, the first coming in February in Loudoun County.

Botetourt County tornado storm survey
Botetourt County tornado storm survey (WSLS)

While we’ve been in a bit of a drought for twisters in the Commonwealth this year, getting a tornado in August is not all that rare. In fact, the National Centers of Environmental Information (NCEI) says Virginia gets three tornadoes during the eighth month of the year on average.

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As there haven’t been many confirmed tornadoes lately in our corner of the Commonwealth, let’s get a quick refresher of tornado alerts and safety.

If you see a tornado watch issued, that means the expected weather conditions will be favorable for tornado development. A tornado warning means that a twister is happening or is expected soon. We hope you’ll never see a tornado emergency issued for your area, as that is one of the most dangerous weather situations that you could ever face.

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When tornadoes threaten, there are some things you can remember to keep yourself and your family safe. Being close to windows or on an upper level of your home is a no-no. Getting under sturdy protection and/or covering yourself with pillows and blankets can protect you from tornado debris. It’s always a good idea to avoid traveling if tornadoes are a threat.

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As I mentioned, the moisture from Isaias combined with a stalled front to make for a wet Monday in our area. The tropical storm is racing through the eastern part of the state this morning before heading north. We’re returning to a more typical summer pattern in the days ahead. Chris broke down this week’s forecast in our daily weather article.

You can always get specific forecast details for your zone, whether it’s the Roanoke Valley, Lynchburg, the Highlands, or elsewhere around southwest and central Virginia, anytime at WSLS.com/weather. Know your zone!

In case you missed it, we’re posting great weather content on WSLS.com. Here are a few links from the past week to check out:

[Wrapping up a record-breaking month]

[PHOTOS: Tornado reported in Botetourt County]

If you prefer your weather information delivered by social media, you can follow Your Local Weather Authority on Facebook and Twitter.

-- Justin McKee


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