Severe weather broke out in the Eastern U.S. Monday. How did it (mostly) miss us?

There were more than 1,000 reports of severe weather Monday, but ours was isolated. We explain what caused that break in the action

ROANOKE, Va. – Monday’s severe weather outlook was the highest risk level we’d seen in four years.

It was cause for concern, given how absurdly humid it was and how breezy it was at times. That should’ve translated to a number of severe storms in our area, but it didn’t (and we’re thankful for that).

Our severe weather was isolated, rather than widespread.

Connor Dietrich

Take a look at this tree that fell down on a house in Martinsville along Wilson St.. Thankfully no one was injured!

Roanoke

There were also reports of hail ranging from the size of quarters in Willis to tennis ball-sized in McDowell (Highland County).

Before we propose an explanation as to why the severe weather wasn’t widespread here, we want to make two points.

1. Dodging severe weather is a good thing. That’s especially the case when you see the 1,000+ reports of damage from Kentucky to Tennessee to the Carolinas to West Virginia and Northern Virginia.

Storm damage reports from Monday, 8/7/2023

2. We value your trust, and we never want to seem like the “boys that cried wolf.” It was best to be prepared, because the ingredients were mostly there for severe weather to break out.

There was one miniscule thing that showed up in the weather balloon data that potentially explains why we were spared from severe thunderstorms. In order for storms to develop, the air rising has to be warmer than the air surrounding it.

If there’s a layer of warm, dry air above the surface, that limits storm growth. We call it a “cap.”

Lack of storm growth Monday afternoon partially due to a capping inversion

Picture shaking a bottle of soda. If you pull off the cap, the soda rises up and explodes out of the bottle. If the cap is on tightly, the soda has nowhere to go.

The first sign of this cap/capping inversion was in the morning when parts of the area had low clouds and fog.

By the 2 p.m. weather balloon launch at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, the cap was still there. It limited storm growth in the west.

2 p.m. weather balloon launch from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg - Monday, 8/7/2023

There was an isolated tornado warning in Wythe County shortly after 2 p.m., but that storm weakened significantly once it moved farther east.

By the time the energy that would produce a line of storms got east of the Parkway, temperatures were in the low-to-mid 80s at the surface and not quite warm enough for the air to rise to its fullest potential.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a proposal - a hypothesis. So much of meteorology is based off of theory, not scientific law. It’s why you’re always told that meteorology is “an inexact science.”

There’s probably more to this forecast “bust” than what we’ve written here, and we’re investigating that. We wanted to at least get some explanation out the day after.

It bears repeating that we’re thankful that severe weather didn’t break out here in southwest and central Virginia. However, humility is something that’s been missing from a field where so many love to beat their chest when they’re correct.

Those who canceled plans, spent money, etc. depending on the forecast deserve at least some explanation.

Thank you for reading!


About the Author

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.