Given the approach of a cold front plus a lee trough over the Piedmont of Virginia plus an SPC-issued Slight Risk there was no way I was sitting at home this afternoon. I picked up my son at 2:30 and motored eastward, setting our sights initially on Appomattox once we had identified the position of the lee trough via surface observations and convective towers. Cooling our heels - literally given the heat - in a fast food establishment we watched radar for 30 minutes or so until we faced the chasers' dilemma: which storm to chase? We picked a complex that was growing rapidly as it passed through Albemarle County and plunged northeastward to get into chasing position.
By the time we reached the burg of Dillwyn this monster was exhibiting a top of 58,000 feet and VIL (vertically integrated liquid) values over 70. We were excited but also very wary of this storm's structure and power, which was impressive for a Virginia thunderstorm. Finally identifying a rural spot from which to observe we pulled off the road to watch. Unfortunately by this time the storm was ramping down its intensity fairly quickly, a clear sign that the wind shear necessary to keep the updraft from raining itself out was missing.
Noticing that the radar was showing other storms to the west we plunged back in that direction, passing through Rustburg and skirting Altavista on our way toward the Smith Mountain Lake area. A couple of strong updrafts were hanging around that area and we maneuvered via more back roads to get a clear view of them. Frustrated by the rolling terrain and the treelines we finally found a spot where we could see the base of the southern cell.
On the way toward Moneta a new updraft punched upward immediately in front of us, pumping out CGs (cloud-to-ground lightning strokes) with regularity. We quickly pulled off the road just south of town and watched - and videoed - as the lightning pounded down all around us.