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Possible mesovortex damages Lorton family's yard

Friday - 5/16/2014, 4:20pm  ET

Damage to Lorie Kappler's yard in Lorton, Virginia after Thursday's storm. (WTOP/Michelle Murillo)

Michelle Murillo and Lacey Mason,

WASHINGTON -- It's called a mesovortex -- a weather phenomenon with a circular pattern that packs a punch but isn't quite as strong as a tornado. And on Friday morning, it may have hit the region.

Lorie Kappler woke up to the sound of the intense storm in Lorton, Virginia.

"The rain and wind became incredible. All of the sudden the house started shaking. My daughter came in screaming, ‘mom, what's going on?'

Kappler says the house started to shake like an earthquake and wind started to roar. It was so loud, Kappler's daughter thought something was coming through the house. But just seconds later, the howling stopped and it was just raining again.

But the damage was done.

"Several parts of my neighbor's fence were down. Trees were down, My backyard had no patio furniture, no gas grill, no trampoline," says Kappler.

Her patio furniture and grill were thrown across the yard and landed in a heap of broken glass and twisted metal.

In the image, the green shows one direction of the wind and the red shows the other. In the center is Lorie Kappler's home. (National Weather Service)

WTOP reported the damage to the National Weather Service. After reviewing satellite images from 5:27 a.m., the service said it spotted what might have been the mesovortex.

Mesovortices are different from tornadoes in that they're less tight and not as deep, says Steve Zubrick with the National Weather Service.

But both weather systems can be less than a few minutes or longer than an hour, Zubrick says. But as for why they happen, that's not an easy question to answer.

"(Mesovortices) form in response to these varying wind shears, which typically are most conducive to (mesovortex) formation along the outlfow/gust front of the convective system," says Zubrick.

While forecasters can predict when conditions are right for mesovortices and tornadoes, predicting a specific location more than a few minutes ahead of time is challenging.

"Monitoring real-time radar data and other meteorological data helps forecasters better anticipate and detect these circulations," says Zubrick.

(Courtesy Steve Zubrick, NWS)

While mesovortices aren't tornadoes, they can do plenty of damage -- something the Kapplers know all too well. Zubrick says speeds can be from 20 mph to more than 100 mph. And Lorie Kappler hopes she doesn't experience it again.

"My kids can use it as a school report. I hope this is a once in a life time event for me."

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