April 16, 2003 – Chase to southwest IL

I had been watching this day on the models for awhile now and was anxious to see what would happen now that it was finally here. The early morning Day 1 (06z) outlook painted a small moderate risk area from extreme SW IL to SE MO. This was the general area I was wanting to head to, so I was pretty excited. Unfortunately the moderate risk didn’t last long as the SPC downgraded it to a slight risk, stating that the risk of severe weather didn’t warrant a moderate risk. (blah!) Dewpoints were only forecasted to be in the mid-50s, while helicity values were looking much better around 200-300. I won’t even talk about CAPE since it was nearly non-existent. 😉 The CAP from the ILX and SGF 12z soundings was pretty high, so stuff was not likely to fire up until sunset or thereafter. Despite the limited ingredients, Darin and I decided to give it a go and see what happened. Our target area was the chasing hotspot of SW IL, better known as Pinckneyville, IL. 🙂

Darin and I left my place here in Champaign at 11:00am and headed south on I-57. Not much was going on with the weather at this time, just some partly cloudy conditions and very windy. We stopped south of Salem, IL at a rest stop to take a break from the non-stop driving. Inside they had a weather monitor that showed temps, radar, and a few other things. There appeared to be a small squall line that had developed just west of us, but we had no intentions of chasing it. After grabbing a Pepsi and some Potato Skins (great chaser snack food!), we continued south on I-57. We arrived in Mt. Vernon around 1:30pm and decided to look around for a computer w/Internet access to get some weather data. After going 0 for 2 at the local Staples and Radio Shack, we explored the main drag for the town library. Once we found it, we went inside and asked about using a computer. We were very happy that all we needed was a driver’s license to use the computers.

Once online, I paused for a moment trying to think of which site to visit first. Hmmm, how about your own freakin’ website Stan, jeesh! 😉 Darin and I laughed at that as I loaded up StansWeather.Net. We looked at radar first, seeing that dinky squall line dissipating as we figured it would. Satellite loops were showing a pretty thick pack of clouds, though there was a skinny area of clearing that was something to look for anyways. I took a look at the RUC and ETA models which both continued to show a declining amount of CAPE. Surface plots were showing dew points in the low to mid-50s, though Scott AFB continued to show a 61 degree dew point for the 1pm and 2pm obs. Not wanting to go over the 60 minute daily limit just in case we had to come back through later, we decided to head west towards our originally target area of Pinckneyville, IL.

We got back on I-57 and as we were cruising along, the semi in front of us seemed to be getting close to us real quick. (no, Darin was not driving that fast!) We rapidly slowed down and somewhat veered into the shoulder to avoid hitting him, though it sounds worse than it actually was. It must have been 15 minutes of stop and go traffic on I-57, completely nuts. The construction crews were working on the right lane of traffic, so it was down to one very slow left lane of traffic. Finally, we made it through that mess and got back to highway speeds. We eventually made it to Pinckneyville around 3:45pm and again scoured the streets for a library. We finally found it and noticed it was much smaller than the one in Mt. Vernon, so we weren’t too sure if they even had computers. 😉

Once inside, we asked the lady if they had computers with Internet and sure enough they did. While I was filling out the paper work, the librarian asked me if I was over 18. I just smiled and answered “Yes”. 🙂 Although she didn’t ask for ID, this has to be a first to be carded at a library. (you’d think I was ordering an alcoholic drink or something, LOL) Anyways, we sat down and started browsing the weather data again. They must have been sharing a dialup Internet connection, because it was slow as heck. Conditions were still about the same and there still were no mesoscale discussions yet. (come on SPC, at least make up something to tell us!)

After leaving the library, we decided to head to Sparta, IL. Once again, we encountered more road construction that brought cars to a standstill again. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as the I-57 junk, so that was a relief. As we entered the town of Sparta, we must have found that skinny clearing that we saw earlier on the satellite image. Despite the amount of sunshine, the air still felt too dry. After gasing up the truck for $1.41/gallon, we headed south of town to watch the skies. We found a small vacant cemetery and sat there watching to our west. I could almost see the wind shear as the surface winds were coming from one direction and the higher clouds were going another. The winds were really strong now and it was downright cold, definitely wasn’t any tropical dew points around here. We sat there for about 50 minutes just watching and waiting, but nothing happened. Darin called fellow ILCHASE member Mark Sefried to get some sort of an update. Mark said nothing was happening and it’d be best just to head on home. Darin and I concurred with that statement and started heading back.

We headed back towards Pinckeyville and then went north on Rt.51 to avoid the construction junk on Hwy 154. Around 6:20pm as we entered the town of Tamaroa, our ILCHASE pagers went off for the first time today announcing a mesoscale discussion. (about freaking time people!) Darin called Mark back on the cell phone to see if this was going to amount to anything or not. Mark said there was a real small line of storms near St. Louis, but said it didn’t look too impressive. We decided to continue our journey home and not bother with the dinky line of storms. As we entered Vandalia, IL, our stomachs told us they needed some food. In remembrance of the mesoscale discussion for southern Illinois, we decided to eat at McD’s. 🙂 As we were eating, we looked outside and it was pouring down rain but only for a few minutes. After eating, we hopped on I-70 and headed towards Effingham. Once there, we switched to I-57 and headed back to Champaign. We arrived back at my house around 10:00pm.

Final thoughts:
This is one of those days that is frustrating but still worth the effort. Had we not chased today, I’m almost certain something would have developed which would have had us kicking ourselves over and over. It was a good practice run for the rest of the season. Besides, the next non-bust chase will feel even better after enduring this bust.

Special Thanks:
I definitely want to thank Darin for providing the transportation and enjoyable company for this chase.

Total Chase Time: 11 hours
Total Chase Miles: 432 miles

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