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April 19, 2002 – Champaign county chase

At the beginning of April, it seemed like spring would never get here. Our winter seemed to start in late March with quite a helping of snow across the area. However, by the third week of the month, it really warmed up. We broke numerous high temperature records during the week, which made it feel like summer instead of spring. (it’s Illinois, what else would you expect??) 🙂 Anyways, along with our upper-80 degree temps this week came some very tropical mid-60’s dew points. The SPC has had the area pasted in a slight risk of severe weather for the past 3 days now, but until tonight, we’ve missed out on them.

Today was no exception from the past few days, except that unlike the previous couple of days, we actually had a trigger to help the storms fire up. The cold front decided to push it’s way about half-way through Illinois today where it decided to stop. I initially had my doubts about any storms firing in the Champaign area due to the fact that the front seemed to be a bit further south than expected. All indications that I was getting told me that if storms were to fire, it would be later in the afternoon into the evening hours.

Around 5:30pm CDT, the SPC issued a severe thunderstorm watch for Western and Central Illinois. Ironically, the watch did not include Champaign County, but as the watch states:

“A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH AREA.”

While enjoying my nice Dominos thin-crust pizza, my weather radio went off informing me of a severe thunderstorm warning for Champaign and Douglas counties. After taking a quick peek at the radar one more time, I decided that I would head south and take a look at this little fella. As I made my way south through Champaign, the weather radio went off again stating that they had upgraded the severe thunderstorm warning to a tornado warning! (hmmm, dejavu??? same place as last Friday!) I decided to head south on Rt.45 and could definitely see this cell intensifying. As I passed through Tolono, I decided to head east to possibly stop and take some pictures of the ominous conditions. I pulled to the side of the road and flipped on my portable TV to see if anyone was showing radar. Sure enough, WAND-TV out of Decatur was showing a nice zoomed in section of this area. At this point, I realized that it would be unwise for me to attempt to punch through the north side of the cell just to get to the ‘good side’. As painful as it was, I decided to break off from this cell for a while and headed back north to come up with another plan.

I headed back north on Rt.45 and began hearing more reports of possible rotation and/or funnel clouds with the cell. I decided to head east on CR 1100N towards Philo to see if I could yet again give it another shot. Went about 3 miles east of Rt.130 and pulled over to check out the sky again. It was really dark at this point so it was hard to see much of anything. I turned around at that point and headed back to Rt.45 and in the process, I barely avoided nailing a big ol’ duck. (guess he was out storm chasing by himself too!) 🙂

Listening to reports from ESDA and ham spotters, it sounded like there was another cell to the west that was cranking up. I could definitely see the lightning to my west, so I decided to go to my favorite road and setup for some lightning shots. Around 9:00pm, I pulled off about half a mile north of CR 1000N on CR 600E. As I was shooting some still shots of the lightning, WAND-TV broke in again and zoomed in on the stuff to my west. It appeared to be losing strength which I noticed from the decrease in lightning strikes. After finishing off my roll of film, I decided to head back home and call it a night.

Final thoughts:
Well, after passing up a free ride to chase in Northern Illinois with INCHASE on Thursday, I definitely relished the ability to chase locally today. While I didn’t really see too much or get any footage, I did enjoy getting out for the first time this year to chase. I think in the future, I will just camp out on the Champaign/Douglas County line and wait for the tornado warning. 🙂 Hopefully there will be more opportunities to chase this month.

Special Thanks:
I definitely have to give a big thank you to the folks at WAND-TV in Decatur for their great weather coverage. It really makes a difference when you can see the radar when you’re out chasing. WAND-TV does a great job of breaking in and showing which cells are causing the most trouble. Keep up the great work guys!

Total Chase Time: 3 hours
Total Chase Miles: 60 miles

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