April 20, 2004 – Tornado intercept near Kankakee IL

I had no intentions or reasons to chase today, everything looked to be out in KS/OK. Anything that did come our way appeared to be overnight stuff that isn’t much fun to chase. I briefly looked at the models and it showed very decent shear but no cape to work with. As I went to work in the morning, the whole state was covered with showers and thunderstorms. (nothing severe) As worked progressed, I noticed a watch box go up out west for KS/OK/AR/MO. Not having much to do, I loaded up a few weather programs and kept an eye on it just for kicks.

While I was sitting there, I saw a tornado warning pop up on the screen. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but then noticed it was from our local NWS office in Lincoln. I thought maybe they were testing or someone hit the wrong button, but as I looked closer it not only was real but it was for Champaign county! (what the ….!) I about fell out of my chair when this happened and shared the news with several co-workers. The radar didn’t really show much of anything which made me think this was just a farse. Not too long after I received several damage reports around the county that did indeed confirm the tornado. Even with this very local event, I still didn’t think much of it.

At this time, I was back to wondering what to do for lunch. I didn’t feel like going anywhere and several others in the office felt the same way, so we decided to order some subs from our local establishment. We got some special deal that’s meant for 4 people but it was just the 3 of us, so we each got 2 of something. One got 2 drinks, another got 2 bags of chips, while I ended up with the 2 small sub sandwiches. (not a bad deal, or so I thought) I usually leave work at 6 pm on Tuesday’s, but since I worked through lunch I could leave at 5 pm. As it got closer to this time, the great deal on the subs didn’t feel so great anymore. My stomach kept doing flips and all kinds of special events fit for the olympics. Of course around this time, more storms started firing up in IL which were going tornadic. Despite this wonderful news, I didn’t really feel up to chasing.

I got home and took some good ol’ Pepto and continued looking at the radar. There were various tornadic supercells scattered across central and north central IL/IN which prompted the SPC to issue a tornado watch. Amazingly, I started feeling much better and started gathering up my chase gear. Everything was moving in a NE direction, so I decided I would head north and try to intercept one of these puppies.

After loading up the gear and filling up the gas tank, I headed north on I-57. I attempted to get some radar updates on the way up, but shortly after leaving Champaign county I discovered the no-data zone in cell phone coverage. I continued getting warnings via text messages as well as hearing several warnings on the weather radio. I heard one tornado warning come out for Ford/Livingson/Iroquois counties which is where I was, but there was alot of grunge that prohibited me from seeing anything useful. I got just south of Kankakee around 7:15pm and stopped to check the radar. I appeared to be smack dab between two tornadic cells, one to my west and the other to my east. I decided to go after the one to my west because it was closer and had confirmed sightings of a tornado. So I headed south of town on RT.45 and then headed west to try to intercept this thing.

I saw numerous low hanging features, but there was only one that really caught my eye. As I turned east on HWY 115 from S.4000W Rd, I saw a definite funnel cloud but a grove of trees were blocking my view of the ground below it. As soon as I got past the trees, I saw the debris cloud confirming a tornado. This thing kept going up and down but was really stirring up the dirt. I pulled off on S.3000W Rd. and filmed the tornado crossing HWY 115 about a mile down the road from me. (7:35pm CDT – 5m SW Kankakee / 4m NNW Chebanse) About a minute after it crossed the road, it started getting rain wrapped. Since this thing was moving in a NE direction, I decided to cautiously follow it.

I headed north about a mile and then east on W 3500S RD about half a mile where it became visible again. (7:40pm CDT – 4.5m N Chebanse / 4.5m SW Kankakee) I could definitely tell it was increasing in strength as it was getting more of a cone shape to it as well as kicking up more dirt. I got out of the car and kept filming as it encountered a populated area. I wanted to get some better video, so I quickly grabbed the tripod out of the car and set it up. As I was fumbling with mounting the camera on the tripod, I saw a green power flash that lit up the whole tornado. Several seconds later, I saw 2 more green power flashes. As I got the camera mounted on the tripod, the rain decided to block the view of the tornado yet again. I attempted to catch up with it again, but I ended up getting stuck in traffic and that was the end of the chase.

As I was making my way through Kankakee, I saw several emergency vehicles racing to the south which gave me an uneasy feeling. It was pretty much dark at this point, so any further chasing would be silly. I made my way back to I-57 and headed back to Champaign.

Final thoughts:
I’m still in that stage of shock and awe at this point. What started out as a non-severe day turned in to a very successful chase. It just goes to show you that anything can happen in April and you always have to be prepared for it. I just hope the people who incurred property damage and injuries can make a full recovery.


Total Chase Time: 3 hours
Total Chase Miles: 180 miles

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