April 21, 2002 – Chasing hail in Southern Illinois

The Day 2 outlook on Saturday morning indicated that part of central and southern Illinois would be in a moderate risk of severe weather. However, with the bust that occurred with the moderate risk in the plains on Saturday, I was a bit skeptical about our chances on Sunday. I decided to email my local chasing pal Darin Kaiser to find out if he wanted to chase on Sunday. Sure enough, he was ready and willing to go. Since my vehicle is old and fragile, we decided that we’d take Darin’s much newer truck. 🙂

I was planning on getting up around 7:00am CDT to prepare myself for the big chase. However, my weather radio had other plans for me and woke me up just after 5:00am CDT to alert me to a flash flood warning. (maybe I should actually program my weather radio to only go off for my county??) 😉 Anyways, too anxious to sleep, I got up and started analyzing whatever data I could find. The latest Day 1 stated that the moderate risk had been downgraded to a slight risk. (bummer!) After mulling over the data, I decided that we should target an area between Effingham – Mt. Vernon (IL) – Vincennes (IN).

A little before 9:00am CDT, Darin arrived at my house and I started transferring my chase gear over to his truck. According to the 9am weather observation from Champaign-Willard Airport, it was a chilly 44 degrees when we departed Champaign. As we headed south on I-57, we were pretty much stuck in overcast skies with light-moderate rainfall. Around 10:45am CDT, the weather radio went off and let us know of a severe thunderstorm watch for southern Illinois. (woo hoo!) We decided to stop in Salem to gas up and attempt to figure out which way to head next. We flipped on the local NOAA weather radio station and started gathering data. They mentioned that it was in the 60s in Salem, but already in the 70s just 25 miles to the south in Mt. Vernon. We noticed somewhat of a cell to our east, so we headed towards it on US 50. We weren’t finding too much that way, so we decided to head back to Salem and just go south from there.

Around 1:30pm CDT, we hopped off I-57 at a little town called Ina. We made a pit stop at the local BP gas station and got a few snacks to keep us going. The weather radio informed us that storms in Missouri would be crossing over into Illinois after 2:00pm CDT. We noticed that a cell was building to our west, so we tried to find a spot with good visibility to examine it more closely. Right down the road was Rend Lake College, which provided a much better viewing spot than most others we tried. We watched some towers go up and took some pictures while they did. While we were watching this cell, the weather radio went off to announce that a tornado watch had been issued. (double woo hoo!!) 🙂 We saw another cell further to our west, so we jogged south on I-57 to HWY 154 and headed west.

Around 2:50pm CDT, we encountered a nice looking cell west of Pickneyville in Perry County. As we drove closer to the storm, the weather radio went off again telling us that this nice cell we were looking at was now a severe thunderstorm! 😉 We pulled off HWY 154 on a side road and attempted to turn around, but Darin let the truck roll too far back into the ditch and got stuck. The storm was rapidly approaching our position, so we had to get out of there quickly. Darin put his foot on the gas and floored it, but all we were getting was rapidly spinning tires and a horrible burning rubber smell. Unfortunately, neither one of us was smart enough to keep the camcorder rolling during this incident. Finally, we got enough momentum and made our way out of the ditch and back on to the road just in time. We crossed HWY 154 and parked on CR 500E to wait out the storm. As we were sitting there, all hell broke loose. The rain cut loose, the wind blasted us at an estimated 50-60mph, and then we had the hail. It started out as pea-sized hail and then got bigger and bigger and eventually ended up between half-dollar size and golfball!! We decided to bail from our position and find a farmhouse/tree to shelter us from the hail. The cell quickly passed our location and the sun once again popped out. A few minutes after the cell has passed, we noticed the very visible hail shaft to our east. (someone else was getting nailed!) 😉

We started heading back east towards another cell that looked somewhat promising. At 3:40pm CDT, the weather radio went off again stating that a doppler indicated tornado warning had been issued for northern Franklin county, which just happened to be the cell we were behind. Unfortunately, this puppy was moving at 50mph to the east, so it was almost impossible to catch up with it. We did manage to spot a well-defined wall cloud on the cell, but due to the terrain and trees, we were unable to track it. At 4:30pm CDT, we stopped off at a rest area for another pit stop. This particular rest stop had a very slick DTN weather station with someone actually there to operate it. Most of the activity was well to our NE, so we decided to just call it a day and head back home. We arrived back at my house in Champaign around 7:45pm CDT. As I was unloading my gear, Darin was inspecting his truck for hail damage and sure enough, he located several battle scars. 😉 (gotta break it in someday, why not today!)

Final thoughts:
Despite the terrible terrain, low probability by the SPC of severe weather, and early morning cloud cover, I’d say the chase was very successful. We saw a couple wall clouds, some mammatus clouds, strong winds, and last but not least, we had hail! 😉 It definitely was more exciting than sitting at home doing nothing all day. I will attempt, however, from venturing that far south in Illinois for another chase as the terrain and trees make it really difficult to safely chase.

Special Thanks:
Big thanks to Darin for providing the transportation for the chase today. Every time I chase with him, we seem to get some really exciting storms. 😉 Of course, it’s nice that he is willing to put his vehicle in harms way of the hail. Hail dents add character!! 🙂

Total Chase Time: 10 hours
Total Chase Miles: 550 miles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 + 11 =