April 24, 2004 – Chase to Southeast Missouri

After having a very successful chase on 4/20, I was ready to get back out there and see what else I could intercept. The setup for Saturday looked fairly decent: nice moisture, instability, CAPE was up there, and some decent wind shear. I wasn’t sure if I was going to chase or not, but figured if I did that I would target the very popular oasis of Sikeston, MO. A friend of mine from the St. Louis area called me up and asked if I could take a look at their computer. (darn viruses!) I decided that I could go down there Friday after work, fix the computer, crash at their place, and then chase Saturday if something materialized. Not too shabby if you ask me!

As I awoke Saturday morning, we were socked in with cloudy skies. I flipped on the weather channel and it confirmed my visual observations. (this wasn’t looking good) After saying our goodbyes, I departed Alton, IL around 11:00am in search of weather data and food. I drove around these small little towns north of the area, but couldn’t seem to find any food joints that I was interested in. I had the craving for some Hardee’s bacon-egg-cheese biscuits, so that was my new goal of the morning. I finally stumbled into Staunton, IL and found a Hardee’s. Unfortunately they had stopped serving breakfast, so my choices were limited to the Angus burgers or a safer/healthier choice of the ham and swiss sandwich. As I was eating my ham and swiss sandwich, I hopped online to get the latest weather information. Everything in IL was socked in with thick cloud cover, but further south the sun was popping through.

As I was sitting there debating what to do, I got an alert on my phone saying a tornado watch had just been issued for Arkansas and Missouri. (holy crap!) I called up my buddy Mike Cox and asked him what was going on. He told me the watch mainly covered Arkansas, with just a sliver of SE Missouri. (Sikeston baby here we come!) 🙂 I was still about 3+ hours north of Sikeston, but figured I had plenty of time to get there. I made my way out of Staunton to I-55, where I headed south. As I neared Bloomsdale, MO., the floodgates opened which prompted me to stop at a rest area to wait it out. I had cell coverage, but could not connect to data since I was roaming. I called up Mike again to check on things and he reported that there were some tornado warnings in Arkansas, but nothing too impressive at the moment. I made a quick beverage/bathroom run at the rest area (yes it was still pouring), and then got back on I-55 and continued south.

I made another quick stop in St. Genevieve, MO to fill up on gas, then continued south on I-55. As I went further south, the sun started breaking through the clouds which definitely gave me hope. As I approached Sikeston, I decided to continue heading south rather than stopping. Around 4:00pm I made it to New Madrid, MO. and decided to find a spot that wasn’t plastered with trees to watch the sky. I saw several towers try to go up, but they all kind of fizzled out. The dew point around this time was in the upper 60s, so it made for a very hazy and muggy environment. Around 5:45pm, I headed west of town to see if I could find a decent gas station to fill up the tank. While I was out running around, I started hearing several warnings coming out to my west. I took a quick glance at radar and it looked like the heart of the storms were going to be to my NW. Having not found a gas station to my liking, I made my way back to New Madrid and then hopped back on I-55 to head north.

Around 6:30pm I made it to the Sikeston area and made the mistake of getting off the interstate. As I battled my way through traffic, I heard more warnings go out to my NW so I knew something was brewing. I finally made my way north of town on US 61. I started tuning around on the scanner and came across a weak but audible county frequency. They were talking about tornado damage in Wayne County, MO, which was 2 counties to my west. I continued north on US 61 and then jumped back on I-55. Visibility was getting pretty bad now between the haze, trees, and hills. Around 7:15pm, I finally got off the interstate near Oak Ridge, MO and headed west on SR E. As I came over the first hill on this lovely road, I suddenly felt like I was riding a roller coaster. I’d never seen a hill drop off so quickly before, I thought for sure the car was going to flip over! I cautiously made my way to the northwest, zig-zagging through this god-forsaken place that some like to call Missouri. (I have a few other names that I could suggest)

I made my way into NE Bollinger county where things got a bit interesting. As I came over yet another hill, I saw what appeared to be a lowering of some sort. I want to call it a wall cloud, but due to the insane amount of foliage and crappy terrain I just can’t be certain. I tried to find a road option to get me closer to this thing, but all of a sudden the flood gates opened and I had to pull off the road. After the rain subsided, I headed north into southern Perry county. I stopped at a church in Biele, MO in hopes I would see some hail or high winds, but I only ended up with some gusty rainy winds and some lightning strikes. I was getting really low on fuel now, so I decided I’d better fill up on gas now while I had the gas station in sight. Despite the pumps being underneath a cover, the winds still managed to soak me while I was pumping gas. (a few lightning strikes added to the excitement) 🙂 I took another look at radar and noticed everything was starting to form into a line and head off to my east.

It was dark by this time, so I decided to call it a chase and make my way back home. I headed north on I-55 to St. Louis, then headed east on I-70. I was really starting to get tired and while I probably could have made it all the way home, I decided to find a cheap hotel and make the rest of the trip home in the morning. While I was tempted to stay at a Holiday Inn Express, my wallet had other ideas. I found a Knights Inn in Altamont, IL and spent the night there. Being a cheaper hotel, it didn’t have A/C so it was quite humid which didn’t help the whole sleep process. I left the hotel around 8:30am on Sunday morning and made it back to Champaign around 10:00am.

Final thoughts:
Unlike the previous two trips to the bootheel of Missouri, at least there were watches and warnings to go along with this trip. I probably would have been more successful if those darn trees and hills hadn’t been there, but this is Missouri we’re talking about. Note to self: Please buy chainsaw and road grader for future chasing in Missouri. 😉

Total Chase Time: 12 hours
Total Chase Miles: 800 miles

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