April 4, 2003 – Chase in Champaign/Piatt County

I wasn’t really expecting too much this far north today in the way of severe weather. The early morning Day 1 outlook had southern Illinois in a moderate risk and the slight risk was just north of there. It appeared that the front was going to pass through quickly, taking all the severe weather with it to the south and east. Looking at the surface map, there was quite a temperature gradient so I knew something was up. Dewpoints were in the upper 50s and forecasted to hit the lower 60s. Convective parameters weren’t too shabby with CAPE values around 1500 and helicity around 200-250. The cap wasn’t a concern today with such a strong front, but clouds were definitely an issue. If we remained socked in with clouds, we probably wouldn’t get much severe weather. However, if we could get a few breaks it would be a different story.

During the morning, we had several little areas of storms move through the area. None were severe, but there was decent amounts of lightning. After each batch went through, the sun would seem to make another appearance. The 1630z Day 1 pushed the slight risk much further north and the moderate wasn’t too far behind. Watching satellite loops of the region, you could definitely see some destabilization occurring. A little after 11:00am, the SPC issued an MCD for central MO to IL stating that storms were expected to rapidly develop after 12:00pm. About an hour later they issued a tornado watch mainly west of I-55 in IL to central MO. Around 1:00pm, a cell had fired up east of Quincy, IL and was rapidly gaining strength. Numerous severe and tornado warnings were issued for it as it tracked across western and central IL. It appeared to take a right turn and head more east than its previous northeast direction. At 3:52pm, a tornado was reported with this cell in Clinton, IL.

Having seen enough, I decided to get the gear and head out at 4:00pm. My plans were to head to the northern part of Champaign county and intercept this cell as it made its way east. I made my way to Rt.136 and 900E, 3 miles east of Fisher, IL. Two minutes after I arrived, the weather radio went off for a tornado warning in Champaign county. Directly to my west was a pretty decent wall cloud, but it wasn’t rotating from what I could see. I was monitoring WAND-TV and they were showing their street-level radar. Ironically, they zoomed right in on the Fisher area and showed the area where there could be hail and rotation. The sky appeared to become more greenish which told me that there was a decent chance of hail. Having heard several reports of large hail in the area, I decided to bail east and south before the hail got to me. (was more concerned about damaging my antennas than the car itself!) 🙂

Since this storm had moved off to the east, I decided to head back south to Champaign and intercept more storms that were heading in my direction. I pulled into a parking lot around 5:15 and checked out WAND-TV’s radar again, noticing a line of storms to the west and south. I decided to head west on Rt.10 and go to the edge of the county. I sat there for awhile watching boring rain and some occasional lightning, but nothing too impressive at all. Once again, I flipped on WAND-TV and they were showing a nice cell near Bethany, IL. I was a tad too far north of there, but decided to head south and see if I couldn’t intercept it.

As I headed south, the lightning really picked up. There was a lot of cloud-cloud lightning and some decent cloud-ground stuff as well. I made my way just SW of Atwood, IL and pulled of Rt.36 to watch the sky and radar again. I was considering going further south, but then decided with it getting dark to just make my way back home. I took Rt.36 east to Tuscola and then headed back to Champaign on Rt.45.

Final thoughts:
There were a lot of tornado warnings but only a few that actually produced anything. (which is why spotters/chasers are needed out there) There were numerous reports of large hail though, so these storms had pretty decent updrafts. Finally, after a year long separation I got my GPS back and it sure made navigating a lot easier.

Special Thanks:
A huge round of thanks and kudos goes out to WAND-TV (17) in Decatur, IL. Their street-level doppler is simply remarkable and they break-in immediately when severe weather is lurking. Thanks guys!

Total Chase Time: 2.5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 105 miles

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