August 18, 2001 – Moderate risk in Central Illinois

After glancing at the forecast models and the SPC Day 2 outlook for Saturday, it really didn’t appear likely that this area was going to receive any severe weather. However, when I woke up on Saturday morning, the new Day 1 outlook had shifted the slight risk to include most of IL. The models still didn’t look too impressive, but they are in fact just models. 🙂 Anyway, I waited around for the new Day 1 outlook to come out around 11:30am to see what the SPC thought of the situation. I was completely taken by surprise when they not only kept us in the slight risk, but had upgraded us to a moderate risk! At first I thought I was either dreaming or someone was playing a very cruel and belated April Fool’s joke on me. However, neither was the case as this was the real deal and the stage was set for severe weather right here in central IL.

As noon rolled around, the SPC issued an MCD outlining an area for a possible tornado watch. Well, just 13 minutes after the MCD was issued, a nifty tornado watch was issued for parts of Central Illinois and Western/Central Indiana. At the same time as the watch was being issued, the first tornado warning went out for Mason county. After watching the storms fire and move in this direction, I debated on which way to go. At first, I wanted to go west and intercept the one supercell as it entered Dewitt county. On the other hand, another cell had formed in McLean county and was looking to clip part of northern Champaign county. Decision time…

I loaded up the gear and headed out just after 1:00pm. As I was making my way to the gas station, my weather radio went off announcing a severe thunderstorm warning for Champaign county. After filling up the gas tank at a painful $1.77 / gallon, I headed west on Springfield Ave. which turned into Rt. 10 as I proceeded out of town. At 1:40pm as I was approaching Rt.47, my weather radio went off again to inform me that a tornado warning had replaced the severe thunderstorm warning that was issued earlier. Once again, it was decision time. Do I go after this storm to my north or do I continue heading west towards the other storm? Well, my gut feeling told me to go north, so I took a right and went north on Rt.47.

The sky continued to become more ominous as I went north. I monitored the spotter net and ESDA frequencies and no one was seeing much of anything in the way of rotation. After winding my way through Mahomet, I jogged back to Rt. 47 and continued north to Rt.136. I saw alot of low hanging scud, but never saw any rotation. I went east on Rt.136 (brings back memories of May 18, 2000!) passing through Fisher, IL and I noticed a bank sign that reported a 67 degree temperature! Brrrr! 🙂 As I was just a mile or two west of Rantoul, the sky was turning a greenish color, so I knew something was churning up there. While considering my decision on whether to take the highway or a backroad, I saw this red minivan on the side of the road with more antennas than I have. Could that be Blake Naftel from Michigan all the way down here in my neck of the woods? You betcha! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stop and finally meet him due to this storm almost right on top of the area. (sorry Blake, maybe next year!!)

I decided to avoid the highway and take Rt. 45 south back towards Champaign. The guy running net control on the spotter net said that there was another cell heading towards Champaign county. At 2:22pm, the weather radio went off again announcing another tornado warning that included Piatt and Champaign counties. I headed into Urbana on Rt.45 and hopped on I-74 and then switched to I-57 south. I got off I-57 at the Monticello/Savoy exit and proceeded west on the Monticello Road (Hwy 18). I went a few miles west and then turned north on CR 600E. (brings back memories of June 4, 1999!) I pulled off the side of the road and got out to take pictures. Once again, I wasn’t seeing any rotation but the cloud structure was really cool looking. I sat there for almost 25 minutes watching it move to my east. While I was standing there, the temperature must have dropped a good 15-20 degrees! (can you say wind chill factor!) Occasionally, I would look straight up and see clouds going one way and other clouds going the opposite way, it was very sweet. I then noticed some sort of spin-up to my east a few miles. My guess is that it was either a gustnado or just some dust getting kicked up. (was just too far away to tell for sure)

After running out of both video and 35mm film, I decided to get back in the car and replenish the supplies. As I was loading the cameras, I heard on the spotter net that another cell was heading towards Champaign county in 20-30 minutes. (yippeeee!) I headed back east on the Monticello road and then decided to go north on Rt.45. As I was turning onto Rt.45, my weather radio goes off with yet another tornado warning for Champaign county. I was also hearing on the spotter net that a tornado had been sighted near Ogden, IL, but I was well south of there at the time. I went a mile north on Rt.45 and then went east on CR 1100N. After hearing the spotter net saying the next cell would probably be in the southern part of Champaign county, I decided to head south on CR 1200E. I went 10 miles south, then went west on CR 100N, and finally went south again on CR 1150E. Just as I entered Douglas county, my weather radio went off for a tornado warning right here in Douglas county! (somehow in the right place at the right time!)

About a 1/4 mile into Douglas county I pulled off and took a few pictures. I saw an awesome shelf cloud and some dust being blown across the field to my SW. I continued heading south on CR 1150E and then the winds decided to say hello to Stan. 🙂 Dust was starting to blow across the road and while not blinding, it certainly didn’t want me here. (not exactly sure what the speeds were, but I would estimate 45-55mph) I quickly jogged east a mile on CR 1250N and stopped for a brief second to get a couple stills of this dust/rain combination. Then I jogged south and east a couple miles and finally ended up on CR 1350E. Once again, I pulled off the side of the road and took pictures from inside the car. (it was raining and lightning wasn’t too far behind me!) I noticed some scud to my east that seemed to be rotating, but I’m not sure if it was anything or not. After sitting there for 10 minutes, the wall of wind and rain caught up to me and I decided to get out of there.

I headed south on CR 1350E and then went west on CR 1050N. At this point I was driving right into the wall of rain and wind, so I wasn’t moving more than 20-25mph. As I traveled west, I heard what could have been very small hailstones hit the side of my car, but it didn’t last very long and could just have been the rain pelting the car. At this point the spotter net was winding down and telling everyone to stand down and go home, so that’s what I decided to do too. I headed back north on Rt. 45 just north of Tuscola, IL. Ran through a bunch of rain on my way back to Champaign, but it slowly dissipated as I went north. I arrived back home in Champaign at 4:40pm.

Final thoughts:
This was one of those days where everything came together. I was impressed at how fast everything happened as I’m usually waiting and waiting for stuff to fire. Not only did this stuff fire, but it happened in the early afternoon. (that’s rare around here!!) Excluding my plains chase, this has probably been my best chase of the year. (so far! *grin*) This once again proves that the season doesn’t end on June 30th. It was also really ironic that I was able to chase on the same roads in one day that I previously chased on 2 different days. (June 4, 1999 and May 18, 2000) At least I had my camcorder working this time, where as the ’99 chase my older camcorder died and the ’00 chase I wasn’t able to pan over and get the tornado on film! Only took me 2 years, but at least I had it rolling this time! 🙂

While I didn’t come across any tornado touchdowns, I still had an awesome chase day. I’m still amazed at how I managed to avoid the large hail despite there being numerous reports of large hail all around me. Click here for a listing of all the severe weather reports from Central IL. The NWS at Lincoln has also published a damage assessment from these storms which is quite interesting.

Special Thanks:
I’d like to thank mother nature for coming through with a great system in August! My thanks also goes out to the SPC for their quick action in issuing the MCD and Tornado Watch. Finally, I’d like to thank the spotter net and ESDA people for being ready for this round of severe weather. Keep up the great work!! 🙂

Total Chase Time: 3.5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 125 miles

Leave a Reply

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

twenty − 19 =