August 26, 2000 – Chase in Coles County IL

The Day 2 Outlook from the Friday had virtually the entire state of Illinois in a slight risk for Saturday. Now while I’m not a huge fan of Day 2 outlooks, it was at least a promising outlook for Saturday. I woke up around 10:30 and checked out the models and other weather data. Noticed that a few cells had gone severe in central IL earlier in the morning which provided some hope of good stuff to come later in the day. Models didn’t look too bad, neither did the upper air data. The Day 1 outlook still had most of IL in a slight risk of severe weather, so I was still optimistic. The problem that concerned me was with all the clouds left over from the morning storms. I decided to give it a few hours and see if the sun could burn off some of the cloud debris.

While waiting on the clouds to clear out, I decided to watch a very interesting Cubs broadcast on Fox where they turned back the clock and showed the game in how it would look back in the early days of television. (pretty nifty idea by Fox). Anyways, I checked out radar and I noticed some cells going up in NW IL, so I figured that was the start of the severe weather. After a little while of watching the radar, the cells encountered some atmospheric condition in which I am not familiar with and it just blew the heck out of the storms. They died out very rapidly and it wasn’t looking good for the rest of the evening.

Around 7:15, I decided to order a pizza and watch a couple of movies since there was nothing really going on with the weather. So as I’m sitting there enjoying some good pizza and a movie, I hear my weather radio go off. Bear in mind, I’m about 50 miles south of the transmitter in Champaign, so it barely picks up the signal, let alone the alert tones, hehe. I paused the movie and ran over to turn up the weather radio and come to find out it is a Tornado Warning for parts of Douglas, Moultrie, and Coles. That totally got me in gear and I shut the movie off and quickly loaded up the radar loop to see what was going on. A supercell was slowly moving SE and it was headed right for Coles county. (SPC later issued an MCD that mentioned this supercell in Coles county)

Now I’m very hesitant about chasing at night, especially when there’s large hail and possible tornadoes lurking around me. However, I decided to give it a shot and see what I could find out there. I unplugged all my stuff and loaded up the gear and went out. I decided to head west on Route 16 towards Mattoon to try to get behind the storm and stay out of the way. I was seeing a lot of lightning on my way over there, but very little rain at the time. I drove through Mattoon and ended up going north on Rt. 45 for a few miles until I decided that the storm was getting too intense in this direction. I decided to turn around and then head back to Mattoon. Well, instead of jogging back to Rt. 16, I took this road that was a mile north of Rt 16. I went east on this road and finally saw a sign that said Charleston to the left. I took a left on this road (County road 880 E.) and went North when the lightning got really intense. Around this time, the weather radio went off announcing another Tornado Warning for Coles county, which was triggered by a sighted funnel cloud NW of Mattoon. I took a gander at GPS and it was showing me going away from where I wanted to be going. I quickly did a turnabout and headed back south. I looked at GPS again and noticed where I was and headed towards Rt. 16.

This is where things get REAL interesting. As soon as I started heading east on Rt. 16, it was like the storm was going postal! 🙂 The rain was a total downpour, the visibility was almost nil. The lightning was very intense and spectacular at the same time. If that wasn’t enough, I had very strong winds (I’d estimate 45-55 mph) attempting to blow me off the road. I was moving about 20-25mph tops and I had these idiots passing me like it was nothing. I commented on the video that I’d probably see them stuck in a ditch up the road, hehe. Anyways, I slowly made my back into Charleston and the storm wasn’t letting up. I continued driving east through Charleston and went a few miles outside of town where I totally got slammed. (bear cage? core? whatever you want to call it , it was intense.) This wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I made another turnaround and headed back towards Charleston. I decided that I’d had enough for the night and headed back to the dorm. Got back inside and checked radar, noticed a huge cluster of storms south of Coles county. Most of the activity was down there and the threat for Coles county had diminished.

Wow, what a crazy night! Never expected the lone tornado warnings to include Coles county, kind of ironic! I never got a glimpse of the possible tornado / funnel cloud, but the other weather elements kept me plenty busy throughout the chase. My recently acquired GPS unit really proved itself tonight, I definitely wouldn’t recommend chasing at night without it, even if you know the road network. For late August, it was good to get out and chase again, especially on a weekend! Hopefully we’ll get a few more chances to chase before the weather changes too much. Happy Chasing!


Total Chase Time: 1.5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 50 miles

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