I wasn’t planning on chasing today as there was just a slight risk and I was about out of gas. However, a severe thunderstorm warning around 4:00pm quickly changed my mind. I figured I’d just go sit south of town out in the country and watch the storm for a bit. I stopped at Old Church Road and Rising Road just south of Champaign at 4:05pm. It was pouring down rain and the lightning was fairly frequent. I heard a few slaps of hail on the roof, but nothing bigger than pea size. As the storm passed, I decided to try to follow it. As I put the car into gear and tried to pull back on to the road, the tires started spinning. Flashbacks of May 29, 2004 danced in my head. I remembered that one reason I bought the new vehicle was that it had four wheel drive. The problem was I didn’t know how to engage it. I pulled up on the lever and saw an indicator light saying I was in four wheel drive. I slowly tapped the gas pedal and away we went with no more spinning tires. Whew!
I was starting to wonder if the storm season was over already. Only a few mediocre chases this year and not much to show for it. Much to my surprise, the SPC issued a large moderate risk area stretching from Iowa to western Pennsylvania. While many chasers targeted Iowa, I didn’t feel like driving that far. (I’m getting lazy as I get older I guess!) 🙂 I decided to stick to western Illinois and hope the storms would fire up before it got too dark. Another reason I didn’t want to travel too far is that I just purchased a new chase vehicle a week before and did not have all my gear installed yet. I decided to go old school chasing with nothing but my cameras, weather radio, and my iPhone. (I did have a computer with me, but I never turned it on)
I was awoken this morning at 6:52am (CDT) by my weather radio indicating we were under a severe thunderstorm watch. Radar showed a bowing line of storms in west central IL heading to the northeast at a pretty good pace. My initial plan was to head west on I-74 and intercept the line at Bloomington. However, I quickly noticed that there was no way I would arrive in time since the storms were moving around 60mph. At Farmer City, I exited the interstate and went NE on Highway 54. Once I got to Gibson City, I went north on Highway 47. A smaller bow in the line was heading right towards me, so I tried to get in front of it as best as I could. I pulled off west of Strawn, IL at E 260 RD N and N 2500 RD E at 8:20am (CDT). The lightning was increasing a bit, but there really wasn’t much else to report. There were a few brief downpours but no wind or hail to report. There were no other storms behind this cell, so I called it a chase and headed home.
Today was the day that everyone had been talking about for awhile. The SPC had a high risk of severe weather out for parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. Luckily this was the week I chose awhile ago to take off work. (sweet!) In an attempt to conserve money, I decided not to leave until early Monday morning. It was a gamble to wait that long, but I figured if I left early enough I could still make it out there in time for the storms. Originally I was targeting the Wichita, KS area but the models on Sunday evening were indicating more of a southerly/easterly threat. I chose to go for Tulsa, OK and then adjust my target from there.
I departed Champaign at 5:30am (CDT) on Monday morning and headed south on I-57. I was treated to a really nice sunrise which eventually was filled in by thick cloud cover. I went west on I-70 towards St. Louis and then southwest on I-44 across Missouri. It seemed like forever to drive across Missouri, but I eventually entered into Oklahoma. At 1:25pm (CDT), a PDS tornado watch was issued for southern Kansas and western/central Oklahoma. I was already getting alerts on my phone of tornado warnings in western Kansas, so I knew this system was about to go crazy.
It’s rare for me to have a day off during the week, so I jumped at the opportunity to chase today. A moderate risk of severe weather in Indiana and Ohio sounded pretty enticing to me. I’ve never chased in that area before, but according to other chasers the terrain didn’t sound too bad.
After topping off the gas tank and washing the car, I left Champaign at 10:00am (CDT) and went east on I-74. I made my way north of Indianapolis and stopped in Wabash, IN around 2:15pm (EDT). I grabbed some lunch and attempted to download some weather data. Apparently that area is a dead zone as I was just barely getting a signal on my Verizon data card even with an external antenna. I was getting better results on my AT&T iPhone, but still no 3G speeds. I also realized I didn’t seem to have the power cable to my data card, so I packed the computer back up and just used the phone for data.