February 24, 2001 – Chase to Southern Illinois

Well, it’s been a long off-season and the SDS is almost too unbearable! After last year’s dismal chase season, this year brings new anticipation and excitement. It also gives everyone a chance to improve on their mistakes from last year. Whatever the case may be, I’m ready for spring and ready to see what awesome spectacles that mother nature is going to dish out.

After watching all the forecast models over the past week and a half, it looked like Saturday would be the best chance for severe weather in IL. A few days before, TWC decided to make up this graphic that had the words ‘severe outbreak’ slapped across part of the midwest. While I feel that the word outbreak might have been a bit extreme, I still felt that something could develop out of this. Despite it being a Saturday, I decided to make the sacrifice and get up around 6:30am to check weather data. *yawn* When the 7:00am Day 1 outlook came out, it had the southern half of IL in a slight risk and just to the SW of IL there was a moderate risk of severe weather. After checking that, I pulled up some radar and satellite maps to see what it was looking like. The satellite loops were one of my main concerns because there was a ton of clouds and they didn’t seem to be burning off or moving away. I did notice a little bit of clearing in southern IL, but it didn’t continue that pattern for very long.

I received an email from Chad Gard (INCHASE) saying that him and Joe were heading this way and were going to stop here at EIU and check the data. While I was waiting for him, I constantly monitored the weather conditions and waited on possible watches to be issued. I also checked the Special Weather Statements from Lincoln and St. Louis to see what they thought about the situation. Lincoln stated that the main risk in IL would probably be damaging straight-line winds. St. Louis mentioned that their greatest risk would once again be damaging straight-line winds, but large hail could also be a problem too. Both also mentioned the fact that the storms would probably be in the form of a squall line instead of supercells. While not the greatest thing to chase, I thought that some isolated cells might form ahead of the main line.

Chad and Joe arrived here around 12:30 P.M. and we started checking data and tried to figure out a target area. I was thinking somewhere in the St. Louis area since it was close to the moderate risk. Chad was thinking somewhere SE of St. Louis, that way we wouldn’t get into any traffic congestion and there would hopefully be some good flat areas. We finally decided on Pinckneyville to be our target area because of the road network in and around the area. After remembering that Scott and Keenan were heading to St. Louis, I decided to call Scott on his cell phone and see if he wanted to venture a bit further to the SE of St. Louis and converge on Pinckneyville. Scott and Keenan agreed to meet us down there and we’d go from there.

To conserve money and gas, we all decided to pile into Chad’s lovely new car and head out. I brought some of my gear along, which included 2 antennas in addition to the 2 that were already on Chad’s trunk. Minutes after getting on I-57, my scanner antenna decided that it didn’t like its new home and consequently flew off. We quickly pulled over and rescued the little fella and put him safely inside to protect from further humiliation and damage. Anyways, once we got going again we drove south on I-57 all the way down to Rt. 154 and went west towards Pinckneyville. Throughout the voyage down there, it pretty much remained mostly cloudy with just a few glimpses of sunlight. We finally arrived in Pinckneyville and gave Scott a call on the ham rig. He surprised us by coming back to us and telling us that they had just come into Pinckneyville and would be at our location in a matter of minutes. So imagine 5 chasers, 2 vehicles loaded with antennas and gear sitting in front of a Casey’s in this small town. (I think we scared the lady working inside!)

We sat there for a while monitoring the radios and sky with nothing much going on. There was a Severe Thunderstorm Watch issued for parts of Missouri and Illinois (the part we were in), but nothing had gone severe yet. Scott attempted to locate some weather data on his TV, but all he could find was golf and some cooking show. 🙂 I decided to give John Jensen (SCOA) a call on my cell to get some information. After talking with him, we decided to sit tight and wait for something to develop. He called us back after a while and informed us that a couple cells had rapidly developed to our west and were moving NE. We all got excited and jumped in the cars and headed that way and tried to intercept the storms.

We headed west on 154 until we reached the town of Sparta. We decided to head north on 4 and then zig zag back east a bit. When we did this, we ended up turning down this road which ended up to be a long driveway. This was hilarious because we had all this technology (2 GPS navigation systems and a detailed road map) and we still ended up on the wrong road. “It’s like Bob’s road.” 🙂 Anyways, once we got back on track, we headed north on 153 for quite a ways until we reached Rt. 15. Heading east on 15, we entered the town of Nashville. (yes, Illinois, not Tennessee) From there, we headed north on 127 watching the skies as we did. We weren’t seeing much since it was dark, but occasionally we’d see a few lightning strikes.

We stopped in Carlyle at the McD’s to check on data again. I called John again and he told me that a lot of it was dying out but we still could probably get some good lightning. We headed north to 1800N and sat there and watched it rain. (why Chad decided to roll down my window instead of his still remains to be seen) We saw some lightning, but it really wasn’t that impressive or frequent. Once again, we headed back to 127 and went north hoping to see something a bit better. John called us back again and informed us that there was a new Severe Thunderstorm Watch that included parts of Southern IL. We were well north of the watch area and with it getting late, we decided to shut it down and head for home. After saying our goodbyes, Chad, Joe, and I headed east on I-70 at Greenville.

On our way back to Charleston, we noticed the lightning becoming a bit more frequent. The rain was very persistent throughout the trip home, though the Rain-X that Chad had on his window was working very well. We got into Charleston a little before 10:00pm CST and I unloaded all my gear. After a quick bathroom break, Chad and Joe headed home to Indy.

Final thoughts:
Well, despite the chase being a bust weather-wise, it was really good to finally meet Chad, Joe, and Keenan. It was great to get back out there and give it a whirl after months of non-severe weather. I think we all learned something and it was definitely good practice for what hopes to be a very active season. I think the best quote of the day by everyone in the group was “It’s February.” Had this been April/May, the storms probably would have been much more intense and severe. We did notice that the NOAA Weather Radio coverage was superb throughout the chase. (we could pick up multiple transmitters even without an external antenna.) The amateur radio coverage, however, was pretty much non-existent in that area. The only repeater I could hit was the one in Carbondale and even then I didn’t hear any SKYWARN or spotter nets. Had there been severe weather to report, we would have been limited to the cell phone. (and even then, the coverage drops out in certain hilly areas)

The first severe thunderstorm watch for IL never did produce any severe weather. I believe the later one did, but I’m not sure of the details on it. Most of the really bad weather was down in Mississippi where at least 7 people lost their lives and tons of damage was reported. It really puts stuff into perspective when on one hand you enjoy chasing and watching these severe weather wonders of nature, but on the other hand you hate to see it destroy property and injure/kill people.

P.S. Would someone tell Chad that he was the only one seeing the frogs! Thanks! 🙂

Special thanks to:
John Jensen for providing us with nowcasting via the cell phone. I’d also like to thank Chad and Joe for going out of their way to pick me up for this chase. When we bag one this year, the steak is on me! 😉

Total Chase Time: 8 hours
Total Chase Miles: 335 miles (that’s for me, more for the others)

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