July 17, 2001 – Chase in Central Illinois

Looking at the US Threats Assessments page last week, it appeared that this week could potentially produce some severe weather in this neck of the woods. The morning Day 1 outlook was showing a slight risk of severe weather in W. IL, but at that time it didn’t appear to reach into Central IL. The models were forecasting very unstable conditions, however, across the state. I knew if something could fire it would probably go severe.

At 1:38pm, an MCD was issued that included West Central IL. This peaked my curiosity and when I loaded up radar, there were already some storms firing up in that area. 20 minutes later they issued a severe thunderstorm watch for that same area and even a bit further to include the counties due west of me. After watching the storms on radar for a while to see what they were doing, I decided to make a go of it and see if I could intercept them. I picked out Springfield, IL as my target area, loaded up the gear and headed out at 3:00pm. I proceeded west on I-72 which would take me right to Springfield with no problems.

As I headed into the Decatur area, I called George (N9IPO) to find out a weather update. He was mobile at the time, but another ham jumped in who had access to radar and informed me that the storms were still strong and heading SE. I continued on I-72 towards Springfield and noticed it getting darker to my west. I flipped on the weather radio for updates and the current conditions came on and really shocked me. Temp: 92, Dew point: 77, Heat Index: 105! Yowsers!

I entered into Springfield around 4:15pm. Skies were still dark but I couldn’t make out any features due to the haze. I decided to hop on HW 97 and go north of town. (not the smartest idea given the time of day) As I made my way through traffic, I finally made it north of town. As I came up to a hill, the skies became greenish-gray and I knew something was gonna cut loose. Realizing I was going north and the storms were heading south, I decided to head east to get away from the storms. I saw somewhat of a lowering, but due to the trees, corn, and traffic, I couldn’t confirm if it was a wall cloud or just some scud. (couldn’t get any pictures either!)

I finally found a spot where I thought I was gonna be safe for a few minutes to get pictures, but then I noticed the lightning just a few miles away. Darn! I took a quick glance at the GPS and found a south road that would take me back to HW 97. The lightning seemed to be increasing and getting closer to me which made me feel like I was being chased. When I made it back to HW 97, I decided not to get on that road and continue going south. I kept going south and eventually got on Old Jacksonville Rd. which took me east into Springfield. As I came back into Springfield, it really got ugly. The weather radio went off announcing a severe thunderstorm warning for Sangamon county, exactly where I was. (hey, at least I was in the right spot this time!) *grin*

Around 5:15pm, it cut loose. Very heavy rainfall reduced visability to almost nothing and the lightning was popping all around. As I was waiting for one of the lights to turn green, I saw a flash of lightning hit something on the right side of the street just up the road. (when I say just up the road, I’m talking like one block if that) It was an instantaneous flash/boom which was quite exhilarating and scary at the same time. At this point, I unplugged some of my gear that had external antennas because this stuff was just too close for my comfort.

The lightning apparently took out some power because numerous stoplights were now flashing red which backed up traffic. (so much for ‘rush’ hour) I slowly proceeded south on RT 4 trying to get back to I-72. While I was waiting, I could see some lightning off to my east. I finally made my way back on I-72 around 5:45pm and headed east towards Decatur. I got ahold of George again and told him of my storm encounter. He stopped me for a minute and told me he was getting out of his vehicle to take pictures of some mammatus clouds. (he always finds mammatus) Not to be left out, I looked around me and by golly, there were the mammatus. I hopped off at the Mechanicsburg exit and pulled off on a really crappy dirt road (with puddles) and took some stills and video of these mammatus. I also saw some cloud to cloud lightning but it was very sparse and not too spectacular. (still nifty though)

Since all the storms were well south of the area and nothing building to the west, I decided to find something to eat. I gave George another call on the radio and asked him if he wanted to meet up at Steak and Shake for a snack. He too was hungry, so he agreed to meet me at the SnS. Another ham, Jason (KB9URM) jumped in there and informed us that he was hungry, so he met us there too. He beat both of us there and even called us on the radio asking us what we wanted to drink, how’s that for utilizing the power of ham radio! 😛

After we finished eating, I decided to head back home. There were a few towers to our NE, but they didn’t amount to anything. As I came back into Champaign, the sky was a very orange/gray color. I finally pulled into the driveway at 8:30pm.

Final thoughts:
While I didn’t get to take as many pictures as I wanted, I still considered this a very decent chase. The intense lightning and the long-lived mammatus clouds was good enough for my needs. I will have to figure out a way to get around some of these construction areas in the future as the past couple of chases have been hampered by them.

Special Thanks:
I’d like to thank George and all of the hams in the Decatur area who provided me with enjoyable conversation and radar updates. Also, many thanks to George and Jason for meeting me at SnS for the victory steak, steakburger that is. (hey, it’s good stuff and cheaper than a regular steak!) 🙂

Total Chase Time: 5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 215 miles

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