July 23, 2001 – Chasing lightning

Today far exceeded yesterday’s miserable conditions. Heat indices throughout IL pushed into the 110’s which made it very uncomfortable and dangerous. I still wasn’t expecting much relief in the way of thunderstorms today, but I figured with the atmosphere as ripe as it was, maybe something would fire. I flipped on radar in the afternoon and noticed a line of showers and thunderstorms making its way across the area. The storms at the time weren’t very strong, but it was still early and I thought that maybe something would happen later. Around 4:00pm, several warnings were issued for Central IL. There were several outflow boundaries across the area and they were starting to clash with each other which was helping to fuel the fire. I debated on whether or not to go west and try to intercept these storms. After watching them on radar, it sort of looked like they were weakening a bit. I decided to stick around and see what happened as they moved closer to home.

I noticed when looking at the radar that there was an outflow boundary in Piatt county that was moving east. This line of storms that had caused all the warnings had also created an outflow boundary which was moving SE. I kept my eye on the Piatt county area waiting for some storms to fire. I did a quick check of estimated CAPE values and they were well into the 5000’s in this area, so I knew if something got going it might really get going. Just before 6:00pm, some storms were starting to fire right on that boundary in Piatt county. (yes!!) Not having anything else better to do, I loaded up the gear and headed south. As I came into the Savoy area, I saw multiple wanna-be funnel clouds. (scud) Then I heard on the scanner that someone reported a funnel cloud in the same area I was in, so I knew what it was. I headed east on Church road in Savoy. I found a very decent spot to view the storm at, so I pulled off the road and took some pictures. The lightning was beginning to get it’s act together and the wind was picking up. The temperature and dew point had dropped tremendously which was quite a relief to me. At 6:13pm, NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Piatt and Champaign counties, so I knew this puppy was gaining strength. As the storm approached my location, I decided to head south on CR 1350E.

I continued jogging east and south until I once again encountered Rt. 36 and Rt. 49. At 7:10pm, I went about a mile south of this intersection and pulled off the road. I was about half a mile from this funnel-shaped scud cloud and it appeared to be rotating. I took some video of it for a few minutes and then proceeded south on 49. My main concern at this point was gas. I was about 2 notches above empty and I sure didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of a storm without gas. I continued south on 49 looking for a gas station, but didn’t see any. I decided to head east towards Paris on Rt. 133. As I entered Paris, I saw a gas station. (woo-hoo) As I pulled up to the pump, there was a sticker that said “10% ethanol”. (argh) My car doesn’t like that stuff, so I proceeded east into town and found a Shell station. I filled the tank up and then headed back west on 133. At this point the sky to my west was pitch black and the lightning was getting very vivid.

Not wanting to drive right into it, I headed WSW on Rt. 16 towards Charleston. (wasn’t I just here yesterday??) The lightning now was becoming very frequent and I noticed it getting closer and closer. Just as I entered the town of Kansas, it cut loose with the rain. I had my wipers on the high setting, brights were on and I still couldn’t see. I got about 5 miles east of Charleston and the lightning got real close. I’d never seen it so vivid in my life as I did at this time. Through all the lightning crashes and heavy rain, I heard something beep. I looked over at my camcorder and it had run out of tape!! Unfortunately, this was my last tape so I would have to continue through the lightning field without a record of it. I made up my mind that if I made it into Charleston, I was going to buy some tapes. I entered Charleston around 8:15 and saw a Wal-Mart. Just as I turned into the parking lot, KABAM! A lightning bolt had it just down the street and apparently it took out the power to the store.

I waited the storm out in the parking lot for about 20 minutes. During this time, I got on the HT and talked to N9PLB (Tom) on the local repeater. I told him that Charleston was getting slammed with lightning and heavy rain. It finally let up and I tried to go in the store, but they still didn’t have any power. (argh!!) I had to have some video tape, so I headed west through Charleston and into Mattoon. Not wanting to battle the Wal-Mart superstore traffic, I went to K-Mart and found my tapes. (yay!) There was quite a lightning show now to my SE, but for the life of me, I could not find a decent location to take pictures at due to the darn corn. I finally decided to give that idea up and went to visit my aunt/uncle who lived just a few miles away.

After enjoying some homemade cookies and ice cream with them, I headed back home a little after 11:00pm. On my way home, I saw a little lightning to my NW, but nothing too spectacular. I started flipping around on the radio and was picking up some repeaters that I hadn’t heard before. I pulled up the Indy repeater and was able to key it up on 5 watts, not too shabby. I then ran across a repeater in the Bloomington, IL area that had some traffic on it. I recognized a voice on there and sure enough, it was Keenan from ILCHASE. I talked to him for a little while as I made my way into Champaign. I finally made it home around 12:20pm.

Final thoughts:
Wow is all I can say! I wasn’t really expecting much out of these storms, but they sure packed a punch. The Champaign/Urbana area had numerous reports of power lines down, trees down, and lots of damage due to the straight-line winds. There were a lot of 60mph wind gusts reported with these storms which really surprised me. The lightning I encountered was definitely the most intense I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll definitely make sure to keep extra video tapes on hand for the next time! 🙂

Special Thanks:
I’d like to thank the weather gods for letting me chase for the 2nd straight day in a row! If I get to chase tomorrow, I’ll feel like I’m in Kansas again! 🙂

Total Chase Time: 4 hours
Total Chase Miles: 175 miles

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