June 20, 2000 – Chase in Champaign County IL

Looking at the models from 06/19, the chance of severe weather in IL was evident, but it didn’t look that impressive. The SPC had put IL in a slight risk of severe weather in their Day 1 outlook on Tuesday. The NWS in Lincoln had also mentioned the risk of severe weather in their Severe Weather Outlook. The day started out with rain, lots of rain across most of IL. It was really dreary in Champaign most of the day, though it seemed to let up when the guys and I at work took a little extended lunch break to visit our new Hooters restaurant in Champaign. (Gotta remember that place for chasing get-togethers! *grin*) Anyways, around 3:30pm, I was cleaning up stuff at work and looked up at the sky and boom, what did I see but mammatus clouds! I hadn’t seen them since a chase in 1999, so I was getting kinda excited about our severe weather chances. On my way home, I flipped on the weather radio and just as I did, I heard them say ‘tornado warning for Coles county’. I was like ‘Woah!!’ I raced home and did a quick check of the current radar and it showed a couple of nice cells south of me. I made a quick decision to try and catch the tail end of the storm.

I left Champaign at around 4:30pm and proceeded south on I-57. On my way down there, I spotted those mammatus clouds again and a few lightning bolts, but no tornadic activity. (probably because I was trying to look at the storm through a bunch of rain). Anyways, I got off at the Mattoon exit (184) and went south on Rt. 121. I took 121 south for what seemed forever. I finally stopped off at the Amoco station in Montrose, IL and filled up. First off, the pumps were the old fashioned ones, no credit card sliders here. I started pumping the gas and it was going super slow. The gas attendant came out and fixed it and pumped the gas for me. He was a very nice and friendly guy. I told him I was out storm chasing and he was like ‘that’s cool’. I got the premium gas (93 octane) and it was $2.09 / gallon, same as it is in Champaign. Ended up costing me $34 to fill my tank, thank god I had cash on me, I don’t think that town has an ATM machine. *grin*.

I left the little town of Montrose and proceeded south on 121 all the way into Clay City (Clay County). I decided to take Rt. 50 east into Olney, IL. The sun was out, humidity was back and there were very few clouds in the sky. All I kept seeing was some big clouds way off to the east in Indiana, but I wasn’t about to go that far. The weather radio coverage was really bad until I hit Rt. 50, then I started picking up the station out of Vincennes. They weren’t really saying much about severe weather, so I decided to head back home. I took Rt. 50 to Rt. 130 and went north towards Charleston. I did a quick drive-by at EIU (my school, woo hoo!!) and then proceeded to Mattoon to hit I-57 north.

It was just after 8:00pm when I made my way north on I-57. I cranked on the radio and listened to some music, reflecting on the slightly disappointing chase. Got about 25 miles out of Champaign and then my ‘silent till then’ weather radio goes blaring off. I thought to myself: “Self, what in the heck could the weather radio be going off for???” The SPC had issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for parts of E. Central IL including Champaign County! I was kinda laughing my butt off, trying not to lose control of my vehicle. How could I drive over 200 miles and not see a darn thing and then just by chance I run into something back home?? Anyways, I thought nothing of the watch until about 5 minutes later when I started seeing lightning to my NE. Again, the weather radio goes blaring off and they had issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Dewitt county. At this point I’m starting to get my adrenaline back and for the first time of the day, I took the camcorder out of the bag and started shooting video. The lightning was getting really vivid and frequent as I made my way home.

I decided to get off at the Monticello/Savoy exit on I-57. I went west a mile and then north and pulled over and took more video. The lightning was really awesome, yet I noticed it getting closer to me, so I had to abandon my position and move away from the storm. I went a few miles east on the Monticello road and then went south a mile and shot some more video. Then on the scanner I hear the local ESDA stating that spotters had confirmed a tornado on the ground in Piatt county near Mansfield, IL. Boy, that really got me going. I started looking around in the flashes of lightning, but couldn’t see anything on the ground. At this point, the lightning was really getting close and more dangerous, so I had to move quickly. I left the camcorder up on the camera mount in the car and continued filming while I was driving. The weather radio started going off again and they issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Champaign county, then right after that they issued a Tornado Warning for Champaign county. As I made my way back towards Champaign, the lightning was really popping all around me, so I decided to unhook my mobile scanner antenna ‘just in case’. 🙂 (course if it hits my car, I’m probably screwed anyways!)

I made my way back into Champaign and headed home real quick to unplug my computer. Just as I pulled in, it let loose pouring down rain. I dashed inside and unplugged all my crap and made quick dash to the bathroom. Ran back outside and all my windows had fogged up just in the few minutes that I was gone. I drove around town for a bit and it really got bad. I was going about 10-15mph tops because of the heavy rainfall and the flooding on the roads. (Let me tell you, some people in Champaign just don’t understand to slow down when it gets really bad outside.) Anyways, I made my way slowly around town, still filming, watching the lightning hit all around me. I pulled up to Prospect and Springfield and I saw the very low hanging cloud, which the police and ESDA were seeing too, but it wasn’t rotating. I pointed the camera at it, but doubt it came out with all the rain coming down. The spotters were spotting another funnel cloud behind the previous tornado which prompted the NWS to issue another Tornado Warning for Champaign county. I believe they spotted another tornado near Mahomet soon after the funnel cloud was reported. The line of storms finally moved their way through Champaign county, leaving a ton of rain behind it. (It’s still raining as I’m writing this!!)

Final Thoughts
WHEW! What a chase day. While I didn’t see any tornadoes (or gustnadoes! *grin*), the lightning was spectacular. The chasing part of this chase turned out to yield nothing, while returning to home base yielded severe weather, go figure! (that is just Stan’s luck!!) Anyways, it was quite a memorable chase and one that I will remember for quite a while. It’s really amazing how some things can go from a bust to a successful chase when you’re least expecting it. Everything just worked out this time and I’m SO grateful! I’d better get this posted and get some sleep, it’s been a very long day. Thanks!!

Total Chase Time: 6 hours
Total Chase Miles: 260 miles

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