March 12, 2001 – Another bust in Southern Illinois

While some people prefer to spend their spring break in Cancun or Florida, I’d rather spend it right here in IL. (well, not really, but I don’t have the $$$ to go on vacation) Anyways, what would be more fitting than to be able to chase right here in IL during spring break? I had joked around with the idea for quite awhile, but I never figured that it would really happen.

After going over the models on Sunday evening, I decided that if they held true, southern IL would be an ideal target area. I went to bed early and woke up at 3 am. While I wanted to get up a bit earlier than normal, 3 am is not what I had in mind. As I constantly yawned, I flipped on the computer and loaded up the Day 1 outlook which had been updated at midnight. That outlook showed a slight risk stretching from just south of Chicago across central and southern IL. Based on the models that I had looked at, I thought that the SPC was pushing the slight risk area just a bit too far north. I poured over the weather data while watching TWC very early in the morning. The 7:00 am Day 1 outlook finally came out and they had moved the slight risk to a more reasonable area which just included southern IL. From that and the model data, I decided to make my target area Mt. Vernon, IL. Like the February 24th chase, there were a ton of clouds in the state. Looking at the satellite loops, it appeared that this time the clouds were being penetrated by the sun.

I waited around all morning closely monitoring the weather situation. I was hoping that the SPC would issue a watch for southern IL or at least a mesoscale discussion. I did hang around to catch the 2:00pm Day 1 outlook and it still showed Southern IL in a slight risk. After looking one more time at the satellite loop, I decided that I would go ahead and head south towards my target area of Mt. Vernon. So after programming the GPS, I loaded up my gear and headed south on I-57 from Champaign around 2:30pm. Judging from the fog and clouds in this area, I thought I never would see the sun. However, once I got around the Mattoon area, the sun slowly started to break through and I was starting to see some clearing to my southwest.

Around 4:00pm and just about 20 miles north of Salem, I talked to a fellow ham, Tom (N9PLB), on the Toldeo (442.300) repeater. I was almost out of range of this repeater, but was able to hear Tom tell me that there still wasn’t anything showing up on radar down south. At 4:25pm, I made a stop at the rest stop just south of Salem. After grabbing a snack, I turned on my TV and attempted to find a station that was showing weather information, but there wasn’t any. As I was chowing down on my bag of potato skins, I looked out the window and saw this squirrel rummaging around in the parking lot for food. I took a chip out of the bag and flung it out the window towards the squirrel. After seeing this, the squirrel ran over and grabbed the chip and chowed down. I gave him a couple more chips while I grabbed my video camera and took some pictures of this silly creature. (see Chad, I take care of the animals on my chases..) 🙂

ANYWAYS… I departed the rest area around 4:45pm and continued south on I-57. I reached my original target area of Mt. Vernon at 5pm, but decided to just keep going south. I figured at this point, if anything was going to develop it’d be a bit further south. I continued south on I-57 and reached Marion, IL at 5:40pm. I kept monitoring the ham repeaters and NOAA WX radio, but I still wasn’t hearing anything about any thunderstorm activity. Once again, I continued south on I-57. At 6:00pm, I stopped off at another rest area about 7 miles east of Jonesboro. Since it was news time, I turned on the TV and searched for some weather information. I found KFVS-12 CBS out of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. They were about to end their newscast but a severe thunderstorm had developed over in Missouri. Radar showed it moving ENE, so if it stayed together, it would eventually get to IL. I also caught another station showing this line of storms that had just formed and were moving into IL.

I decided that I was going to head back north. I left the rest area around 6:35 and headed south a couple of miles to the nearest exit where I could turn around and head north. I got off at mile marker 30 exit and stopped off at the Shell to get some gas. After filling up, I headed back north on I-57. I scanned through the NOAA WX frequencies and found one in Missouri that was mentioning a few severe thunderstorm warnings. I started seeing some clouds light up from lightning, but couldn’t see any strikes. At this point, I decided to head home and hopefully I’d be able to follow one of the storms back. Apparently, I was too far in front of the storms which is why I didn’t see much. I finally arrived back to Champaign around 10:15pm.

Final thoughts:
While this was the 2nd bust in the last 3 weeks, I still enjoyed the chase. It was nice to just drive across the state and at least explore some of the scenery. (ok, so it’s not tropical island type scenery, but it works for me.) 🙂 I think if I had waited a little while down south, I could of seen the line of storms pass over. None of them went severe in IL and no watches were ever issued. There was one MCD issued for Southern IL around 6:13pm, but I didn’t have access to it until after I got home. On another note: my newly installed TV proved to be a decent asset on this chase, though I should look into getting an external antenna for it.

One thing that frustrated me on this chase was the weather data at the rest areas. All of the rest areas I went to had these DTN weather centers there, but they were a good 2-3 hours old. Why do they even bother to put these weather monitors in the rest areas if they can’t provide updated information. I’m not sure if this is a DTN issue or if it’s a state of IL issue, but something needs to be done about it.

Special Thanks:
I’d like to thank my vehicle for running smoothly during this chase. I wasn’t sure that I’d even get to chase without going in someone else’s car this year, but it seems that the tune-up it got the other day really fixed the problem.

Total Chase Time: 8 hours
Total Chase Miles: 420 miles
Gas price per gallon: $1.69 (Premium @ Shell)

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