March 12, 2006 – Close call near Springfield IL

After yesterday’s rain/lightning chase, I was wondering what today would bring. Of course there’s nothing like waking up to a high risk of severe weather! All the ingredients looked to be in place for a potential outbreak. Already at 8:00am there was a tornado in E. KS, so I figured it was going to be a long day. I packed up the gear and headed out at 11:30am. I took I-74 and then hopped on US 136 and headed west. During this time, a tornado watch was issued for central/western Illinois warning of possible 4″ hail and 90mph winds! I continued west until reaching Rushville, and then I headed north on US 67.

I made it to Macomb around 2:30pm and noticed some storms firing up to my northwest. I continued north on US 67 and then received a severe thunderstorm warning for the county to my north! I pulled off about 3 miles north of Roseville, IL to let it pass. I never encountered anything more than heavy rain though. This thing was moving at 55mph, so there was no way I was going to catch up with it. I headed back south on US 67 and stopped in Beardstown to take a look at the data. I talked to a few chasers that were in Jacksonville and they said they were giving up and going home. There were still storms in Missouri headed our way, so I wasn’t about to give up just yet.

I decided to head into Jacksonville and stop for a bite to eat while I waited for the storms. I was craving a hot ham and cheese from Hardees of all places, so that’s where I went. While chowing down, I took a look at radar and saw the two supercells from earlier had merged into one as it approached the MO/IL border. Tornado warnings were quickly issued for counties to my west in IL, so I knew it was time to move. I departed Hardees at 6:45pm and stopped to fill up the gas tank. (I sure didn’t wanna be out of gas when this puppy hit) I made my way just to the southwest of Jacksonville and waited at Leach Farm Road. (7:00pm) I sat there for a little while enjoying the increasing amount of lightning strikes. Several people were following me via my APRS tracker and were messaging me with concerns of my position. I told them I had continuous radar data and was being very very careful. 🙂

A tornado warning was issued for Morgan and Scott counties at 7:10pm which is where I was. At 7:15pm I decided to relocate back to Jacksonville just in case I needed to take shelter in a sturdy building. 🙂 (or at least fine a place to get out of any potential hail) I pulled off at a gas station and pulled along side the back of the building and watched to the southwest of town. (7:30pm) I encountered some brief pea-sized hail around 7:37-7:38pm, but it didn’t last very long. The heavy rain started letting up around 7:50pm, so I decided to make my way through Jacksonville towards the highway. It took me a little longer than normal as several of the streets were flooded. (the local cop was having issues with this as well) I made it back to I-72 at 8:00pm and made my way slowly to the east towards Springfield. Lightning was really increasing now and was almost constant flashing all around me.

About a mile west of the 82 exit, I noticed a lot of vehicles pulled off the road taking shelter under the overpass. (8:17pm) Some were very near being on the highway which was very dangerous. At 8:27pm near exit 91, I noticed some power flashes in Springfield. A minute later, I encountered winds blowing small debris across the highway from south to north. As I continued east, I noticed scattered leaves and signs bent on the side of the road. I looked north and between the flashes of lightning I believe I might have seen a wall cloud/possible funnel cloud, but I will have to analyze the video to confirm. As I continued, I encountered a huge traffic jam where I-72 splits into I-55 at the 98A mile marker. I zoomed in with the camcorder and quickly realized what the problem was. The transmission power lines were completely blocking both east and westbound lanes of I-72. I didn’t see any police or emergency officials on scene, so I figured it’d be awhile before getting the power lines off the road.

I had enough room in between the cars behind me and in front of me to do a u-turn. I made my way back on I-55 and took exit 100 to the east to detour around all the power lines. I made my way back on I-72 at the 108 near Riverton and attempted to head further east. I continued looking around for debris on the road, but what I encountered next was beyond belief. Through the darkness and rain appeared a giant grain bin that was blocking both eastbound lanes of I-72. At 9:00pm, the unthinkable happened and I slammed into this giant piece of metal. According to my GPS log, I was doing 60mph when I first spotted it. I managed to slow to 45mph and then the next GPS update a second later showed 0mph. My airbags deployed and what I thought was smoke filled the car. (turned out to just be the airbag powder) I quickly gathered my gear that I had with me in case I had to abandon the vehicle due to a fire. I got out of the car and it was pitch black. (power was completely out in Springfield to my west and there were no other cars in the area) I tried calling 911, but the cell network was overloaded and found out later that the 911 center was actually offline. I decided to dig out my orange amber light and throw it on the roof so no one else would crash into the grain bin or myself. A few vehicles started showing up and investigating the scene. Physically I was fine, though my adrenaline was pegged off the charts. 🙂

I decided to see how bad my car was damaged or if it would even start back up. I cranked the engine and it amazingly started right up. The front of the car was stuck on a piece of metal from the grain bin, so I put it in reverse and managed to get unstuck from the debris. I got out the camera and surveyed the damage. The front bumper was pretty beat up and the fog lights were broken. The quarter panel on both sides were buckled or broken. The passenger side power mirror was half attached. The windshield was cracked in 2 spots, apparently where the airbags went off. (my head never hit the windshield thank goodness!) The hood appeared to be ok, but after checking it later I noticed a decent gash on the passenger side. I went around to the back of the car and found 2 of my mag mount antennas had come off the trunk but had survived in one piece. I was also puzzled to see so much mud on my car. Then I noticed that the road near the silo was caked in mud, which is probably one reason I couldn’t brake as fast as I normally would have. After taking pictures of the silo and my car, a news crew from WAND-TV in Decatur showed up and requested an interview. I never thought I’d be a victim of a storm like this, but yet I found myself in front of the camera describing what happened. Shortly after that, a few police cars showed up and surveyed the damage. They were very hesistant on letting people drive around the silo as it was very muddy. I decided to lead the pack and see if my car would drive or not. So I put it in drive and drove around the silo and got back on the interstate. Of course I was missing a few lights, so I couldn’t see very well. Add the cracked windshield and rain and it wasn’t the greatest conditions to be driving in. However, I noticed no engine issues or handling issues at all with the car which just amazes me.

So I ended up driving all the way back home to Champaign from the scene of the accident, which is about 90 miles or so. Despite the cell network not handling voice calls, text messaging and internet was working just fine. People who were following me via APRS were text messaging me wondering where I was. I finally got into a good cell network that wasn’t as congested and started calling people back. The main phrase I kept hearing from everyone was that they were glad I was ok despite the car damage. Eventually the news spread to a few forums online as well as my interview making the 10pm news, so that increased the calls and text messages. (thank goodness for 5000 night and weekend minutes!) I finally made it home around 11:00pm and thanked my lucky stars among other things for making it home alive.

Chase Summary:
So it’s kinda humorous to look back at it and ask myself: ‘what are the odds of something like this happening’? I was aware there was damage/debris scattered along the roads. I was paying attention to the road looking for small things like limbs or road signs, but a grain bin? When I first saw the object, I honestly thought it was a giant uprooted tree because of it being caked in mud. In the time leading up to the crash and next 10-15 minutes, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. As events unfolded and I noticed my car was drivable, then I began to somewhat calm down and breathe a little easier. It was an experience I will never forget and will definitely pay even more attention to stuff like that in the future.


Total Mileage: 450 Miles

One thought on “March 12, 2006 – Close call near Springfield IL

  1. Pingback: StansWeather.Net - June 5, 2010 – Tornado near Elmwood IL

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