March 20, 2004 – Chase to Southeast Missouri

It seems like this year we’ve had trouble getting our atmospheric ingredients all together. On the Jan 3rd chase, we had decent winds, moisture, but no freaking CAPE or much instability. Today’s setup was the opposite. We had some decent CAPE (1000-1500), instability (LI’s -2 to -6), and moisture (tD’s in the 60s), but very crappy winds aloft. Despite this lack of combined ingredients, I still liked the chances of chasing. My original thought for a target area was Jonesboro, AR., but I would adjust that slightly with data updates throughout the chase. SDS is still kinda bugging me, so I figured what else was there to do other than chase? (well there’s the whole NCAA tourney, but my beloved Illini didn’t play till Sunday)

I got up around 6:00am and got ready to roll. My plan was to leave around 7:00am and head south to my target area of Jonesboro. However, hooking up all the new gear (aka the Chase Live stuff) took a tad longer than I thought, so I didn’t depart until 7:30am. (blasted technology!) I did check some data as I was setting stuff up in the car and noticed ongoing thunderstorms in southern Illinois. (several warnings were issued too) After filling up the gas tank, I headed south on I-57. It seems every time I get around Effingham, I encounter some sort of accident/traffic stopage on the interstate. There was a semi on the shoulder that I didn’t see anything wrong with, yet traffic was completely stopped in both lanes on the highway! Several Illinois State Police units were on scene and I heard them talking on the radio. After a few minutes, traffic started picking back up and I was on my way.

I made my first pit-data stop at my favorite rest area just outside of Salem, IL. A mesoscale discussion had just been issued, but it was for W.KY/W.TN/S.IN/S.IL which was further east than I was thinking it would be. I just assumed at that time that it was for the current storms and not for afternoon stuff, which in hindsight was probably a bad thing. (once again, I failed to stay at the Holiday Inn Express last night!) Despite this SPC outlook, I decided to continue SSW to my new hotspot of Sikeston, MO. As I was approaching town, I got a text message of a severe thunderstorm watch for AR/MO/TN. I was quite excited at the time since I was in Missouri, but didn’t realize how little of the state it actually covered until I saw the watch box graphic. All the storms were south and east of me, and nothing was forming behind the main line. *yet* Part of me wanted to go after the severe stuff in TN, but the other part wanted to head closer to my target area in AR. I figured whichever way I went I would have to head south, so I hopped on I-55 and went south.

On my journey south, I encountered very heavy rainfall and some occasional lightning. I kept hearing warnings for W.KY/W.TN and saw a nice line going over there, but was still not wanting to drive all over timbuktu to hunt them down. Around 2:15pm, I stopped at a rest area just a few miles north of the Arkansas border to get a weather update. I noticed a line of storms now forming behind the main line to my north in which several warnings had been issued. While I was sitting there, I saw a few mammatus clouds overhead which were kinda nifty! Tired of playing hide and go seek with the main line, I decided to head back north and try to intercept the 2nd line of storms.

Having not eaten anything but a bag of potato skins, I decided I’d better make a brief pit stop for food and data. I made a stop in Portageville, MO at the local McD’s and checked some data. The food was fine until I encountered a few fries that tasted/smelled like garbage. Had I not been chasing, I probably would have gone back in there to yell at someone. 😉 Anywho, while I was checking data, I heard the weather radio go off. I figured it was just another warning for the first line of storms, but then realized it was for Stoddard county, which was the county north of me! I got on I-55 again and headed north to Sikeston, MO yet again.

As I was passing through town, I smelled a slightly burning odor, heard something pop, and then noticed I lost power to everything plugged in to the accessory outlet. This obviously was a terrible time for this to happen, but since I was right where the action was it was time to go visual. (old school chasing!) I went northwest of town and then the flood gates opened up. Apparently Missouri has no budget for road signs because they really could of used some that stated “Flood Area Ahead”. I followed the storm into New Madrid county to the town of Morehouse. Visibility was almost nothing because of the heavy rains and I encountered several heavily ponded roadways. I pulled into an empty parking lot across from a school and waited out the storm. The lightning was getting pretty intense at this point, so I unplugged a few antennas just in case.

As the storm passed, I noticed my cell phone and laptop batteries getting really low. I decided to investigate the whole loss of power thing to see if I could fix it. I went to check the fuse on the power splitter and when I pulled it out, the top half remained lodged inside the outlet. (oh joy!) I managed to get that out finally and plugged in the power inverter for the laptop, but no go. I figured at this point it had to be a fuse in the car itself. I found which fuse it was supposed to be and sure enough, she was blown. I stuck the reserve fuse in there and wallah, we were back in business. Whew!

At this point everything was well south of me and nothing else was forming to my north, so it was time to call it a chase. I headed back to Sikeston and then got back on I-57 to head home. I made a stop in Mt. Vernon to visit some friends of mine and watch some of the NCAA tournament. I left there around 11:00pm and finally got home around 2:15am, yawn!

Final thoughts:
Whew, what a long chase. It was a crap shoot from the start, but it wasn’t a complete bust. The ingredients just weren’t there for a decent severe weather event, but for March it did the trick. This was also the first chase that ‘Chase Live’ was implemented, so there’s still some quirks to work out with it. Not a bad way to start off the first day of spring! Hopefully next time we’ll get all the ingredients together instead of some of them.

Total Chase Time: 15 hours
Total Chase Miles: 700 miles

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