May 1, 2002 – Another chase in Southern Illinois

While the Day 2 outlook was very promising on Tuesday, I was still rather reluctant to make another chase attempt in southern Illinois. After looking at the models and other weather data, I figured that the SPC would move the moderate risk south of I-70 on the new Day 1. Sure enough, when I woke up, the 13z Day 1 revealed that the moderate risk had shifted south. I received an email from my chase partner, Darin Kaiser, informing me that he would rather chase in southern Illinois than sit at home all day. The SPC had already issued a severe thunderstorm watch for part of southern Illinois, so we knew we’d probably see something decent. Darin had to run some errands, but said he’d head on over to Champaign as soon as he could.

Darin arrived at my place around 10:45am. As I was loading all my gear into Darin’s vehicle, my ham antenna decided to fall apart. As I was attempting to put it back together, the very tiny set screw went flying out of my hands onto the ground. Both of us were on our hands and knees looking for this, but we just couldn’t seem to find it. I brought out a magnet and hoped I could find it that way, but unfortunately, it wasn’t any help. I looked at some of my other antennas and those screws were too big for my ham one, so I was getting really worried that I wouldn’t be able to put this thing back together. Amazingly, Darin somehow spotted this tiny screw further away on the ground that we had previously looked. (whew!) I tightly secured the antenna back into place and loaded the rest of the gear into his truck. We departed my place around 11:15am.

On our way down there, I was rather surprised to see the clouds start to fill in, as we had just had a decent amount of sunshine in Champaign. Luckily, there wasn’t too much rain associated with these clouds as there was during our previous chase to southern Illinois. We decided to head south of Mt. Vernon to our favorite little town of Ina, Illinois. Darin called Chris Novy to see if we could get some weather updates. I guess Chris was near Litchfield, Illinois where there had just been a tornado. (lucky!) Anywho, Chris said to call him back in a bit and he would go check data on his laptop. While we were sitting there, a tornado warning went out for Bond county, which was two counties to our northwest. Judging by the speed it was moving, I suggested that we not attempt to intercept it. Darin agreed, however, we decided to head back north to Mt. Vernon to await further development of storms.

We stopped at an Amoco station to fill up and make a brief pit stop. Darin called Chris again and said we were in a good position and should just wait for awhile. While we were sitting at the Amoco, another tornado warning went out for Marion county, which was the county due north of us. The cell was moving east at a whopping 55mph, so I suggested we not go after that one either. I started tuning around on my ham radio and was hearing reports of damage in the area where the tornado warning had been issued. At 2:10pm, a tornado warning was issued for Clay county, which was two counties to our northeast. (great, it’s popping all around but west of us!) Five minutes later, the SPC issued a tornado watch for southern Illinois as well as surrounding areas. (yay!)

Since a lot of the action seemed to be occurring to our east, we decided to head that way to hopefully intercept something. We headed east on HWY 50 and then heard a tornado warning for Wayne county. (yes, the one that got hammered a few weeks ago) As we got closer to Fairfield, we were seeing debris scattered all over the place that was remnants of the F3 storm a few weeks ago. As we progressed eastward, the weather radio went off several times for tornado warnings to our east. (Edwards, Wabash, Lawrence counties) We kept heading in that direction hoping to catch up to one of these possibly tornadic cells, but they were just moving too fast. We made it to Mt. Carmel, Illinois around 4:15pm and stopped there to gather our thoughts. While trying to make a decision of which way to go, the weather radio went off at 4:21pm for a tornado warning in Cumberland county. This was about three counties to our north-nortwest, so we decided to head for it despite it’s rapid movement to the east.

We headed north on RT.1 from Mt. Carmel. As we crossed over into Crawford county, we were starting to see dark ominous skies to our northwest. At 5:10pm, the weather radio went off to tell us that Crawford county was now under a severe thunderstorm warning. (time to finally dig out the camcorder!) As we entered the small town of Trimble, Illinois, we noticed some very nifty horizontal rain. We pulled off Rt.1 onto a side road and that’s when all hell broke loose. At 5:18pm, you could say we intercepted the severe storm. 🙂 The winds slammed us at first around 50-60mph and we started getting pelted by pea-sized hail. We quickly found some refuge in a farmer’s driveway next to his barn. As we were sitting there, the winds increased to an estimated 70-80mph and we continued to get pelted with pea-sized hail along with larger chunks mixed in. Visibility was about almost zero at times and Darin’s truck was wobbling back and forth in the wind.

The storm passed finally passed through around 5:25pm, so we decided to follow it. We headed north a few miles on Rt.1 and then took Rt. 154 east into Indiana. The storm seemed to have either lost intensity or was just moving too fast to keep up with it. As we headed east into Indiana, we both commented on how flooded the fields were. About that time, the weather radio alerted us to a flash flood warning in Sullivan county (IN) which is exactly where we were. Another severe thunderstorm warning went up for the counties to the south of us, but we didn’t really feel like going any further into Indiana. At this point, we decided to head back west into Illinois.

As we passed through Trimble, IL again, we both noticed this big tree that was snapped off in someone’s backyard. We noticed some people out there, so we stopped and asked them about it. Sure enough, it had just happened in that wind storm from an hour before. (just a mile away from where we were) With their permission, we took some pictures of the tree laying over in their backyard. The couple that we were talking to told us that there was a tree that landed on a truck just a few houses down. We went down the road and yet another big tree had been snapped off, which was laying on this guy’s 1978 pickup truck. They were also out looking at the damage and with their permission, we took pictures of the damage. As we made our way further down the street, we noticed other trees/branches scattered around. In my opinion, it definitely looked like a straight-line wind event rather than tornado damage.

After surviving the day on some crackers and chips, we were both getting hungry for a more solid meal. We headed into Robinson, IL and stopped at the Dairy Queen for some food. Since I was lacking food, my brain wasn’t thinking right and I almost accidentally left my food sitting there on the counter. (thought they’d put both orders in Darin’s bag, LOL) 😉 After that was over, we received word that another tornado watch had been issued for western Illinois until 11pm. (here we go again!) We headed west on Rt.33 towards Effingham. We arrived in Effingham around 8:00pm and stopped at the BP Amoco to gas up and get our bearings. Darin called Chris Novy again to get more weather updates. Apparently Chris and a few other chasers were in the Edwardsville area, which was three counties to our west. Not wanting to miss out on any action, we decided to give it a shot and go west.

We headed west on I-70 and as we approached Pocahontas, IL, the weather radio went off for a severe thunderstorm warning for Bond and Madison counties, which is exactly where we were. We took the exit just east of Highland and found a side road to watch the storm from. It was weird to see fog, stars, and lightning all at the same time. 😉 We waited for the storm to hit us and when it did, it was just some heavy rain. We drove west into Highland and waited there for a bit to see if any other cells would fire up. We couldn’t see much in town, so we headed back east to our previous spot off I-70. There was some lightning to our north and to our south, but no warnings were issued and the cells seemed to be weakening. Since Darin had to be at work early in the morning, we decided to call it a chase and head back to Champaign. On our way back, a cell did go severe in Edgar/Clark counties, but it also died out rapidly. We made it back to my house around 12:30am and noticed how cold and windy it was, brrrrr! 🙂

Final thoughts:
Well, we missed out on the tornadoes to our north and east, but I’m definitely glad we chased today. The severe cell in Crawford county was really impressive and definitely made our day. 🙂

Special Thanks:
Once again, I want to thank Darin for providing the transportation and great conversation throughout the trip. I also want to thank the residents in Trimble, IL for giving us permission to take pictures of their property damage. Finally, thanks to Chris Novy for providing some weather updates during our chase.

Total Chase Time: 13 hours
Total Chase Miles: 600 miles

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