May 16, 2001 – Nifty cloud structure

After being in a slight risk for the past several days and having nothing happen, I wasn’t too optimistic about today’s chances. The cap had been so strong that nothing was able to get going. However, in the early morning Area Forecast Discussion out of Lincoln (ILX), they were mentioning the cap being weaker today. That definitely gave me some hope that storms would develop in the area. There definitely wasn’t any problem with daytime heating as the sky was clear and blue. Dew points were in the mid 60s and temps reached up into the 90s across IL. (95 in Champaign) The data from the 12z ILX sounding was showing some decent helicity/wind shear values, but the models were forecasting that to decrease throughout the day which greatly reduced the tornado threat. Regardless, I was still excited at the possibility of storms forming.

By mid-afternoon, nothing was happening in IL. All the activity was way over in Indiana. The 20z Day 1 outlook still had us in a slight risk, so I knew something had to be brewing. Looking at visible satellite data confirmed that the cap was trying to break due to the small cumulus clouds that had started stretching across Illinois and Indiana. At 2:40pm, the SPC issued an MCD for parts of IL/IN to point out a possible area for a weather watch. About 25 minutes later, my weather radio goes off informing me of a severe thunderstorm watch till 8pm. At this point, I’m really started to get anxious about storms firing. So around 4pm, storms started to fire up just north of Terre Haute, Indiana. It appeared as if they would fire along the line of cumulus that stretched into IL, but that wasn’t to be the case. The storms near Terre Haute were not moving much at all and they were dropping very heavy rains in that area.

I had been chatting with Rob Stout from INCHASE all afternoon. He was telling me that he could see these storms from his location, which is about 50 miles ESE of Terre Haute. I looked out my window towards the ESE and sure enough I could see towers building in that direction. We both continued to watch this storm churn over the same area for quite awhile. Another batch of storms had also formed near Lafayette and were moving SSE. Around 6:50, I decided to go out in the backyard and see if I could snap a few pictures of these incredible cells from my location in Champaign. There were just too many buildings/trees to really get a good look at these things, so I decided to go out and see if I could get a better shot. I loaded up all my gear and headed east on I-74. I got off at the St. Joesph exit and proceeded to drive out into the country to get an unobstructed view of these towers.

When I found a good clear spot, I pulled over and started taking pictures. This was the first time I’d even used my new SLR camera, so I definitely wanted to get some shots for some experience. After using just about the whole roll of film, I put the still camera away and got out the camcorder. I shot about 10 minutes worth of video of these cells from the west side of them. They looked very spectacular with the way the sun was shining on them. I should have just stayed there as it got dark and I probably could have gotten some really good lightning shots, but I decided the towers were good enough for me. I headed back home to Champaign and arrived around 8pm.

Final thoughts:
While I didn’t really see any storm activity, the view I got from the backside of the storms was worth everything. It was also a good chance to experiment with my still camera and see how well the cloud pictures come out. After being chaseless for over a month, it was good to see some good convection again! It looks like tomorrow could bring another chance of severe weather, so maybe we’ll get some more chances to chase!

Special Thanks:
I’d like to thank mother nature for finally bringing us some convection! (Maybe next time it won’t take so long to come around my neck of the woods!)

Total Chase Time: 1 hour
Total Chase Miles: 30 miles

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