May 18, 2000 – Chase in Champaign County IL

I knew this was going to be a decent day for severe storms. Woke up around 7:30 and checked the SPC Day 1 outlook and it had Central IL in a moderate risk for severe weather. ILX had also mentioned severe weather in their special weather statement which stated that the primary concern would be “fast moving tornadoes.” So around 10am while I’m checking out the data, all of a sudden the weather radio goes off. At first I thought it was just a special weather statement regarding the moderate severe risk. WRONG! They had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Champaign county!! I dashed to the window and looked out and sure enough, it was dark as heck in the south. I checked radar real quick and noticed that this cell had popped out of nowhere and was building very rapidly. From my location in Champaign, we got about 30 seconds of rain and pea-sized hail. I heard on the scanner that some of the spotters were reporting golfball sized hail in some locations! (Georgetown would later get baseball sized hail which caused a lot of damage.) Anyways, I knew that it was going to be a good day if we were already getting storms at 10 in the morning. (It’s not often that the SPC issues an MCD that mentions Champaign, hehe!

Around 3pm, supercells were beginning to form in N. central IL and move to the E-NE very rapidly. There were a number of warnings issued with these supercells, most of them being severe thunderstorm warnings. Around 6:00pm, the storms were starting to inch their way towards Champaign county. I decided to go grab a bite to eat at the local McD’s before I went out. At 7pm, I loaded all the gear up and decided to head up towards the northern part of Champaign county. I went North on Prospect Avenue in Champaign and proceeded to drive out in the country towards the storms. I was hearing numerous reports of tornadoes up in the Gibson City area, so I knew I was headed towards a good storm. As I got closer to the storms, the sky was both spectacular, yet very dangerous looking. I pulled off on a side road and started filming this spectacular array of clouds. As I was filming, I noticed some debris kick up in a field. I quickly focused my camera on that area and tried to film as best as I could. Even after analyzing the video tape, I cannot confirm if the debris was rotating or not (where have I heard/said this before?! 🙂

Anyways, I decided to head away from that area because the precip was starting to pick up and I didn’t want to encounter any hail. As I was heading back south towards Champaign, the spotters were reporting funnels all over the place, with a few touchdowns. The sky at this point was downright scary. I was surrounded by numerous wall clouds and other ominous clouds. As I proceeded on Rt. 136 towards I-57, I heard numerous spotters calling in a rotating debris cloud. I looked over to my right and saw this puppy about 2-4 miles away from me. (I found out later after talking with storm chasers Chad Gard and Rob Gardner that they had seen it and also gotten stills/video of it which I can’t wait to see!) Unfortunately, I could not get any video because I had the camera mounted on the car mount and could not reposition it in time to get the shot. (argh!!) It was later confirmed in the Local Storm Report to be a tornado.

I cautiously decided to take I-57 back to Champaign, noticing the cars/semi’s parked underneath the overpasses as I went down the interstate. I saw this debris cloud cross right over the interstate, but it had really diminished when it did this, so it didn’t cause any damage or accidents. I took the Olympia Dr. exit and then took Bloomington Rd./Rt.150 west about a mile and then took a side road and stopped to take video. I saw some really awesome lightning (somehow missed it on the video) and neat cloud structures. I was really amazed at the size of the meso that was right overhead. I’d never seen such a sweet cloud than I did tonight.

Final Thoughts
Overall, this chase was one of the best I’ve ever been on. After last week’s bust in Piatt county, this one really paid off. The possible tornadoes/gustnadoes that I encountered were very cool despite the lack of a condensation funnel. I saw a lot of things tonight that I’ve never seen before, so it was really worth the chase! Hopefully this active weather will continue in the coming weeks to provide even more opportunities to go chasing.

Total Chase Time: 1.5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 40 miles

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