May 2, 2004 – Chase in Central IL

Today was not an anticipated chase day at all. (seems to be a growing theme this year) I didn’t even look at any sort of weather data when I got up. My focus on this chilly morning was to visit a local amateur radio hamfest in Decatur, IL. I got up around 7:15am and got everything in order to make the hour drive to Decatur. My initial thoughts were to just take the laptop and HT, but some strange voice inside me told me to grab the camcorder and gear bag. (thanks strange voice!) I loaded up the car and headed out around 8:00am. I made a quick stop at the ATM to get some cash, but my debit card decided to expire without letting me know so I was unable to get any bling bling. (the stupid thing ate my card too!) Despite this minor setback, I decided to push forward and continue on my journey. I arrived at the hamfest a little after 9:00am and started roaming around to see if there were any goodies. I met up with my ham/chase friend George (N9IPO) and we made the rounds inside and out.

While we were walking around, my cell phone started buzzing. I figured it was just a weather watch for some place on the east coast or something. A few minutes later, it buzzed again. I checked it out and there was a severe thunderstorm warning as well as a mesoscale discussion for Illinois. (what the heck!?!?) Cell phone coverage wasn’t too good in the building, but I managed to find a spot where I could download the full text of the discussion. The lovely cold air aloft was triggering some decent hail, hence the warnings. I continued browsing the hamfest not thinking much more about the weather situation. George and I made one more pass of the outdoor vendors before heading on our separate ways. One radio had caught my eye earlier and I was surprised to see it still there when I returned. I really wanted it, but all I had was my checkbook and the guy said ‘cash only’. (blah!) Luckily, another ham friend of mine knew the guy and was able to convince him that I was a trustworthy person. (yay for me!)

I thanked all parties involved and then headed back to the car to tinker with the radio. While I was setting it up, I decided to get online and check the radar just for kicks. To my surprise, there was a decent looking cell up in Fulton county that apparently was dropping a decent amount of hail. About that time, I got the notice of a severe thunderstorm warning for that same cell. It’s not very often I get a chance to chase during the daylight, so I figured I might as well go after this thing while I had the chance. I ran into town for a quick bite to eat and to gather weather data at the local McD’s. The cell seemed to be maintaining its strength which was pretty nifty given the conditions. I decided to go west on I-72 to Springfield and then head north from there. I arrived in Springfield around 12:30pm and radar was still looking pretty good to my north. I found my way to SR 29 and headed north of town.

At 12:40pm, I encountered some hail approximately 0.5″-0.75″ 2 miles south of Cantrall, IL in Sangamon county. At 12:48pm, I encountered a thin layer of hail covering the ground just north of Athens, IL in Menard county. (maybe I need to invest in some snow tires?) As I continued north, I ran through various pockets of small hail and heavy rain. I proceeded north into Mason county and then noticed a wannabe wall cloud looking thingamabob to my northeast. (yes, that’s the technical term for it) I turned off SR 29 onto CR 800N just south of Mason City and went east to follow this interesting lowering. I decided to roll down the window to get a better view and when I did, what I thought was rain turned out to be pea sized hail flying into the car. (this is what happens when I complain about being hail-deprived!) Luckily I was wearing a sweater so the hail just stuck to it until it melted. 🙂 I followed this thing just over the border into Logan county and finally decided it wasn’t going to do anything.

I made my way south on CR 100E and zig-zagged my way back into Sangamon county. I was getting low on fuel, so I decided to fill up in Spaulding, IL. I took another glance at the weather data and everything looked to be dying out, so I decided to call it a chase. I found my way back to I-72 and made the journey home to Champaign.

Final thoughts:
Wow, yet another unexpected chase close to home. It was nice to finally chase in central Illinois for a change. The terrain here is a piece of cake to chase in compared to the junk in Missouri that I dealt with last weekend. While the hail I saw today wasn’t very big, I was impressed at how long it lasted. I send my props out to the cold pool aloft, you rock! 🙂

Total Chase Time: 4 hours
Total Chase Miles: 225 miles

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