May 20, 2004 – Chase in Central IL

There’s just something about the 20th of the month this year that draws me to a chase. Today marked the third month in a row where I was considering a chase on the 20th of the month. (makes ya wonder doesn’t it?) Anywho, the main action looked to be in Iowa which obviously was way too far for me to go on a work day. The SPC day 1 outlook had most of Illinois in a slight risk, so while not a great chance it was a start. I was dying to chase even if the setup wasn’t the greatest, so I worked through lunch and left a little early from work.

I departed Champaign around 4:15PM and hopped on I-72 to head towards Bloomington. During the journey, I was socked in with clouds which didn’t make me too optimistic about severe weather occurring. Once I reached Bloomington, I headed north on I-39. As I traveled further north, the lovely sun began popping through which gave me a bit more confidence in our chances. Once I reached Peru, IL. around 6:00PM, I decided to hop on I-80 and head west. I made a pit stop in Spring Valley to grab a snack and to check data. The snack part worked out great, but data wasn’t as good. I tried to get online, but I was in a no-data zone. (drats!) I called up my pal Mike Cox to see if he could provide a little data to me. To my surprise, he was actually out chasing storms over in Iowa. As he was waiting on his storms to do stuff, he informed me that the storms I was interested in were still west of the Quad Cities.

I wasn’t going to give up on the chase just yet, especially since I had driven so far already. I got back on I-80 and continued west hoping to find a storm to intercept. Unfortunately no one told me about the lovely road construction near Atkinson, IL, so that slowed me down a bit. Having about enough of the construction and getting low on fuel, I decided to hop off at Geneso, IL. to fuel up and get my bearings. I finally was able to get a data connection and noticed cells just entering into IL. I decided to head north to avoid having to travel on the road construction plagued I-80. Soon after I hopped on SR 82, the weather radio goes off for a severe thunderstorm warning in the Whiteside county to my north. (yay!) Unfortunately, as I entered the county, I was informed that the storm had weakened and was no longer severe. (I guess I scared it away!)

I took a couple pictures of the sunset and then checked data again. I noticed a couple stronger cells with radar indicating large hail to my south, so I decided to head back towards the Quad Cities and attempt to intercept them. I headed southwest on I-88 and then south on I-80 which finally turned into I-74. The flood gates opened up at this point as did the lightning extravaganza. I literally had lightning hitting on both sides of the highway, it was insane. (not to mention a tad freaky!) I had about enough of the blinding rain, so I decided to get off the interstate and just let this thing pass over me. I parked just off the interstate about 2 miles west of Andover. (no, we’re not in Kansas anymore despite the name!) The winds really started picking up and of course I didn’t have the anemometer on the roof. (too much lightning!) As I was waiting out the storm, I got pelted by a couple rounds of hail. Most of it was pea sized, though there were a few in there that were probably a tad larger.

After sitting there for about 12 minutes, I decided to make my journey back east on I-74. The remaining cells stayed together for awhile, but I had to work the next morning so I decided to call it a chase and head home.

Final thoughts:
I’ve seen quite a few gulley washers in my time, but this one definitely tops the list. The lightning was also the most intense I’d ever seen, so these storms really must have had some juice to work with. Not too bad of a chase for being after work. Maybe next time I can remember to put the anemometer on the roof before the action begins!

Total Chase Time: 8 hours
Total Chase Miles: 425 miles

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