May 23, 2004 – Chase in Central IL

After Saturday’s bustola in northern Illinois, I wasn’t sure if I was going to chase or not. I had considered finding a hotel in northern Illinois for a possible Sunday chase, but decided I’d just save the money and head home. Looking at the morning SPC Day 1 outlook revealed yet another moderate risk plastered over northern Illinois, Indiana, and southern Michigan. I was being rather lazy on Sunday morning, just glancing at the weather data when my buddy Darin called wanting to know if I was going to chase. Since he moved to southern Illinois, we haven’t had a chance to chase so I figured today would be a fine day to break that streak. He was at a friend’s in Decatur, so I decided to meet him in Bloomington and we’d go from there.

I departed Champaign around 10:30am and received word of a tornado watch for southern Illinois. (what in the world is going on here!) I didn’t think much of it and continued on my way. There was also a tornado watch out for northern Indiana and parts east of there, which also didn’t look the greatest. I met up with Darin at a McD’s in Bloomington and we gathered data on my slow cell phone connection. At the time, everything was still pointing to somewhere in northern Illinois. We were originally going to target somewhere south of I-80 between the Quad Cities and Peru. Around 12:30pm, I received word of a mesoscale discussion for NE MO/E.IA/W.IL regarding a potential tornado watch. They mentioned significant tornadoes and very large hail, so that quickly got our attention. Decision time… Do we keep to the north, or do we head towards western Illinois? We both agreed on the western Illinois area and picked our favorite hotspot of Macomb to target.

We headed south on US 51 and then headed west on RT 136. We were pretty much in grunge city the whole way over, but once we hit Macomb the skies cleared which gave us some hope of a good chase day. We pulled into a Walmart parking lot in Macomb around 2:30pm and sat there waiting for initiation. We sat there for quite awhile watching stuff go up and then die a quick death, evidence that the bloody cap was winning the battle. Around 3:30pm, I got a call on the ham rig from Mark Sefried and Scott Kampas saying they were coming into town. (they had just made the long journey back from Nebraska!) We all sat there watching the cap trying to break, but it seemed like it was never going to do so. Then we started noticing some decent stuff going up to our southwest. Radar confirmed this as stuff was firing up right along the IL/MO border and looked to be what we were waiting for. Just after 5:00pm, a tornado warning was issued for Scott county which was about 3 counties to our south.

Mark and Scott decided to take off for this cell as Darin and I continued to watch and wait. As we were waiting, I was wondering why my radio wasn’t talking and why the laptop was running off its own battery power instead of the inverter. I tried starting the car, but she was dead to the world. (well isn’t this just peachy…) Luckily, Darin had some jumper cables and we were able to get it going within a few minutes. After waiting a little longer, we decided that this was probably the main show so we should try to go after it. We departed Macomb around 5:30pm and headed south on US 67. I saw the one big storm in front of us and then noticed something further to the east trying to go up. We headed east-southeast on SR 125 and then south on SR 78 towards Jacksonville. We stopped for a few minutes just south of Virginia to shoot some stills and video of this decent looking supercell to our south.

As we were admiring this nifty cell, I got word of a tornado warning for Sangamon county which was the county to our east-southeast. (time to intercept this puppy!) We hopped on I-72 and headed east towards Springfield. We noticed a few lowerings/possible wall clouds to our south, but the contrast was too crappy to tell for sure. We were getting low on fuel, so we pulled off at exit 93 to get some gas. I checked radar real quick and noticed we were definitely getting closer to this cell, but wanted to head south a bit. I suggested to Darin that we hop on I-55 south and see if we couldn’t get a little closer to this thing. He agreed, so we hopped back on I-72 and then went south on I-55. I noticed a nifty rainbow under some mammatus clouds to my east and then saw the much darker skies to our south. (I really wasn’t trying to punch the core, honest!)

The rain was starting to pick up a bit at this point, so time to prepare for possible hail. While I was doing so, I noticed a massive string of vehicles on both sides of the road trying to take cover under an overpass. Some of the people were actually double parked extending onto the highway, which brought traffic to a halt. (I took some video of these misinformed citizens to share with NWS offices) Anywho, we continued south and started getting into some small hail, so I blinked my lights at Darin to take the next exit. We got off at the Auburn/Pawnee exit and headed for the Mobil station. We noticed a firetruck sitting there as well as a cop, so we weren’t sure what was going on. A firefighter came over to us and told us that a tornado was on the ground and to head south. Darin had gotten out of his car to get a closer look and the firefighter tried to get him to take cover in the Mobil station.

By this time I had already pulled out of the gas station and was waiting for Darin. After a few moments, he managed to get away from there and continue the chase. (maybe Darin needs more antennas on his car?) 😉 We headed a mile north and sat there while the rain pounded us with occasional bouts of very small hail. After about 5 minutes of that, we headed back south on I-55 to Farmersville. We stopped at a gas station and noticed a possible wall cloud to our west. There wasn’t much if any rotation to it, but it was still worthy of watching. We went just up the road to get a better view of this and sat there and watched it for a good 45 minutes. As it passed just to our north, we noted numerous temp/dew point shifts which reminded us of April 30, 2003. 🙂 At 8:45pm I heard the weather radio going off in the car, so I walked back to listen to the warning. It was a tornado warning for Christian county, which was the county to our east. (our cell, woo hoo!)

We followed it east into Christian county near Morrisonville, but it was quickly dying out as nighttime fell upon us. It was getting late, so we called it a chase and decided to seek out a place of food stuff. We got on SR 48 and headed northeast towards Taylorville. Darin got a phone call from Mark saying they were at some pizza joint in Taylorville, so that’s where we headed. Upon arrival to Angelos Pizza, we encountered quite a chaser convergence. We met up with Mark Sefried, Scott Kampas, Colin Davis, Andrew Pritchard, Dave (Andrew’s driver), and someone else who I can’t remember their name. (sorry!) We enjoyed some very good pizza and I took the leftovers home to enjoy another day. 😉 It was getting late as some of us had to work on Monday while others were planning their next chase target. I made my way to I-72 and headed back to Champaign, arriving around midnight.

Final thoughts:
Well it didn’t quite pan out as the outbreak the SPC was expecting, but it was a decent chase nonetheless for Illinois. 🙂 It was nice to chase with Darin again, hopefully we can get a few more in this year before the snow falls. (did I just say that?!) Thanks to the all the chasers at Angelos in Taylorville, nice to meet the ones I hadn’t met before!

Total Chase Time: 11.5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 385 miles

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