May 24, 2004 – Chase in Champaign County

*This chase refers to May 24th, but my chase didn’t begin until the early morning hours of May 25th.*

Today wasn’t really looking too good for a chase around east central Illinois. The main show was back in northern Missouri and southern Iowa where the SPC had a high risk out. I watched in frustration at work as all these cells fired up and went tornadic, all the while hoping no one was getting injured or killed over there. As the day went on, the SPC seemed to keep shifting the high/moderate risks further to the east. Would the storms really hold together that far east, only time would tell.

As the late evening progressed, I noticed the storms were still sticking together as they made their way into Illinois. At 10:45pm (5/24), the SPC issued a tornado watch for central Illinois. (no sleepy for me!) The storms were starting to form into bow echoes as they made their way towards my area. I kept flipping back between WCIA-3 and WAND-17 as each of them broke in with live radar updates at such a late hour. I figured I wasn’t going to get any sleep with all the storms, so why not go out and see what these storms were packing.

I quickly packed up the gear and headed to the car around midnight. My plan was to head to the SW part of the county and intercept the line of storms. I made my way to CR 700E and 1000N and sat there for a few minutes. The weather radio went off at this time (1:20am) with a severe thunderstorm warning for Champaign county. It mentioned a severe thunderstorm over Sadorus, which I was just 4 miles from. It had quite a bit of lightning and rain, but not too much wind. I was quite surprised not to hear any spotter nets going at this time, so I chatted with my dad and a few other hams on the local ARES repeater. (if there was something out there, I’d let them know!) I headed west on 1000N and attempted to pull off the road to measure some wind speeds. I didn’t care for the incline of the road, so I attempted to pull back on the road but the car didn’t want to cooperate with me. The tires were spinning, but I wasn’t going anywhere.

At this point, I decided to just pull off the road even further into the grass and see if I could get any traction that way. (ah, my first off-road experience in the ZX2!) So after going a ways in the grass, I decided it was time to get back on the road. I floored it and made it up the hill back onto the road. (whew!) I then headed south on 300E and found a much more stable spot to pull off the road at. I stuck the anemometer on the roof and measured a peak gust of 43.7mph. I checked radar shortly after this and noticed things were dying out very quickly, which was fine by me given the late hour that it was. 😉 As I made my way back east on 1000N, I noticed some decent tree damage just south of the airport. I took a few pictures and continued on my journey back into town. I took the scenic route and noticed a few limbs down around Hessel Park in Champaign, but nothing blocking traffic. I continued north to Randolph and Healey where I noticed a tree that was completely blocking Healey.

Being the helpful chaser that I am, I decided I’d better call this in so the road crews could get it cleaned up before morning. So just around 2:20am, I called the non-emergency police number and reported the damage. A few minutes later, I heard my report go across the scanner as crews were dispatched to the scene. (I’m being a tad over dramatic, but this was pretty much the pinnacle of the chase!) I made it home around 2:30am where I quickly found my way to sleepyland to dream of future chases.

Final thoughts:
Well it wasn’t too bad of a chase for only going 40 miles in the wee hours of the morning! It was nice to see several TV stations breaking in throughout the night to stress the risk from these storms. (the radar was nice to look at too!) There were a few tornadoes embedded further south, so it was definitely worthy of a tornado watch.

Total Chase Time: 2.5 hours
Total Chase Miles: 40 miles

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