May 25, 2011 – Moderate risk chase in central Illinois

It’s been a crazy year for storms except here in central Illinois. The amount of large cities virtually wiped off the map has been unbearable. The death toll is also really hard to grasp right now. Just this week alone we had Joplin, MO take a hit from an EF-5 tornado on Sunday and then numerous large tornadoes in Oklahoma on Tuesday. When I woke up Wednesday to a moderate risk, I started to get concerned. I thought that our luck had run out and mother nature was going to bring her destruction to Illinois. I love chasing storms, but I definitely wanted no part of that nightmare scenario.

All morning we had storms roll through the area. The concern was that the morning stuff would prohibit the afternoon stuff from being able to reach their full potential. By mid-afternoon, storms were moving into IL and triggering tornado warnings. I was stuck at work till 4:00pm, so I decided to pick a target closer to home. I was keeping an eye on storms firing up north of I-70. They seemed to start out promising, but then died out quickly as adjacent storms fired up. While this was disappointing, I decided to go for it anyway.

After fueling up for gas, I departed Champaign at 4:30pm. I headed west on I-72 towards Decatur. The initial plan was to drop south of Decatur to intercept what I was hoping would be a decent storm. Unfortunately, my promising little storm had dissipated into a brief shower. I noticed more storms firing up further east and south, but I was really out of position. The storms west of me were all jumbled together so seeing anything would be pretty slim. I got stuck in Decatur for a little while trying to find my way to IL 121. I finally made my way to the north side of Mt. Zion and pulled over to observe a storm. This same storm had been tornado warned earlier, but it got downgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning once it moved into Macon county. Other than a few seconds of very small hail, the storm didn’t do anything.

I decided to turn around and head back north to US 36. The storms coming in from the west were starting to move in and a nice shelf cloud had appeared. I jogged east on US 36 and pulled off the road on S. Prairie View Road. (6:07pm) I let the shelf cloud come to me and it was quite a nice sight. The wind started picking up as did the rain, so I headed north and east to stay in front of it. As I approached IL 105 and E 400 North Road, the winds increased considerably from the southwest. I decided to pull over at this point and shoot some video. (6:24pm) I didn’t have time to hook up the anemometer, but I estimated the winds to be around 50-60 mph. (It was rocking the Jeep pretty good!) The high winds combined with the heavy rain was reducing visibility to almost nothing. A few minutes later I heard hail slapping the back of the vehicle. Normally I’d stick around to see how big the hail got, but with this much wind I wasn’t taking any chances. I headed east as best I could in the blinding rain and then north on N 500 East Road. The winds and rain were coming straight from the west now so I was getting slammed. I found a spot to pull off across the street from a large outbuilding which was reducing the impact of the wind. (6:35pm)

I continued east and north towards Monticello. A tornado warning was issued for Piatt and Champaign county at 6:53pm. A few minutes later I heard some traffic stating that a tornado had been reported near Seymour and it was heading towards Champaign. *gulp* I hopped on I-72 and hightailed it back to Champaign. Thoughts of all those cities getting destroyed earlier in the week popped into my head. As I got back to Champaign, I headed home to make sure there was no damage. All was well at the homestead as well as everywhere else I looked. *whew!* I called a few friends and relatives and everyone was good. I was impressed that most of the people I talked to took shelter in their basements (if they had them) when the warnings went out.

Final Thoughts
I think I was more relieved that mass destruction didn’t occur vs being upset that I didn’t see anything spectacular. It was a nice local chase and was good to get back out there again. Hopefully we can get some less violent weather in the next few weeks. I’m due for a good mammatus cloud display sometime soon. 🙂

Total Mileage: 127 miles


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