August 4, 2010 – Wind, hail, and heavy rain in Champaign/Vermilion County IL

It was nice to wake up to a slight risk of severe weather here in central IL. Of course it’s August, so we were also under an extreme heat warning. Heat indices were hitting 110+ so conditions were definitely ripe for storms. I was anxious to go chasing so I could try out a new chase gadget. I recently picked up an iPad which I mainly bought to get me quickly on the road rather than wasting time hooking up a laptop. Since most of my chases this year have been without a laptop, I figured it would be a nice change to have a larger screen device for radar.

A severe thunderstorm watch was issued at 3:15pm for central IL. I finished up some things for work and then prepared to head out. There was a nice severe warned cell in western IL, but I didn’t really want to drive all the way over there and have it die out on me. I decided to focus on the storms in the northern part of Champaign county.

I left Champaign at 4:30pm and headed north on Mattis Avenue / CR 1000E. The biggest storm was straddling the Champaign / Ford county line. I headed east on Route 136 to catch up with it. Once I got east of Rantoul, my AT&T data was very spotty at best. When I did get a glimpse of radar, the storm appeared to be nothing but a flood machine. Once I reached Potomac, I headed south to I-74.

Heading west on I-74, I pulled off at the Fithian exit at Route 49 and waited for the storm. (5:50pm) I encountered very heavy rain, wind, and very small hail. (nothing severe though) While I was sitting there, I glanced behind me toward the off-ramp and noticed a group of 3 or 4 bikers waiting out the storm. (oops!) The rain was letting up a bit, so I proceeded west on I-74. I exited at the St. Joseph exit and went north of town a few miles. A very nice shelf cloud was stretched across the sky which made for some nice pictures. At 6:20pm, I started heading west on CR 1850N just west of CR 2100E and the skies opened up. The wind was pushing waves of water right at me reducing visibility to almost nothing. I pulled off for a few moments and let it pass.

That was the last storm in the area, so I called it a chase and headed home.

Final Thoughts
Despite not seeing too much excitement, it was a pretty fun chase. While summer storms usually don’t bring much but heavy rain and lightning, at least they move slow enough to keep up with them. The iPad faired pretty well minus the data hole on the Champaign/Vermilion county line area. It was nice to not have to spend 10-15 minutes setting up a laptop. 🙂 I definitely look forward to chasing more with the iPad.

Total Mileage: 105 miles

Click here to view/purchase photos from this chase.


June 13, 2010 – Chase in Eastern Illinois

I wasn’t planning on chasing today as there was just a slight risk and I was about out of gas. However, a severe thunderstorm warning around 4:00pm quickly changed my mind. I figured I’d just go sit south of town out in the country and watch the storm for a bit. I stopped at Old Church Road and Rising Road just south of Champaign at 4:05pm. It was pouring down rain and the lightning was fairly frequent. I heard a few slaps of hail on the roof, but nothing bigger than pea size. As the storm passed, I decided to try to follow it. As I put the car into gear and tried to pull back on to the road, the tires started spinning. Flashbacks of May 29, 2004 danced in my head. I remembered that one reason I bought the new vehicle was that it had four wheel drive. The problem was I didn’t know how to engage it. I pulled up on the lever and saw an indicator light saying I was in four wheel drive. I slowly tapped the gas pedal and away we went with no more spinning tires. Whew!

I continued east a bit and then south to keep up with the storms and find new ones further south. Around 5:00pm I entered Tuscola and once again had to detour around a train. (the last time that happened I saw a tornado!) 🙂 I headed east through Camargo and then south on Hwy 130. Just west of Hindsboro, I saw a funnel-like appendage in front of me. I’m fairly certain it was just scud as it wasn’t rotating but I definitely could see someone mistaking it as a funnel cloud. (to my knowledge no such reports were made)

I headed east on CR 1000N near Charleston and quickly discovered the reason 4×4 trucks were invented. I went over a narrow one lane bridge and then saw that the road had streams of water flowing down the edges. As I approached the top of a hill, there was a 20 ft section where the entire road was covered in this muddy water. I cautiously proceeded and made it past the insanity. I continued east and then south eventually ending up in Westfield. The storm I saw earlier on radar with the pink/purple color turned out to be nothing but incredibly heavy rain and no hail.

I was getting low on gas so I headed west to Mattoon. After filling up, I noticed some towers off to my south and wanted to get a better view. I headed south of town on Lerna road and stopped southwest of Lerna to take a few pictures. There was now a line of leftover storms heading in from the west, but nothing severe in my area. I went back to Mattoon and got on I-57 but quickly noticed a nice looking shelf cloud which I couldn’t pass up. I got off at the 192 mile marker and parked on the overpass to watch the storm roll in. (6:50pm) After a long rainy afternoon of chasing, this made the day feel worth it. As the rain started up again, I continued north on I-57 back home to Champaign.

Click here to view/purchase photos from this chase.

Final Thoughts:
There wasn’t too much to write home about today other than lots of rain and the nifty shelf cloud. I quickly remembered that chasing storms in June usually brings about new obstacles like tall corn and flooded roads. At least I finally got a chance to test out the four wheel drive capability and keep from getting stuck in the ditch. 🙂

Total Mileage: 165 miles

June 5, 2010 – Tornado near Elmwood IL

I was starting to wonder if the storm season was over already. Only a few mediocre chases this year and not much to show for it. Much to my surprise, the SPC issued a large moderate risk area stretching from Iowa to western Pennsylvania. While many chasers targeted Iowa, I didn’t feel like driving that far. (I’m getting lazy as I get older I guess!) 🙂 I decided to stick to western Illinois and hope the storms would fire up before it got too dark. Another reason I didn’t want to travel too far is that I just purchased a new chase vehicle a week before and did not have all my gear installed yet. I decided to go old school chasing with nothing but my cameras, weather radio, and my iPhone. (I did have a computer with me, but I never turned it on)

Before chasing, I stopped by the dealership where I bought my new vehicle to pick up the remainder of my gear from my old car. After talking with the salesman for a few minutes, I headed out to my target area which was initially Galesburg. Along the way, I received word that a tornado watch had been issued for that part of the state. I decided to keep driving west towards Monmouth and eventually ended up in Oquawka, IL right on the IL/IA border. I filled up the gas tank and happened to notice I had no cell signal whatsoever. (seems to be a recurring theme this year!) Not wanting to go into Iowa, I decided to turn around and head back east.

When I got back to Monmouth, I went south of town and then zigzagged my way back east. I was getting a little frustrated at this point and was about to call it a chase. Luckily, a train decided to block my east road option so I had to head south and then east ending up in Abingdon. I started heading north at this point towards Galesburg, but stopped just south of there to check data. There was a decent storm directly to my west which was looking really good on radar. I was concerned that if I did stay there, I’d be right in the path of a tornado should it drop one. Apparently the NWS agreed as they issued a tornado warning for this cell. I turned around and headed back south on Highway 41 and pulled off on Knox Road (300N) to watch the storm.

I had a good view to the north and watched a wall cloud develop. I snapped a few pictures and then followed the storm to the east on Highway 116. There were numerous trees on this road and I kept getting glimpses of what was at least a funnel cloud. As I approached the west side of Farmington, I turned north on CR-22 to get a better view. As I went up the hill and got away from the trees, I saw that my wall cloud had indeed dropped a tornado. I was almost shocked that I was seeing a tornado in person as it had been a long time. Quickly getting over my shock, I pulled off the road near a barn with a good view to my northeast. I let the dash cam record the video while I got out and took some still photos. The structure was pretty awesome and to have a tornado underneath it just added to the thrill. It had the elephant trunk look to it as it marched across the sky. I was too far away to see individual pieces of debris, but there was definitely a visible debris cloud from my vantage point.

It appeared to rope out but I was still seeing a debris cloud. I watched it for a few more minutes and decided to continue east on Highway 116 to keep up with it. As I got closer to Peoria, I saw numerous emergency vehicles heading west towards the damage path. That’s always a sickening feeling as you never want to see damage and injuries. It was getting dark at this point, so I decided to make my way home rather than continuing to chase in the dark. (something I ignored on my March 12, 2006 chase). I got on I-74 and headed east back to Champaign.

Final Thoughts:
Well I finally ended my tornado drought and bagged one this year! I’m hoping the new vehicle had something to do with it. 🙂 (not too shabby for its first chase!) I also got some HD video of a tornado as well as some good digital photos. (about time I get to utilize some of this gear!) Of course the excitement of this catch was short-lived once I found out that Elmwood had taken a direct hit. Luckily no lives were lost but there was a lot of damage in town.

Total Mileage: 396 miles

Torando Count: 1 (near Elmwood, IL)

NWS Survey:

Click here to view/purchase photos from this chase.


May 13, 2010 – Morning chase in eastern Illinois

I was awoken this morning at 6:52am (CDT) by my weather radio indicating we were under a severe thunderstorm watch. Radar showed a bowing line of storms in west central IL heading to the northeast at a pretty good pace. My initial plan was to head west on I-74 and intercept the line at Bloomington. However, I quickly noticed that there was no way I would arrive in time since the storms were moving around 60mph. At Farmer City, I exited the interstate and went NE on Highway 54. Once I got to Gibson City, I went north on Highway 47. A smaller bow in the line was heading right towards me, so I tried to get in front of it as best as I could. I pulled off west of Strawn, IL at E 260 RD N and N 2500 RD E at 8:20am (CDT). The lightning was increasing a bit, but there really wasn’t much else to report. There were a few brief downpours but no wind or hail to report. There were no other storms behind this cell, so I called it a chase and headed home.

Final Thoughts:
It was a crap shoot, but I figured I’d give it a try anyway. At least I had good visibility unlike my previous chases this month. One of these days I’ll get a good storm to chase. 🙂

Total Mileage: 117 miles.

May 10, 2010 – High risk chase in North Central Oklahoma

Today was the day that everyone had been talking about for awhile. The SPC had a high risk of severe weather out for parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. Luckily this was the week I chose awhile ago to take off work. (sweet!) In an attempt to conserve money, I decided not to leave until early Monday morning. It was a gamble to wait that long, but I figured if I left early enough I could still make it out there in time for the storms. Originally I was targeting the Wichita, KS area but the models on Sunday evening were indicating more of a southerly/easterly threat. I chose to go for Tulsa, OK and then adjust my target from there.

I departed Champaign at 5:30am (CDT) on Monday morning and headed south on I-57. I was treated to a really nice sunrise which eventually was filled in by thick cloud cover. I went west on I-70 towards St. Louis and then southwest on I-44 across Missouri. It seemed like forever to drive across Missouri, but I eventually entered into Oklahoma. At 1:25pm (CDT), a PDS tornado watch was issued for southern Kansas and western/central Oklahoma. I was already getting alerts on my phone of tornado warnings in western Kansas, so I knew this system was about to go crazy.

I made it to Tulsa around 2:30pm (CDT) and decided to keep going west on US 412. At 3:15pm (CDT) I stopped at the Lone Chimney, OK gas station to fill up and check data. There was already a tornadic cell in NW Oklahoma, but that was moving too fast and away from me to intercept. I figured more storms would fire up further south along the dryline. I decided to continue west on US 412 and exit north of Perry, OK. There was a severe cell heading towards me, so I found a spot out in the country to watch it for a bit. As I was sitting there waiting for it, the storm was upgraded to a tornado warning. It was definitely looking better on radar taking the classic V shape. I still couldn’t see too much from my vantage point, so I attempted to move closer to it. This was proving to be more difficult as the roads were alternating from gravel to mud without warning.

I went north on 25th St. and was seeing a possible wall cloud to my west. Unfortunately this area was pretty hilly and the road turned to mud very quickly, so I was forced to turn around and find another road. I went west on E0420 Rd. and once I cleared some trees I saw a lowering. (4:38pm) I quickly pulled over and watched the lowering disappear. The winds flowing into the storm were pretty strong at this location. I continued west on this road and then turned north on N3180 Rd. I pulled over to watch the storm but I wasn’t seeing much at this point. I did see several chasers in the area, so at least I wasn’t completely off my game. 🙂

My Verizon data was gone at this point as there just isn’t any coverage in this area. All I had was the radar on my iPhone which was showing the storm off to my north. My only remaining play on this storm was to head back east and then north on a nice paved road. (US-77) I went east on Highway 156 towards Maryland, OK and noticed a lot of hail in the grass that I heard someone reporting earlier. I kept going north and then east trying to keep up with it, but the storm was simply moving too fast.

I was hearing reports of major damage in the OKC area and noticed storms were all around me. While my initial plan was to spend the night in Oklahoma and chase for a few more days, I quickly changed my mind. It was starting to get dark so I just decided to bail east and find the interstate. While my mind wanted to drive all the way back home to Illinois, my body was pretty exhausted. I finally gave up the battle and found a hotel in Strafford, MO. I made the rest of the journey home on Tuesday afternoon.

Final Thoughts:
While I missed all the tornadoes and hail that about every other chaser saw, it still wasn’t too shabby. For leaving Illinois at 5:30 in the morning, the ability just to be chasing a tornado-warned storm in Oklahoma was pretty sweet. However, it seems like everywhere I chase this year has poor data coverage and today was no exception. The roads out there were pretty bad too and I wasn’t going to chance getting stuck again. It was frustrating but all you can do is keeping pushing forward. Eventually I have to catch a break right? 🙂


Total Mileage 1300 miles.