May 10, 2003 – Tornado intercept in Western Illinois

What a week of weather across the midwest and plains, but it wasn’t done yet. One more final burst of severe weather was in store before some calm finally rolled in. Would Illinois be in a path for this deadly destruction and wild weather? The SPC certainly thought so when they issued their unprecedented fourth high risk of the week on Saturday morning. The first morning Day 1 outlook just had part of northern and central Illinois in the high risk, with the rest of the state in a moderate risk. Further updates greatly expanded the area of high risk to stretch all the way from northeast Oklahoma to Ohio. The last high risk we’ve had here in Illinois was back in October 24th of 2001 and I remember what happened that day. Given the amount of severe weather throughout the week, I had very little doubt that this high risk would pan out.

The day started off very active with numerous storms moving throughout the state with many being severe and even tornadic. My early attempt to chase these was in vain as they were just too far out of my reach. I then noticed how quickly the skies cleared out and made way for the lovely sun to heat up the atmosphere. While this somewhat provided a cap, I figured that would actually help to get some really good storms late in the afternoon/evening. With my car not in the best of shape, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to chase. While looking at data on the computer, I received a voice mail from Matt Hartman and Joe Walters from INCHASE. They were just west of town here and well in range of the local 2m repeater. They were heading towards Springfield and then would check data from there. As they reached the range of the repeater, we said our goodbyes and I wished them well on their attempt to chase in a high risk area.

April 30, 2003 – Tornado intercept in Northwest IL

Today’s setup looked very interesting and promising, but would I be able to chase today? The models seemed to be all over the place with the system, so I wasn’t sure where this thing was going to strike. The wonderful CAPE values were forecasted to make a welcomed return to the area with values around 1500-3000 depending on the location. Dewpoints were also looking good and were on their way to 60+ without even looking at the models. Lifted indices were also forecasted to be anywhere between -4 and -8, so there was definitely some very nice instability. Finally, the helicity values weren’t too good in central IL, but in northern and northwestern IL they were looking much better with values projected to be between 200-350.

My chase partner Darin Kaiser usually has Wednesday’s off from work, but he had several folks set up appointments with him so chasing was put on hold for awhile. I continued to monitor the situation throughout the morning and pondered several target areas in case I could chase. Obviously, I knew we couldn’t chase in northwest Missouri or southwest Iowa as it was just too far away. I kept looking at northeast Missouri and southeast Iowa though as the models were showing some promising signs for that area. The SPC Day 1 outlook painted a swath of moderate risk from eastern Kansas to northeast Illinois. I wasn’t too confident in that forecast, but decided to see how it all panned out. As I was eating lunch, an MCD was issued for the area regarding possible thunderstorm development.

April 16, 2003 – Chase to southwest IL

I had been watching this day on the models for awhile now and was anxious to see what would happen now that it was finally here. The early morning Day 1 (06z) outlook painted a small moderate risk area from extreme SW IL to SE MO. This was the general area I was wanting to head to, so I was pretty excited. Unfortunately the moderate risk didn’t last long as the SPC downgraded it to a slight risk, stating that the risk of severe weather didn’t warrant a moderate risk. (blah!) Dewpoints were only forecasted to be in the mid-50s, while helicity values were looking much better around 200-300. I won’t even talk about CAPE since it was nearly non-existent. 😉 The CAP from the ILX and SGF 12z soundings was pretty high, so stuff was not likely to fire up until sunset or thereafter. Despite the limited ingredients, Darin and I decided to give it a go and see what happened. Our target area was the chasing hotspot of SW IL, better known as Pinckneyville, IL. 🙂

Darin and I left my place here in Champaign at 11:00am and headed south on I-57. Not much was going on with the weather at this time, just some partly cloudy conditions and very windy. We stopped south of Salem, IL at a rest stop to take a break from the non-stop driving. Inside they had a weather monitor that showed temps, radar, and a few other things. There appeared to be a small squall line that had developed just west of us, but we had no intentions of chasing it. After grabbing a Pepsi and some Potato Skins (great chaser snack food!), we continued south on I-57. We arrived in Mt. Vernon around 1:30pm and decided to look around for a computer w/Internet access to get some weather data. After going 0 for 2 at the local Staples and Radio Shack, we explored the main drag for the town library. Once we found it, we went inside and asked about using a computer. We were very happy that all we needed was a driver’s license to use the computers.

April 4, 2003 – Chase in Champaign/Piatt County

I wasn’t really expecting too much this far north today in the way of severe weather. The early morning Day 1 outlook had southern Illinois in a moderate risk and the slight risk was just north of there. It appeared that the front was going to pass through quickly, taking all the severe weather with it to the south and east. Looking at the surface map, there was quite a temperature gradient so I knew something was up. Dewpoints were in the upper 50s and forecasted to hit the lower 60s. Convective parameters weren’t too shabby with CAPE values around 1500 and helicity around 200-250. The cap wasn’t a concern today with such a strong front, but clouds were definitely an issue. If we remained socked in with clouds, we probably wouldn’t get much severe weather. However, if we could get a few breaks it would be a different story.

During the morning, we had several little areas of storms move through the area. None were severe, but there was decent amounts of lightning. After each batch went through, the sun would seem to make another appearance. The 1630z Day 1 pushed the slight risk much further north and the moderate wasn’t too far behind. Watching satellite loops of the region, you could definitely see some destabilization occurring. A little after 11:00am, the SPC issued an MCD for central MO to IL stating that storms were expected to rapidly develop after 12:00pm. About an hour later they issued a tornado watch mainly west of I-55 in IL to central MO. Around 1:00pm, a cell had fired up east of Quincy, IL and was rapidly gaining strength. Numerous severe and tornado warnings were issued for it as it tracked across western and central IL. It appeared to take a right turn and head more east than its previous northeast direction. At 3:52pm, a tornado was reported with this cell in Clinton, IL.

March 19, 2003 – Chase in Piatt County Illinois

Despite there being a slight risk of severe weather today, I wasn’t too optimistic at the start of the day. There were tons of clouds and the temps were rather chilly. There was also a nice area of rain heading up from southern Illinois which would further stabilize the atmosphere. Not much to look forward to, or so I thought.

After picking up my paycheck from work, I ran a few errands and headed home. Not much in the way of activity in the weather department at the time. The 11:00am hazardous weather outlook from ILX even mentioned there was no threat of severe weather today. Apparently they thought the atmosphere could not destabilize given the amount of cloud cover and lower dew points.

I loaded up the radar loop from ILX and noticed a thin line of storms in western Illinois, but they didn’t look too fierce on radar. Then the moment of shock arrived when I got a notification at 1:18pm of a tornado warning for Christian and Sangamon counties. What the heck!?!? Shortly after the warning was issued, there were two reports of confirmed tornado touchdowns with the storm. Unfortunately being some 80-90 miles away, there was no way of catching up to the particular cell. However, I noticed more isolated cells to the south of here that were heading in this direction. Looking at the satellite images revealed that clouds were definitely being penetrated by the sun and that was very promising.