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.

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.

May 22, 2004 – Chase in Northern IL

I had predicted this day to be a big outbreak since February, yet everyone laughed at me. What would cause me to make such a bold precise statement like this so far in advance? Cubs/Cards tickets of course! Yes, being a lifelong Cubs fan and never had a chance to visit Wrigley was just too much for me to take. A friend of mine had somehow secured some tickets the day they went on sale in February. I made a prediction that on May 22, 2004 there would be a super outbreak in the midwest. So wouldn’t you know it, 2 months later and there’s an outbreak setup in the making. The morning Day 1 outlook had parts of NE/IA in a moderate risk. (later upgraded to a high risk) Some would call it irony, others would blame it on the many curses of the Cubs. I have a few choice words for it myself, but will refrain from using them at this time. 🙂

To make matters worse, the forecast for the game was not looking good. Radar was showing 2 bands of showers and thunderstorms heading right for Chicago. Due to the realistic chance that it might get rained out, I decided to drive my vehicle up just in case a chase presented itself to me. We loaded up and headed north to Chicago on I-57. My friends thought it was funny that some people were slowing down behind me because they thought I was a cop due to all the antennas on my car. (it’s kinda funny and annoying at the same time!) Anywho, as we got up to Chicago, the sun was out and the skies were partly cloudy. While we were wasting time, I got a text message on my phone regarding a severe thunderstorm watch that just happened to include Champaign. (it never fails!) Anywho, not wanting to drive all of our vehicles into the heart of Chicago, we dropped them off at one of their relative’s houses in Forest View, IL.

May 20, 2004 – Chase in Central IL

There’s just something about the 20th of the month this year that draws me to a chase. Today marked the third month in a row where I was considering a chase on the 20th of the month. (makes ya wonder doesn’t it?) Anywho, the main action looked to be in Iowa which obviously was way too far for me to go on a work day. The SPC day 1 outlook had most of Illinois in a slight risk, so while not a great chance it was a start. I was dying to chase even if the setup wasn’t the greatest, so I worked through lunch and left a little early from work.

I departed Champaign around 4:15PM and hopped on I-72 to head towards Bloomington. During the journey, I was socked in with clouds which didn’t make me too optimistic about severe weather occurring. Once I reached Bloomington, I headed north on I-39. As I traveled further north, the lovely sun began popping through which gave me a bit more confidence in our chances. Once I reached Peru, IL. around 6:00PM, I decided to hop on I-80 and head west. I made a pit stop in Spring Valley to grab a snack and to check data. The snack part worked out great, but data wasn’t as good. I tried to get online, but I was in a no-data zone. (drats!) I called up my pal Mike Cox to see if he could provide a little data to me. To my surprise, he was actually out chasing storms over in Iowa. As he was waiting on his storms to do stuff, he informed me that the storms I was interested in were still west of the Quad Cities.

May 2, 2004 – Chase in Central IL

Today was not an anticipated chase day at all. (seems to be a growing theme this year) I didn’t even look at any sort of weather data when I got up. My focus on this chilly morning was to visit a local amateur radio hamfest in Decatur, IL. I got up around 7:15am and got everything in order to make the hour drive to Decatur. My initial thoughts were to just take the laptop and HT, but some strange voice inside me told me to grab the camcorder and gear bag. (thanks strange voice!) I loaded up the car and headed out around 8:00am. I made a quick stop at the ATM to get some cash, but my debit card decided to expire without letting me know so I was unable to get any bling bling. (the stupid thing ate my card too!) Despite this minor setback, I decided to push forward and continue on my journey. I arrived at the hamfest a little after 9:00am and started roaming around to see if there were any goodies. I met up with my ham/chase friend George (N9IPO) and we made the rounds inside and out.

While we were walking around, my cell phone started buzzing. I figured it was just a weather watch for some place on the east coast or something. A few minutes later, it buzzed again. I checked it out and there was a severe thunderstorm warning as well as a mesoscale discussion for Illinois. (what the heck!?!?) Cell phone coverage wasn’t too good in the building, but I managed to find a spot where I could download the full text of the discussion. The lovely cold air aloft was triggering some decent hail, hence the warnings. I continued browsing the hamfest not thinking much more about the weather situation. George and I made one more pass of the outdoor vendors before heading on our separate ways. One radio had caught my eye earlier and I was surprised to see it still there when I returned. I really wanted it, but all I had was my checkbook and the guy said ‘cash only’. (blah!) Luckily, another ham friend of mine knew the guy and was able to convince him that I was a trustworthy person. (yay for me!)