April 24, 2004 – Chase to Southeast Missouri

After having a very successful chase on 4/20, I was ready to get back out there and see what else I could intercept. The setup for Saturday looked fairly decent: nice moisture, instability, CAPE was up there, and some decent wind shear. I wasn’t sure if I was going to chase or not, but figured if I did that I would target the very popular oasis of Sikeston, MO. A friend of mine from the St. Louis area called me up and asked if I could take a look at their computer. (darn viruses!) I decided that I could go down there Friday after work, fix the computer, crash at their place, and then chase Saturday if something materialized. Not too shabby if you ask me!

As I awoke Saturday morning, we were socked in with cloudy skies. I flipped on the weather channel and it confirmed my visual observations. (this wasn’t looking good) After saying our goodbyes, I departed Alton, IL around 11:00am in search of weather data and food. I drove around these small little towns north of the area, but couldn’t seem to find any food joints that I was interested in. I had the craving for some Hardee’s bacon-egg-cheese biscuits, so that was my new goal of the morning. I finally stumbled into Staunton, IL and found a Hardee’s. Unfortunately they had stopped serving breakfast, so my choices were limited to the Angus burgers or a safer/healthier choice of the ham and swiss sandwich. As I was eating my ham and swiss sandwich, I hopped online to get the latest weather information. Everything in IL was socked in with thick cloud cover, but further south the sun was popping through.

April 20, 2004 – Tornado intercept near Kankakee IL

I had no intentions or reasons to chase today, everything looked to be out in KS/OK. Anything that did come our way appeared to be overnight stuff that isn’t much fun to chase. I briefly looked at the models and it showed very decent shear but no cape to work with. As I went to work in the morning, the whole state was covered with showers and thunderstorms. (nothing severe) As worked progressed, I noticed a watch box go up out west for KS/OK/AR/MO. Not having much to do, I loaded up a few weather programs and kept an eye on it just for kicks.

While I was sitting there, I saw a tornado warning pop up on the screen. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but then noticed it was from our local NWS office in Lincoln. I thought maybe they were testing or someone hit the wrong button, but as I looked closer it not only was real but it was for Champaign county! (what the ….!) I about fell out of my chair when this happened and shared the news with several co-workers. The radar didn’t really show much of anything which made me think this was just a farse. Not too long after I received several damage reports around the county that did indeed confirm the tornado. Even with this very local event, I still didn’t think much of it.

April 17, 2004 – Chase to Northwest Iowa

April…Warmer temperatures, green grass, birds chirping, and of course the beloved severe thunderstorms. Since there hasn’t been many chasing opportunities this year, I was very anxious to get out there on a so-called ‘real’ chase. I can honestly say there has not been a chase yet that I’ve looked at so many forecast models and weather data as this one. From the Day 10 GFS to the morning ETA/RUC models, I think I scoured everything I could dig up on this trying to find some answers. The best area to me looked to be somewhere in northwest-west central Iowa. The models were throwing up some crazy values that were almost too good to be true. CAPE values over 2500, LI’s -8 to -10, dew points in the mid 60s, and wind shear wasn’t too shabby either. All the talk around the chasing community was regarding the overstatement of the moisture return from the gulf by the models. The other issue was the beloved cap was expected to rear its ugly head over the target area. Blah!

Being a weekend chase opportunity, I decided to disregard these ‘minor’ details and give it a go and see what happened. If I expected to go that far, I figured I’d better get my transportation in optimal operating condition. On Friday, I took my car in for its very first oil change. (yummy synthetic too!) I figured it would help maintain the engine as well as yield better gas mileage. Anywho, after taking care of that I took one more glance at the models late Friday night. I decided to pick the Des Moines area to initially stop and get data, then go from there. I conveyed my thoughts to my EMT chaser pal Mike Cox who said he would meet me and go from there. So after fueling/bathing my car and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I departed Champaign around 8:30 AM on Saturday morning. I headed west on I-74 and made my journey across Illinois, anxiously awaiting my first chase to the state of Iowa. Around Davenport, I hopped on I-80 to make my trek to the west.

March 28, 2004 – Chase to Northeast IL

Thanks to my dedication to watch my beloved Illini team lose in the sweet 16 to Duke, I passed up an opportunity to chase on Saturday in the plains. It would have been a good run to W. Oklahoma, but there’s always next time right? 🙂 Anyway, the same system that dropped 7 tornadoes in the Kansas/Oklahoma was heading my way on Sunday and that meant there was a slight chance we’d get something to chase here. Granted the system was weakening, but there was still a chance. The early morning SPC Day 1 outlook showed northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin in a slight risk for severe weather with the main threat damaging winds. (a whopping 2% tornado risk too!) I mulled over the forecast models and initially wanted to target somewhere between Peru and Bloomington Illinois. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud cover from the leftover storms that was hindering our storm chances. (share the wealth people!)

I continued to monitor the situation throughout the day and there wasn’t much happening. I didn’t want to leave too early and go on some wild goose chase, yet I didn’t want to wait too long and miss something either. I decided to wait for the 2:00pm (20z) Day 1 outlook to see what the SPC was thinking. They ended up shifting the severe threat to eastern Illinois which kind of surprised me a bit. At this time, I started seeing some very small storms go up north of Bloomington and wondered if this was the beginning of the storms. I was ready to leave but not sure where to head. My initial target was too far west and a southern target didn’t have much instability and energy to work with. The best ingredients were along the NE IL/NW IN border, so I decided to head north to my popular destination of Kankakee. (must be a new theme to chase in the same area as many times as possible this year!)

March 20, 2004 – Chase to Southeast Missouri

It seems like this year we’ve had trouble getting our atmospheric ingredients all together. On the Jan 3rd chase, we had decent winds, moisture, but no freaking CAPE or much instability. Today’s setup was the opposite. We had some decent CAPE (1000-1500), instability (LI’s -2 to -6), and moisture (tD’s in the 60s), but very crappy winds aloft. Despite this lack of combined ingredients, I still liked the chances of chasing. My original thought for a target area was Jonesboro, AR., but I would adjust that slightly with data updates throughout the chase. SDS is still kinda bugging me, so I figured what else was there to do other than chase? (well there’s the whole NCAA tourney, but my beloved Illini didn’t play till Sunday)

I got up around 6:00am and got ready to roll. My plan was to leave around 7:00am and head south to my target area of Jonesboro. However, hooking up all the new gear (aka the Chase Live stuff) took a tad longer than I thought, so I didn’t depart until 7:30am. (blasted technology!) I did check some data as I was setting stuff up in the car and noticed ongoing thunderstorms in southern Illinois. (several warnings were issued too) After filling up the gas tank, I headed south on I-57. It seems every time I get around Effingham, I encounter some sort of accident/traffic stopage on the interstate. There was a semi on the shoulder that I didn’t see anything wrong with, yet traffic was completely stopped in both lanes on the highway! Several Illinois State Police units were on scene and I heard them talking on the radio. After a few minutes, traffic started picking back up and I was on my way.