April 10, 2001 Long Lived Supercell, Large Hail,
What Luck! Off from work this week and storms firing every day so far. I woke up to find severe storms on-going and thought I'd enjoy a morning chase. I followed and passed a broken line of storms, some severe that were tracking from Missouri into Illinois. They were going severe across the Mississippi River from St. Louis so I followed the storms up Interstate 70 all the way to Greenville, Illinois where I gave up the chase after I had plowed through the line and then let it pass through me again. The severe parameters were high winds although I never encountered anything in the line that came close to any severe parameters.
What I didn't realize is that later in the day, I would be apart of one of the biggest and probably the most long lived supercells in Missouri history.
In mid afternoon I began watching radar and saw the storms begin to fire in central Kansas. My friend and fellow St. Louis storm chaser, Nick Pavlovits was in Kansas City on a job related visit with his family. As the storms was bearing down on the Kansas City area, I decided to call Nick and see what he was seeing on his end. As I was calling, he was just coming out of his business meeting and found himself right in front of the storm looking at tremendous cloud movement. He and his family hopped into the car to begin following/staying out of its way while manuvering his way back to Interstate 70 for the return trip to St. Louis. Nick was wanting to position himself around the storm, but with his wife and kids, had to think of their safety as well. Over the next several hours, Nick and I were in constant communication to keep him abreast of where the storm was moving as he traveled Interstate 70 back home with his hope of seeing the storm safely from a distance. Unfortunately for Nick, Kansas City rush hour traffic complicated by several accidents along the way virtually cut him off from staying within range of the storm. He was only able to see the storm from a great distance. But our communication remained constant for the entire afternoon into early evening advising him of the severe thunderstorm warnings and the tornado warnings along the way. The storm at this time was moving due east along the boundary and right along the highway. It would continue its easterly path all the way to central Illinois late into the evening.
My entire afternoon was dedicated to just helping him, if I could, get a good look at the storm, but things were about to change as the storm passed Columbia Missouri. At this point the storm remained strong and still put out tornado warnings. I began thinking of a storm intercept for myself. It's intensity remained constant as it moved to the Warrenton Missouri area. It was now that I decided that this thing was going to hold together and I should gather my things and meet it coming in.
Ryan, my son and I quickly gathered our equipment and jumped into the van and headed out to St. Charles County to meet the storm. I had a rough time deciding how to handle the storm in respect to the traffic on the highways. When I got to St. Charles County, traffic was rediculously heavy on Interstate 70. All I could think was why are there so many people heading into a tornadic supercell or did they just not know what was going on. I still had a little time to buy and made the decision to travel north to I-370 which is the St. Charles bypass. This had much less traffic but put me further north into the core of the storm. As the storm was reaching us (8:00), there was no more daylight to be had.
My storm observation was at the bottom of the Cave Springs/Truman off ramp. I liked this spot because it was a flat, open area facing west, I had an escape route south and east from here. The storm rolled in and winds quickly knocked the power out along the highway. If it wasn't dark enough before, it sure was now. This really put a bit of a scare even in me. Even a Missouri Highway Patrol car pulled under the highway overpass to wait the storm out. The wind picked up tremendously and it began to hail pea size and with poor visibility, I figured it was time to make a mad dash back east to get out ahead again and try to get a view. I got off of the highway again several miles east at the Elm exit to wait again for the storm. Again I had access east, south and now north for escape routes and wide open areas to view from. We also had a covered entrance at the Sun Hotel and Suites if we needed cover for the van. Although our night visibility was not much better here, we still had power here and had a few more options. It began to hail, first pea size, then nickel, quarter, then the big thuds on the van roof told us it was time for that cover. We made it double time for that cover and had it hail for 10 minutes. Hail up to halve dollar size, mostly quarter size ended up almost covering the ground. The people inside the hotel doors where we stopped were trying to convince us to come into the hotel for cover, but I'm sure to their amazement, we waved off their offer. They must have really thought we were warped. By now we were hearing the storm's circulation was passing just a mile or so to the north of us. As the hail let up, we headed back east onto 370.
We crossed back over into St. Louis County and knew we had to get east on I-270. We now knew the storm was still circulating and producing large hail. We had to really move to get back in front and stay ahead of the hail. Our goal was not to stop again until we crossed the Mississippi River and get to where we could see again. Chasing in St. Louis county is not anything any chaser wants to do. As we rounded the ramp from 370 to 270, reports started coming in about a funnel cloud being reported about 2 miles to the south of our location, I-70 and 270. This is where I began getting confused because before the circulation was north of me and now this was south. I had a hunch the storm split, but I remained confused from this point until I got home later and looked at the radar loop. The storm did actually break in two and had 2 separate circulations with the southern circulation being the strongest. We continued east and at the Elizabeth exit, a call from home told us that hail at our home was golfball size and the rest of the family was heading for the basement. This was only about 1 mile south of our current position. We were observing the same size hail falling sparatically where we were. I began worrying about windshields. We continued cautiously avoiding cars that made bridges their personal garages and cars moving slow and often changing lanes without warning. As we reached the Bellefointaine Road exit, baseball hail was laying on the road. Exciting stuff for Ryan and I, but time to show extreme caution. We could hear this hail hitting the metal awnings and buildings along the way and we were just out of reach. Reports still continued to come over the scanner about the circulation being over Spanish Lake to our north and over Ferguson to our south behind us. Over the bridge and into Illinois with hail and the storm still hot on our tail. Once over the bridge, we finally got a bearing on the storm to our north and with the lightning lighting up the storm, we could now tell where the probable hail shaft was and got our bearings on the rest of the storm and could more easily find the "safe zones". Still hearing of the stronger cell behind, word of the storm possibly dropping a tornado in Granite City, 5 miles behind us started coming over the airwaves, but we continued watching the other circulation due north of us on the highway 270. We were still hearing the occasional hail hitting building roofs and other metal objects, but not near as often any more. We were now seeing grandious cloud supercell characteristics with every lightning stroke. I was thinking how tremendous this would have looked in daylight versus the occasional glimpse with each bolt. It had that layered plate look.
Ryan and I followed this storm to Greenville Illinois (for the second time today) and we found cover and waited for the storm to pass. We still anticipated hail, but the hail shaft by that time had crossed over the highway and missed our covered location.
The true extent of the storm was not realized by me until the following day when storm reports came in over new reports. Hail was the primary damage producer. I drove around and took video of the hail that fell that people collected in the yard and stored in their freezers. Also took some pictures of some oddities of the storm like marks in pavement and divots in yards. The largest hail fell in the Florissant area with the maximum size being 3". Some areas of North St. Louis County had every building with hail damage. Widespread shingle, gutter, siding, car dings, window smashes and many other items damaged in many parts from St. Charles County all the way through North St. Louis County and into Illinois. If your car was not under cover in the path of the storm, you had major hail dings to fix.
My house in the Ferguson area received close to $7,000 dollars of damage. The house needed new shingles, gutters and needed the interior walls and roof repaired from the leaks the hail created. The maximum hail size was 2 and a quarter inches at our home which sat near the southern edge of the storm. Oddly enough, being out in the storm, I managed to stay out of the major hail and received no lasting dings to the "chase mobile".