Left my home in St. Louis at about 8:30am heading southeast on Interstate 64. My son Ryan and I had targeted the Mount Vernon area in the morning after looking at data and getting the latest information via email from Brian Stertz. My plan was to get to Mt. Vernon, find a location to gather the latest data, make a call to Brian before he left for work and then, with his help, choose a final chase location to wait.
The plan seemed to be working perfectly as I passed the Mt. Vernon exit. The sky had cleared out. As we passed the city the low level moisture streamed in. At the rest area just past Mt. Vernon I decided to pull in and make a call to Brian before he left for work. He and Jeff Piotrowski had talked the night before and decided not to travel up here because of the difficulty the chase would bring because storm speed was anticipated to be between 55-60 mph. I tried reaching Brian and others for the next hour with absolutely no success. I had plenty of tower signal, but could not get the cell phone to connect. I began thinking the phone had given out. I even went so far as emptied my ashtrays looking for change to use the pay phone for a call for data. I gave that up when they asked me to deposit $4.80. Yowee!
O.K! I turned back around and exited at the Mt. Vernon exit and went north on the main road. At this point with two main goals, find a Radio Shack and see if they could solve the phone problem and somehow come up with some reasonable data either by phone or internet. Luck on my side thus far. A Radio Shack only a few blocks up and a very helpful manager that did his best to find a solution. After he made several calls, it was determined that the cell phone towers used around Southern Illinois used a different system then what my phone was set to. Even in analog mode, I still could not get a call out. I never thought of asking to use their internet in the store until I was ready to leave. 30 seconds later we were on and looking at data. As we suspected, nothing was brewing in front of the nearly solid squall line that had now formed and was moving through the St. Louis area. I was shocked to see tornado warnings from back where we started today. Further velocity radar shots showed a giant hook echo coming out of Franklin Co. Missouri near Six Flags. Not setting up the way we had hoped. The realism of no supercells forming in front of the line and the reality of a chase with the squall line racing at 55+mph coming at us complicated with no phone service to get any info would make this almost a blind chase.
Out of Radio Shack to top off the gas tank as I thought about the situation. I returned to the Radio Shack and gathered the latest radar and warning list. (Thanks Scott and Radio Shack crew for the help) Still nothing new except the squall line back near St. Louis and stretching northeast and southwest. Rotation in the storm still remained strong. I made the decision to start edging back west on Interstate 64 toward St. Louis and possibly intercept the Franklin Co. Storm that remained strong and was now giving Jefferson Co. and St. Louis Co. tornado warnings. When I got back to Okawville I pulled off on the exit ramp and pulled across to the entrance ramp looking west and tried to make another cell call. Wonders would have it, I was getting a call out. I called Jeff Piotrowski on his cell in Tulsa to gather some info. He was a gigantic help as he pointed out where all of the active cells were and added his version of potential back where I was near Mt. Vernon. Jeff knew that the storms would rotate hard again as they neared the Indiana border and strongly suggested I get east and work around from there.
The bad news about using the off ramp is I got back on the on ramp facing west to make the call and therefore stuck going west even though the new information pointed east. so after the call, I continued toward the squall line coming out of Jefferson Co. The storm rotation pretty much had come to an end according to radio reports as I approached the next exit and set up to just be a wind event as the squall line approached.
As the line was on top of us, we quickly worked our way east again. Our goal now appeared to be the Indiana border and work our way as far north as possible. Easy, yeah, right! East on 64 again and did manage to get ahead of the storm. We needed to hit Interstate 57 north and hopefully get to Interstate 70 east before the line. As we headed north on 57, we began seeing the line once again approaching from the northwest. We were hearing reports of severe thunderstorm warnings along the line at our target point of Interstate 70 and 57. As we drove, it became obvious that we would not make Interstate 70 before the line of storms and chose to go east on Highway 50 out of Salem. We traveled east for what seemed forever, but it was really only 30 minutes or so with the edge of the cloud deck over us and could not make any further forward progress on the storm. I knew this chase was pretty much over at this point. As we got to the town of Flora, Illinois, we made the decision to stop and watch the gust front and precipitation pass us through and see if we could catch any hail out of it. The storm went through with probably 50-60 mph wind gusts and no hail.
The trip was then over for us as we then made our way back to St. Louis after what we considered a bust. This was a difficult chase day as it set up anyway, and complicating the situation with no cell phone service for almost the entire trip left us with only visuals and information by radio and scanner reports as our only information source.
0 Tornadoes, 0 funnel clouds, no hail,
several high wind encounters along the squall line.
310 miles, 8.5 hours, 10 digital photos and 2 hours of video.
Added note from back home. 1" to 1.5" hail fell at my work. Some minor damage occurred to my wife's vehicle as it sat out in the storm at the kids school. Minor dings to the hood from hail and windshield abrasions from blowing sand/debris.
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