Finally, the severe weather season opens for the 2005 season. The only decision that needed to be made today was whether to hang around home for the local chase and play the possibilities of hail and wind damage or travel further north and make a whole day of things and play the higher tornado potential. After consulting with Brian Stertz and getting his take on the day’s setup at about 11:00a.m., my decision was made to make the trip up to Central Illinois and work with the better setup. By 11:30a.m. my son Ryan and I were on the road.
This trip, we knew would be pretty reliant upon our scanner and our radar updates through the sprint cell phone as our primary information source along with our visuals. Brian also agreed to serve as our extra set of eyes during his breaks at work. We chose Springfield, Illinois as our target zone to wait for initiation. As we drove up I-55 toward the target, I made use of the rest areas along the way to get radar updates. That is where we found out about the tornado watch that had been issued with the southern edge just north of Springfield. With that in mind, I readjusted the target zone a little further north. With the scanner info, we were hearing of two areas of severe storms to the west of us with the northern one looking better visually. I stopped for gas with the northern most storm just to the west of us 20 miles or so around 2:00p.m. Brian was scheduled for another break about this time and right on schedule, Brian calls as I left the gas station. He agreed that the storm we were seeing visually was also the best looking on radar as well. Now the chase was on.
We plotted the storm out for an interception just to the west of Peoria. We caught the storm in Pekin, Illinois, just west of Peoria. We drove through hail up to quarter size and saw the hail nearly covering the road in one spot.
At that time is when the severe storm warning turned to tornado warning as we were right there looking at the storm. There were scud clouds flying all around and pieces from cloud level to just above ground level. I expected a well organized wall cloud somewhere, but that was not to be seen. If any structure at all, I would have called it very ragged.
We did the southern loop around Peoria which took us away from the storm again, but did manage to keep visual tabs on the storm even from the distance we were. Once past the city, we busted north again and with the help of the DeLorme map, managed to use the north and east Illinois back roads to perfection. We watched as this storm went through stages that looked like it may spin something up, but as it appeared to Ryan and I, that might have been just wishful thinking. Lots of flying scud, but no true organization.
Just before reaching I-39, we looked backed at the storm over our shoulder, “Is that a tornado?” Slamming the brakes and getting out of the car, with camera and camcorder going, we could not make any decision. Was that a wall cloud, funnel or tornado behind the black scud cloud crossing in front of it, or was it just more visual tricks through the scud, lighting and haze. This was as close to a tornado as we saw this day.
There was a report of a tornado touchdown near Metamora, Illinois, but we did know if this is what was reported since we were in the area, or someone called in something else.These storms continued flying at 65mph northeast, faster than I was willing to follow them. We headed back south after hearing from Brian and Nick Pavlovits that new convection was firing in Madison County, Illinois. We played tag with several of the severe storms on the way back. Most were just hailers.
We ended up in Vandalia, Illinois where we learned the earlier Madison County storms had lined out and were ready to come through. We watched from under cover as Ryan and I ate our fast food dinner and enjoyed the light show.
It was a fun trip. No true tornadoes, but several hail events. Thanks again to Brian Stertz and Nick Pavlovits for their timely information.