April 19, 2011    

It was a sign of the day to come with a wake up call featuring  severe storms and golf ball size hail falling right at the house.  As I watched the radar, I could see the storm intensifying just as it approached.  It verified as the hail began falling.  Thankfully, we were not in the path of the baseball size hail that fell to the south of St. Louis.

Collection of Hailstones that fell at my home.
Largest Hailstones measured 1.75".
Hailstones laying in the grass.

Late in the afternoon, Ryan and I were prepared to go for the main event of the day.  The target would be just across the Mississippi River on the Illinois side and just slightly north.  We grabbed some wi-fi at one of our favorite places in Pontoon Beach just watching as the atmosphere began to bubble.  Jeff Piotrowski was kind enough to provide us some real time updates today.  Jeff was very excited about the chances of the storm on the Missouri side of the river to the north, so we began working our way north through Alton on Highway 67.  Just as we get to the north of Alton, we get the message that there is a confirmed tornado heading toward the town of Bowling Green.  That is when we set the target for that northern cell. Even though construction on that highway slowed us way down, we still had ample time to make it up to Whitehall, IL where the projected storm path would cross our path.  As we approached, the storm kept turning more and more to an easterly direction rather than the original North East direction.  We sat south of town on 367 with 10 minutes to spare.  We positioned ourselves to be as close to the edge as we safely could.  We saw the feeder bands heading into the storm, we saw the base of the storm, but where the "tornadic black" (as my friend Brian Stertz would say), the rain had completely wrapped around the area with the probable tornado.  We gave it a thought to push into the rain as it went by, but because of the threat of huge hail, we made the conservative decision to hang back.  After it went by, we drove toward town to take a quick look for damage.  As we drove, we passed the large hail from south of the city right up into the city.  No tornado damage was visible anywhere. 

Looking at the road structure, we decided not to try maneuvering through the back roads east of Whitehall.  There were no decent west to east roads except to the north of Whitehall which was now out of the question or driving back to Carrollton, IL which was 10 miles south which then had good county road east on 108.   There was really no good choice to make here as the road network gives you nothing to work with around Whitehall.  We took the option down to Carrollton and then east.  Never have I driven in a storm for so long with so much hail falling along with enormous amounts of rain.  At Carlinville, IL, a quick stop at the gas station as the hail and rain continued to fall was needed to take a over deserving restroom break and few seconds to gather my nerves from the white knuckle drive that was taking place.  I was quite honestly beginning to think the day was over as the tornado warnings continued to come over the weather radio for counties to our northeast.  As I was exiting the gas station, Ryan meets me at the door and lets me know there is a tornado on the ground just 12 miles to our southeast.  Again, we got in the "mode" and put our eyes on the target to the east.  We both knew we were way behind the storm yet, but held the hope that the push we would make might get us in a position to see something yet.  As we made it to I-55, we quickly moved south and could see the darkness of the storm to the east.  The storms indeed were moving too quickly for us to catch, but new development was still taking place to the southwest.  That is where we set our new target.  As we moved south, to the north of Litchfield, IL, we came across the damage path of the tornado that crossed right over the I-55.  Although I didn't see any major structual damage, we did notice an extreme amount of debris embedded up against and in the fences on both sides of the highway.

We made it down to I-70 and decided to move east as we could see the storms coming out of St. Louis.  We decided to move south on Highway 4 to stay ahead of the storm as long as possible to get the best possible view underneath the bases.  Finally the storms overtook us and we waited and watchcd as the wind, rain and hail once again pounded our car.  This was a bit scary as at that point we were hearing of potential tornadoes from Glenn Flavin, but he didn't have the data to let us know where the circulations were or how strong they were and night had fallen so visability was no zero.  Thanks to Nick Pavlovits for getting us the storm data we needed and keeping us safe through this part of the storm.  As the storms passed, we reconnected with I-70 and headed home.

A bit on the disappointing side as we missed seeing any tornadoes today.  Those that were patient and hung back were rewarded with tornadoes crossing over the highway in front of them.  After the initial HP supercell in Whitehall, the rest of the day was a rush job to try to get to everything.  We felt like the horse with the carrot hanging out in front of us all day long.  Although frustrating, we saw many storms and had many moments that made the day a memorable one.

Storm approaches Whitehall, IL.
Large Hailstone south of the city limits.
Another Hailstone found laying in the grass.

Click on the link below to see video of some of these storms.

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