The draw of severe weather chances today was just too much to keep me home. The target appeared to be Northern Illinois as my son Ryan and I put our sights on seeing more severe weather today.
We set out around 8:00am and picked out a target of Rockford, Illinois as our initial set up location. We stopped for an early lunch at the Lincoln, Illinois Taco Bell to reassess our target as there was some question whether the storms would fire that far north or could fire further west in Iowa. We eventually decided to continue our path further north to Rockford, Illinois, but chose to move the target to the city of Freeport, Illinois, west of Rockford. Upon arriving in Freeport, there was no storm growth going on at all as we were plenty early. We ended up at the McDonalds with a solid WiFi, watched the radar and data, and waited for several hours enjoying a ice cream in the meantime.
The moisture convergence and clouds continued to build into the area and eventually, the entire area was packed with clouds and really didn’t seem conducive to severe weather. There was still nothing showing up anywhere on radar, but we made the decision to take Highway 26 south out of Freeport and reposition in the city of Dixon, Illinois. As we made our way there, a few minor rain showers began developing on the radar, and then a few more, then it seemed the whole area was dotted with rain showers, but still nothing that indicated the building of supercells. A quick stop in Polo, Illinois and a check-in with Brian Stertz seemed to indicate a pretty gloomy outlook as things were not developing as expected. The thought began crossing our mind that the day would go down as a bust.
Wouldn’t you know it, when we thought that the day may be over, the storms began taking shape and growing. We decided to go after a storm on the southern end of the line of rain as it was growing more rapidly than others. We continued south past Dixon, Illinois. We watched the storms along the way and one just to the west of the highway began looking good with a decent wall cloud. Before long Ryan yells “Stop The Car. Tornado”! A quick pull off and we look behind us and there sits something that very well could have been a tornado.
It is still unconfirmed at this point as there were no spotter reports of a tornado in the area. It lasted less than a minute, so back in the car for the continued trek south. Did a little back and forth north and south as the storms kept drawing our interest, but eventually made it down to Highway 92.
After working our way around through some of the Highways in that area following different storms as they continued to build, we eventually made our way to Interstate 80 at Ladd, Illinois. As we drove down the entrance ramp, we stopped at the bottom of the ramp to look at the storm to the north of the road. As we were watching, Ryan soon yells out the words again "Tornado". Sure enough, through the low contrast under the wall cloud was Tornado #1 for the day.
We continued east on I-80 hoping to get another glimpse of the tornado, but it became rain wrapped and views underneath became totally non-existant. We got out ahead of it and got off at the Ottawa, Illinois exit. We drove north hoping to get in position to see underneath for a view of another tornado. The daylight was all but gone by this point, so we lined ourselves up and parked in a parking lot and watched. We watched the storm come right at us. As it got to us, we could see the black, ominus lowering within the rain as it approached. We were very cautious and were ready to bolt at a moments notice. We could see that the interesting part was going to miss us just to the north. As it moved by to the north, the wind direction changed as we were blasted with 90mph wind, so we made a extremely quick exit as everything was bending horizontal and debris was being thrown by the wind. Extremely scary moments as the storm passed, but Ryan assured me it was just to the north.
As it turns out, there was indeed a tornado firmly on the ground hidden within the rain curtains that did just pass to the north by less than 100 yards from where we were watching from. Although mostly hidden, this was Tornado #2.
Summary Courtesy National Weather Service - Chicago, IL Picture Courtesy National Weather Service - Chicago, IL
We moved south toward the Interstate again. As we passed through the businesses along the Highway, all of the power went off (except for the stop lights oddly). We decided not to get on the Interstate as the storm was going to cross it a few miles down and did not want to test fate in total darkness. The funniest part of the trip occurs as a Kroger shopping cart goes flying across the road at the intersection as though it was a car pulling out in traffic, all being push by the extreme wind.
We continued south out of Ottawa and made our way down to Streator, Illinois, then west back to Interstate 39 south. After spotting another circulation on radar, we exited and took Highway 17 east. As we continued to move east, we pull off and watched the storms out in front of us. Isn't long again before Ryan spots another tube on the ground.
Unknown to us at this point, we believe we were viewing the Pontiac, Illinois tornado that would do some major damage.
Summary Courtesy National Weather Service - Chicago, IL
We continued to work our way to the east and south toward the spot, we eventually got to the Highway 23 and Interstate 55 intersection. As we drove through, we noticed lots of emergency equipment and then saw that the buildings had been hit by the tornado. Luckily, the road wasn't closed down yet and we slowly made our way through to continue tracking the storms.
Although it was late into the night, the lightning continued to light the sky allowing us glimpses of what was in front of us. We continued to see lowering in the storm in front of us, so we continued working our way east and south through the back roads following this storm. As we worked our way east now on Highway 24, right in front of us in the distance right over the highway we both simultaneously spotted what appeared to be a big stove pipe tornado. This was in the right place to be the the Cissna Park, Illinois Tornado.
Summary Courtesy National Weather Service - Chicago, IL
We continued to watch this tornado until it was gone from our view and then headed east to hit Interstate 57 for our long trip home.
For a day where the storms were slow to get going, the day ended with multiple hours of dramatic, stressful, high energy chasing. Certainly one of the best chases of the year for me.
For the Chicago National Weather Service Summary Pages, go to:
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