Got a phone call from Chris Allington (intotherfd.com) and moments after I said 'hello' I realized why he was calling me. I wasn't home and did not have the camera gear on me but a quick run home and a short jaunt north of DeKalb and I was ready to go. Shot mostly TL of the green arc that remained stationary on the horizon for almost an hour. I did manage to grab a shot of the aurora and an iridium flare to the northeast!
That title is actually stupid misleading, because I was obsessed with the sky well before this date in 1996. That said, 16 years ago today I pretty well solidified the fact that the remainder of my life would be spent looking up rather than at the ground. I was afraid of thunder for maybe the first two years of my life. I remember there being one particular night that the fear just stopped. My grandpa was a pastor at a Lutheran church in Aledo, a rural western Illinois town near the Quad Citihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifes. My family would get together at the parsonage where they lived next door to the church for family gatherings. There was a really great front porch with chairs and a swing where we'd sit outside during the summer. One particular night when I was maybe 2 or 3, I was apparently quite distressed about a storm that had rolled into the area. My parents took me out on the porch to watch the storm, and since then...
As an 8 year old kid I would always nag my dad for information regarding potential severe weather in central Illinois. The second my dad would walk in the door I would stop and ask him if we are "in the slight risk today", referring to the Storm Prediction Center's convective outlooks. Friday April 19 1996 was forecast fairly well in advance, though there was some debate early on whether or not it would actually be a tornado outbreak, and not just a heavy rain event. By the time the day rolled around though, I found myself in a High Risk, with an impending tornado outbreak likely.
Back around this age, me and my best friend from across the street, David Bellmore, would ride out bikes to the school yard around the block to watch the sky. I'd bring a binder that had various county maps that I would draw all over, keeping track of storms on radar and what watches and warnings were in effect. I remember riding out to the school yard that evening and he and I agreeing on one thing - we would see a tornado tonight. I'm not sure how we came up with the conclusion, but it was the only time we made such a forecast. Clearly at 8 years old I wasn't basing this off of some in depth weather analysis, but it's still pretty fun to think about. Eventually it started getting dark so we rode our bikes home for the night. It was a Friday night, so my family was just hanging at the house. I mainly paid attention to the weather, while my family did typical Friday evening things. We had the X-Files on, back when it would air every Friday night on Fox. That was and still is one of my favorite shows!
Eventually, the storm was near. After producing numerous damaging tornadoes as it progressed down Interstate 72, aptly named the 'I-72 Supercell', hitting both Springfield and Decatur on it's way. A warning was soon issued for Champaign County as the supercell took aim on Champaign-Urbana. The original mesocyclone that was producing a very large tornado near Monticello, IL looked to miss the city. However, meteorologist extraordinaire, Ed Kieser at WILL saw what was happening. In a classic mesocyclone hand-off, the Monticello tornado finished it's business and a new circulation developed and moved into southeast Urbana. Ed is still thanked to this day for the comments he made on the air on WILL that night as he warned residents in Urbana about this new circulation before a warning was issued and had many people under ground.
While sitting on the couch watching the X-Files, the outdoor warning sirens began to blare. I was instructed to head to the basement, but of course resisted as long as I could. My dad remained upstairs, hanging out the back door. The core of the storm passed and things grew still. I remember him saying several times that he didn't see anything, before suddenly yelling "Funnel cloud!". I'm willing to bet that in all of the years living in that house, I never once made it up those stairs faster. I'm pretty sure my mom objected, but I didn't care at the time. I joined my dad in hanging out the back door as a ghostly white funnel cloud about half way to the ground glided by our backyard, illuminated by both the city lights and the incredibly frequent lightning. The tornado passed only about a mile away from our house, but at the time we could not confirm it was on the ground. As the storm moved off to the east, still illuminating the night sky like a strobe light, emergency vehicles began racing by our house heading in that direction. It became obvious that what we had seen was not simply a funnel cloud, but that a substantial tornado had actually ripped through the sub-division to our southeast.
We made the obligatory phone calls to family and friends in the area and luckily everyone checked out. There was actually only one fatality with the entire outbreak of tornadoes, unfortunately being caused by the same supercell moments after it hit Champaign-Urbana as it blew a semi off Interstate 74 while producing the monster that hit Ogden.
While the tornado did do F3 damage in town, Champaign-Urbana escaped fairly well, considering. Both the Monticello and Ogden tornadoes that formed before and after hitting Champaign were much larger tornadoes that would have created a wider damage path than the relatively small Urbana tornado. The subsequent Ogden tornado was almost a mile wide, devastating most of the town. Had this, or the original Monticello tornado moved through Champaign-Urbana, potentially hitting the University of Illinois campus on a Friday night could have been disastrous.
That said, no one was killed or seriously in town, this sky addict had his first tornado.6
Managed to get on a couple of cyclic tornado producing supercells in central Kansas just south of Interstate 70 on Saturday afternoon/evening. The first storm came into view near Timken, Kansas and initially looked unimpressive, and even as the structure ramped up the radar representation was still very weak. Almost became a little mini-supercell actually.
This storm collapsed and eventually we dropped south to intercept the next supercell to the south near Great Bend. It took us some time to get a view of the rain free base as we came in from behind the storm. We got word from Jarrod Cook that there was a wedge tornado in progress, and soon enough the monster came peeking out from the rain. You could easily tell this was a violent caliber tornado, but it did a very good job of not hitting any structures. We passed an area where the ground had been scoured which is shown in the video below. Trees also had that violent tornado look, with only the core of the tree remaining. Preliminary survey had that wedge near Langley at an EF4. Apparently it did decimate one farm stead unfortunately, and scoured pavement somewhere very near where I saw the scoured vegetation.
This supercell did us all a huge favor and leap frogged Salina, KS, taking a breather after the wedge before producing intermittent tornadoes northeast of Salina.
Never a dull moment with my turbines. I returned to DeKalb County around 10 PM last night after spending the Easter holiday with my family in Champaign. I started noticing around the Mendota area that the undersides of the clouds had some really neat textures. There was some really eerie low hanging stuff over Mendota but I didn't have an exit nearby to stop, otherwise that probably would have been pretty cool. I decided to take the scenic route from that point on and took US 30 across the southern part of the county passing by Shabonna Lake. I decided to stop off at their maintenance facility where the bright lights were illuminating a couple of turbines. The sky wasn't nearly as cool before, but with the bright foreground and the turbines actually being off at the moment giving them minimal blur I decided to take a couple of photos.
I'm eyeballing this coming weekend for potential storm chasing opportunities, as are many others.
I'm weirdly excited about convective chances tomorrow afternoon (technically later today now). There isn't much shear to speak of, so supercells are not going to be a potential threat, and that would pretty well eliminate tornadoes. That said, there will be plenty of instability, with LI's around -7 bullseyed over northern Illinois to the south of a slowly southward sinking boundary during the afternoon. It looks like things could stay capped for a majority of the day, but given extremely strong surface convergence we should see scattered thunderstorms erupt around 5 PM.
Tomorrow looks like a potentially big downburst day with scattered damaging wind reports with any storms that go up, as indicated by the inverted-V soundings found across the area. Strong vorticity along the boundary near the surface with strong NE winds colliding with warm SW flow lead me to believe that a landspout tornado or two is possible early in the development of convection. This isn't a given, and the odds of me or another person looking for such a thing are extremely slim.
Tuesday's are my most free day of the week, so I'll be keeping an eye out locally. If things had been more dry I'd hope for some photogenic dust plumes along any potential downbursts, but I'm not sure that will be the case.
Whether or not I head out to try and find some convective fun depends on how quickly the boundary begins sinking southward. A stagnant slowly sinking boundary will lure me out a lot quicker than if that things starts surging south earlier in the afternoon. I'd like to setup somewhere near Interstate 80. How about Moline to Ottawa for initial development around 4-5 PM, slowly sinking south through the evening? I'm not at all in "chase mode" yet, but given the right look to things I might be lured out on a wild goose hunt.
With warm air advection storms slowly drifting our way, even after minimal sleep the previous night, I decided to stay up and wait for things to roll in. The storms were very unimpressive on radar so I wasn't initially sure that I would even leave the house. I'd spent the previous three days in Des Moines, IA for the Iowa NWA Severe Storms Conference and just arrived home that night, so I was worthless pile all evening and didn't want to go anywhere really. Around 2 or 3 I got up and looked out the window in the living room and immediately saw a nice bolt of lightning snake through the sky. That was enough motivation for me, sleepy as I was. I grabbed a can of Coke out of the fridge and hit the road. I got out to my usual sitting spot and began popping off photos as lightning crawled across the sky behind the turbines.
I ran back home once rain began to fall at my location, and the lightning had died out. I was probably only out there for 15 minutes or so. Right as I got home the sky began lighting up again, but this time with actual intense and close cloud to ground bolts that shook the entire neighborhood. I decided the perfect end to the night would be just sitting on the porch with my feet kicked up watching the light show and torrential rains (hoping for a little hail!). That said, once this storm cleared the area I noticed a third cell intensifying to the west. The wind farm had already been done, so I decided since I was even more tired than before as it approached 4 AM that I'd just drive up to campus and use the parking deck up there. The lightning was a little bit less impressive this time, but was still a great end to a surprisingly electrified night.
Blog of Northern Illinois University Meteorology undergraduate and storm chaser Andrew Pritchard. Supplement to the PrairieStormImagery.Com site. Meteorological musings, and non-related discussion generally focused on the beautiful imagery the Earth's atmosphere provides.