March 1, 2004


Initial Target: Kankakee, IL
Departure: Champaign, IL 2:45 pm CDT
Arrival: Champaign, IL 6:00 pm CDT
Intercepts: Kankakee, IL 4:00 pm CDT
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe: 34.8 measured
Features: Intracloud lightning
Miles: 178


Severe weather potential forecasted on models and SPC, rare early spring opportunity for hail, high wind, and isolated tornadoes..  Departed Champaign that afternoon with blue box issued for Northern Illinois and MD for Northern Indiana.  Intercepted weak convection in Kankakee.  Noted very sparse lightning and scattered rain showers.  Structure was grungy and obscured.  Chase an overall bust but notable for rainbows and sunset on return.

Crew and Equipment:

One vehicle chase team included:  Jenny Acosta.  Equipment consisted of a NOAA weather radio, cell phone, and Vortex Anemometer.  Photography by Skip Talbot and Jenny Acosta


It was a long winter and the prospect of severe thunderstorms left me jittery with anticipation.  An extra tropical cyclone was moving out of the area, with a trailing dry slot destabilizing areas of modest dewpoints in the 50's and temperatures in the low 60's.  The cold mid level temperatures and wind shear prompted a hail threat, however there was also the possibility for isolated tornadoes.


Jenny was my chase partner for this trip.  She had class until 2:45, which could have a problem reaching a target area in time.  The forecasts held up for activity occurring mid to late afternoon and in the end our late start was not a problem.  After picking Jenny up I bolted for 57 north to try intercept cells that had already formed in central and northern Illinois and were moving rapidly north northeast at 45 mph.  We paralleled an area of convection from Iroquois  County before finally intercepting it in Kankakee.  Being March, I wasn't expecting much.  Any storm would be a nice change.


In Kankakee we decided to shoot straight west on 17 to intercept the convection we were paralleling.  Unfortunately, our road option lead us through the downtown area.  Building obstructions and traffic lights were numerous.  Looking west at storms:

Funny partner quote: "Tell me when the light turns green."  "The light is green!  ...oh I was looking at the camera."

We finally cleared the city, but it was obvious our storm had escaped us to the north and we weren't lined up to catch it.  A lesson had been learned about navigating.  It would have been better to stay on 57 letting the storm intercept us.  I pulled off on a country road to get some photos.  We missed the bulk of the precipitation core but were hit by some flanking showers.  Artsy shot looking east:

Looking North Northeast at our missed opportunity.

Looking North.

Blue skies behind our storm.  Looking North Northwest.

Jenny took measurements with the new anemometer.  As some downdrafts from one of the showers hit we recorded a max gust of 34.8, far from severe but a good field test of new equipment.  Hopefully, this gadget will be roof mounted soon.

Looking at west at ragged cumulus and cumulonimbus as more spotty showers moved in.

We called it a chase and headed for home.  Jenny took the rest of the pictures.  She liked the clouds and lighting in this shot, the cross made it in there by accident and wasn't noticed until we looked at the pictures later.  Its as if God has planned that shot.

As the showers moved off to the east we spotted several rainbows.  Another sign from God.


A personal request of mine: me and the one of the rainbows in a picture.

This was Jenny's favorite picture.  The setting sun and broken sky made for some beautiful shots.

The sunset we saw as we neared Champaign was absolutely beautiful.  A gorgeous sky on the ride home made up for anything that the storms lacked. 

There's something you don't see everyday.  Mesmerizing.


The chase wound up to be a bust, but all in all it wasn't bad for March 1.  This time of year, the ground is usually still covered in snow.  The cell we tried to intercept dropped some small hail and some cells further Northeast in Indiana went severe.  Apparently strong southwest flow that created the initial cloud clearing for destabilization of the atmosphere, also prevented the storms from organizing.   I'm still trying to digest the mechanics involved, however.  At least Jenny saw more then the last chase that I dragged her on.

Lessons learned:
  • A route through a major city is never a good a chase option.  Wait for a later exit.
  • A beautiful sky can be just as good as the thrilling action of a severe storm.