May 23, 2004


Initial Target: Southwest of Peoria, IL
Departure: Bolingbrook, IL 10:00 am CDT
Arrival: Bolingbrook, IL 1:30 am CDT
Intercepts: Macon, IL 8:30 pm CDT
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (0.25 inch)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Mammatus, Anvil Crawlers, Rainbows
Miles: 710


SPC forecasting significant tornado activity for northern IL.  Activity expected in the early afternoon in west central Illinois.  After picking up Jenny and Bob, read mesoscale discussion centered between Peoria and St. Louis, headed in that direction on 80.  Loitered near Kewanee for initiation.  Finally left learning of activity to the south and east.  Failed to catch McLean County storm, but watched beautiful sunset mammatus and anvil, followed by anvil crawlers.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase team include: Skip and Bob Talbot and Jenny Acosta.  Equipment consisted of a NOAA weather radio, cell phone, Vortex Anemometer, and TH-F6A Tribander.  Photography by Skip Talbot, Jenny Acosta, and Bob Talbot


The Illinois chasers were buzzing the night before this event.  The conditions were right for a possible tornado outbreak in Illinois.  CAPE, Helicity, and sheer were up.  The backing winds lacked a little but the forecast still looked good.  One of my main concerns, though, was that the action might be centered over the city or suburbs, making for a crappy chase with congested traffic and poor visibility.  More importantly, however, ten million people live there.  (1200z Day 1 Tornado Forecast shown here)


I was happy to have some company on this chase.  Both Bob and Jenny said they would chase with me.  I picked up Bob and then got Jenny, checking data at her house.  SPC issued a mesoscale discussion talking about tornadoes in west central Illinois.  The action was forecasted for early afternoon so at about 12:30 we hurried up and got onto 80 heading toward Peoria

Jenny piloted the shibster when we departed.  On this chase I wanted to take a shot at navigating, working the radios, and shooting some pictures instead of just driving.  The plan was to play musical chairs, each of us taking turns at driving and the other tasks.

I successfully snagged a picture of Bob when he wasn't looking, after getting the hand and his camera on earlier attempts. 

I explain to Bob, who thinks blue skies are bad during a chase, that we need the sun early on to heat up the lower atmosphere to create instability for our storms.  We exited 80 here and are heading south on 29 towards Chillicothe and Peoria.

We found a nice road network near Kewanee, expecting initiation in the area.  Looking for a good spot to eat our lunch we spotted some weird birds.  We thought they were turkeys, pheasants, or quails, but honestly had no idea.  I later learned that they were guinea hens.

A tornado watch had been issued, with enhanced wording: "this is a particularly dangerous situation."  Some chasers refer to this as the "Kiss-O-Death," which means that conditions are too good for tornadoes and a blue skies bust is on tap.

We found our picnic spot.

Shibster not only takes us to the storms, but he also makes a good picnic table.

Bob reads his book, Jenny curls up for a nap in the back seat, and I pace up and down the road waiting for a warning on the radio, towers to go up, or to get some data off my cell phone.  The shibster is a real ugly beast with that cargo pod on top.

A cumulus field had moved in, but after a couple of hours there still was no initiation.  I was getting really antsy, and wanted to movie, but I didn't know where.
We learned from my dad that there was some activity to our southwest.  We booked it south and then picked up a tornado warning on the weather radio for McLean County.  We diverted and went east on 136 hoping to catch the storm.  We noted some tower attempts along the way.
As we went east we could see the outline of an anvil on the horizon.  This was the end of a line moving towards Springfield.  We probably should have dropped down to chase it, but the the tornado warning blinded us.  I believe that the cells in this line were producing their own warnings at the time.
We caught sight of the storm as it started to exit the warned region.  The weather service did not extend the warning, and allowed it to expire.  We came to this fork in the road and had to make a decision.  Should we go after this weakening storm that we have a visual on or drop south to the stuff moving through Springfield.  We opted for Springfield, which was the best decision in the end I believe.
As we made our way down to 72 to head west the sun got caught behind some distant storms illuminating their tops and the edge of the anvil of the storms that we were after.  It was a pretty sight, and it would only get prettier until the day ended.
The mammatus on the underside of the anvil was starting to catch the sunlight.  I knew then that we were in for quite a show.  Looking west several miles south of Bloomington.

(click to enlarge)


Contrast enhanced shot of mammatus running down the front side of the storm.  Low, dark scud in the foreground.

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Not enhanced.  I was explaining to Bob and Jenny what Mammatus were and how, with the right lighting, they can be a great catch for a chase.
Looking straight up. 

Jenny: "Mega Mantis?"

Skip: "Mammatus"

Another skyward shot, but contrast enhanced this time.

(click to enlarge)


A faint rainbow to the east.
A turkey tower shot up in the distance (left).  Paul Hadfield was in a much better position at the time, catching the sunlight directly behind this tower.  Check out his picture here and his website.  His description of a double arc rainbow he caught also summed the entire day pretty well: "TASTE THE RAINBOW!"
Jenny: "Mamma Mantis?"

Skip: "Mammatus"

(click to enlarge)


Distant convection highlighted by the setting sun.
This one is currently set as my desktop image.  The enlarged version should be adequate for most desktops.  E-mail me if you'd like a larger version of this image or others.  Looking north.

(click to enlarge)


This log is going to take forever to load.  Most of these pictures I just couldn't leave out though.
We exited 72 for a storm intercept on highway 51.  The sun was starting to color the clouds, a moment I was waiting for.
Yeah, that's a keeper.

(click to enlarge)


A rust colored anvil against a cobalt sky.  The coloration was spectacular.  Note the stringy strands of ice crystals carried past the edge of the anvil.
Our storm in the last remaining minutes of daylight.  We charged into the  core catching a small bit of hail, nothing severe though.
Just outside of Macon we pulled over to watch the cloud base and a van followed in from behind.  It was a WAND TV van, the guy was spotting for the station.  He informed me that a barn had lost its roof, can't remember what town, and that a house got struck by lightning in Taylorville.  He warned, "watch out for hail and the egg carton shaped clouds, they're a precursor."  The storm did have a tornado warning on it, but with darkness setting in we stayed to the north of it.
I was able to get a small collection of CG and anvil crawler clips.  I spliced them all together in this short video.

Movie, click to play (870 KB 320x240 WMV)


Bob had school the next day so we decided at about 9:00 that we had better start wrapping things up and head for home.  We were all starving, having only our light picnic lunch many hours ago.  Looking for grub joints that were still open, we came upon a Steak 'n Shake in Forsyth.  We were all quite fatigued from over 500 miles we had already driven.
I think this is where I said, with a wide grin, "So, you guys wanna chase in Iowa tomorrow?" followed by stern stares from around the table.  Looks like I was going alone.

Well, for the moderate probability of tornadoes and other severe weather, and our lack of intercepting any of it, this chase is being dubbed a bust.  However, it's by far the most beautiful bust I've ever had.  The sunset mammatus was a real treat.  I got a message on my cell phone from an old friend, Joe Klemesrud.  He was driving home from a graduation party and pulled over when a large cone crossed interstate 55 and roped out (the McLean storm).  "Lots of professional storm chasers were out of their cars taking pictures."  If that wasn't bad enough, the sirens also sounded in my hometown of Bolingbrook with a tornado reported in Romeoville.  Yeah, it stings to hear things like that when you hauled butt all day across the state and didn't catch a lick of severe weather.  Its all part of the game though, and I'm happy with our mammatus consolation prize.


Lessons learned:
  • Don't drive to a remote corner of the state without data when the show is forecasted to be close to home.