November 5, 2005

Statistics:

Initial Target: Quincy, IL
Departure: Bolingbrook, IL 7:30 am CDT
Arrival: Bolingbrook, IL 1:30 am CDT
Intercepts: Jacksonville, IL
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (pea sized)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Lightning
Miles: 552.0

Summary:

Rendezvoused with Fabian Guerra in Bolingbrook setting out for Quincy, IL.  Stopped in Springfield for data and food.  Relocated to Jacksonville, IL for data and met up with 7 other chasers.  Waited hours for the cap to break before caravanning further west towards the river.  Cap broke over central Missouri just before dark.  Waited for the storms to approach the river before moving south for an after dark lightning show.  Started to head home, stopping in Jacksonville to watch the approaching line.  Line caught us in Springfield with heavy rain and a few small hail stones. 

Crew and Equipment:

Chase team included Fabian Guerra.  Caravanned with Kurt Hulst, Nick Grillo, Stan Olson, Mark Sefried, Scott Kampas, and Darin Kaiser.  Equipment consisted of a GPS/Cell Phone equipped laptop. Video and photography by Skip Talbot.

Video:

Prechase boredom and lightning show (27MB WMV)

Details:

November is typically not considered a chase month.  However, the models were forecasting a deepening surface low moving through Missouri, advecting dewpoints over 60, with a strong low level jet, and a modest amount of instability.  Storm deprived and with the setup falling on a Saturday, it seemed like every chaser in IL would be out on this day.

SPC went with a 5% tornado outlook.  The forecast called for supercells to fire near the Missouri/Illinois border with a brief tornado threat before evolving into a fast moving line.  Fabian and I agreed to team up for this chase splitting the gas expenses.

Time is always against the chaser.  After a mix-up in our rendezvous location, Fabian and I were 20 minutes late getting onto I-55, where we quickly hit major traffic.  Snags like this can ruin a chase.  Luckily the traffic jam only last a few miles and we were off 'making good time again.
The open road and a big sky, these are two of the most enjoyable aspects of storm chasing.

 

It was cold when we left, overcast and drizzling slightly.  It sure didn't feel like the start of a chase day.

Between Bloomington and Springfield we started breaking out into the sunshine.  We hoped the low November sun would heat the ground and help destabilize the atmosphere, but the clouds were constantly trying to fight their way back.

We stopped at the Fairfield Inn for data in Springfield and decided to head west on 72 to stay on the nose of the surface low in the best backed winds, even though the instability was a little better further south on 55 towards St. Louis.

Kurt Hulst and Nick Grillo were reported on Stormtrack from Springfield so we messaged them that we were heading to Jacksonville to wait for the cap to break.

The clouds had taken over the sky, but we were still getting some pretty sunbeams through the gaps.  The long wait for the cap to break had begun.

Chaser convergence.  We got a call on the simplex frequency from a call I didn't recognize.  It was Kurt with Nick and they were in the same parking lot.  Stan showed up a short while later.
Stan not only has multiple scanners and ham transceivers, but he also runs a small SETI program out of his trunk.

Mark, Scott, and Darin showed up next.  Some time was killed with a camera war. 

 

Fabian and I had been there for over an hour at this point and still no sign of initiation, and it was still going to be another hour before they were forecasting things to get going.  This is one of the few chases I had been ridiculously early on,

Tornado watch!  The red box was centered on the Mississippi extending from central Missouri to central Illinois up the Iowa border.

 

Darin and Fabian

Mark shows off his new camera to Nick and Kurt.
Two hours in the hotel parking lot and still no sign of initiation.  The hotel manager came out to talk to us to make sure we weren't causing trouble.  The sheriff swung by too but didn't stop.  The sun was getting low and we had less than hour of daylight left now.
We finally decided to get on the road and head further west towards the center of the watch box, stopping near Hannibal or Quincy.
I made the best of the sunset, knowing that these would be the last stills that I would get on this chase.
Caravanning west.
We pulled off of 72 on exit 10 and stopped on the overpass.  Storms initiated in central Missouri.  With only a few minutes of light left, the horrible road network and lack of bridges, and terrible terrain, the group consensus was not to barrel into Missouri after the storms.  Instead we would park it and let them come to us.

Scott, Fabian, Mark, and Darin looking at the sunset and distant cumulus towers.

Sunset contrails.
We got food and gas before relocating slightly further to the south to get in position for a good lightning show.  Close to the river, the hills and trees were starting to become a problem but we found a spot near Atlas (population of about 6), buried in some winding dirt roads.  The lightning was pretty but the show was interrupted by some cautious farmers.  The good ol' boys came down in a pickup to check us out and another pickup across the field has its high beams trained us.  Eventually they left, though and we got some video of the lighting: Prechase boredom and lightning show (27MB WMV)
The group dispersed before the storms, which had turned into a messy line at this point, made it to us.  Fabian and I stopped with Stan in Jacksonville for one last look at the storm.  We got a good look at the shelf cloud thanks to lightning illumination.  The line caught us just before Springfield and we were stuck behind it for the duration of the ride home, but we didn't encounter any severe weather with it, just a hint of hail and some sub severe gusts.

Conclusion:

A decent setup in November?  It was worth chasing despite the high probabilities that nothing was going to go up before dark.  However, not only did it wait until nightfall but it was in treacherous, unchaseable Missouri.  Tragically the tornadoes waited even longer.  They didn't drop in a rural western IL cornfield for only a handful of chasers to witness, but instead waited until 2 am, dropping on an unsuspecting town.  The line intensified as it crossed into Indiana and an F3 ripped through Evansville, killing more than 20 people.

Stan Olson's log
Nick Grillo's log

Lessons Learned:

  • A strengthening storm system poses a dangerous tornado threat long after dark.
  • Watch out for suspicious farmers when pulling off the road to spot storms.