May 6, 2012


Initial Target: Princeton, IL
Departure: Beresford, SD 7:30 am
Arrival: Westchester, IL 5:00 pm
Intercepts: Lacon, IL
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (not measured)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Updraft Base
Miles: 642


Chase on the way home from a marathon cap bust to SD. Targeted western IL for afternoon initiation of possibly tornadic supercells. Delayed an hour trying to get free of muddy road where I spent the night. Made it to western IL by early afternoon behind line of storms that had gone up by warm front. Core punched tornado warned storm southwest of Princeton and chased cell behind it, and went after first tornado warned cell for the rear. Retargeted new development forming on southern flank, which failed to organize, so called it a chase and headed home.

Crew and Equipment:

Solo chase.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm




Sunday looked like a great backyard chase on the way home from my South Dakota cap bust, if I could make it back to Illinois in time before initiation. Modest to moderate instability was pooling along a weak warm front with a shortwave trough set to fire off storms by afternoon in a weakly capped environment. I'd have to get on the road early if I were to make it all the way back to central Illinois from southeast South Dakota before storms fired by afternoon. Unfortunately the dirt road I had chosen on which to spend the night was now a muddy slick thanks to an overnight squall line.

I walked the length of the road to see how bad it was, and it wasn't good. I had parked on the top of a hill (pictured left, back) and had to go maybe a hundred yards in reverse to make it back to gravel. I planned out how I would best approach the drive with the best chances to avoid getting stuck, taking spots that were higher, or firmer with grass. I scattered some hay and grass on the muddiest parts hoping it would help with the traction. Then I got in the van and went for it. My initial plan was to drive on the sides of the sloping bowl I was starting in. The van quickly slid right into the bottom of the bowl where it was the soupiest, however. Luckily the slope from the hill was enough to keep the van moving backwards.

The van more or less just slid backwards until I made it to the bottom of the hill. I tried to give it some steady gas and aim for the patches of grass. The van stopped almost immediately at the bottom of the hill. "That's it," I thought, "I'm stuck." I gave it another go though, I put the fan in drive pulled forward a bit, and then back into reverse. Somehow the van trudged through, going slower than idle, and flinging mud everywhere, but it didn't get stuck. The last stretch was the hardest. I had to go in reverse up a slight hill. There was no room to turn around. The van stopped again when I hit the slope, and I feared the worst again, this time only yards from the gravel road. I was able to pull forward again, using the grass on the side of the road. It took several attempts of going back and forth but I finally pulled back onto the gravel. The van and my shoes were caked with mud, but I was just happy to be out of there.

I had spent almost an hour screwing around trying to get off of that road, and now I feared that I was going to be late to the show in Illinois. I made great time across Iowa on 80, but the storms went up even earlier than I expected and we had initiation at about 2pm as I was just crossing the Mississippi river. I continued east on 80. The lead cell in a line of three picked up a tornado warning and I was still a good 20 minutes from intercepting it. The warning was dropped after a short time, but the middle cell, trailing to the southwest was now tornado warned. I turned south at Princeton for the intercept. Running on fumes at this point, I had to stop for gas, another costly delay. The sirens were wailing as I fueled up and the forward flank of the core started to encroach on me so I got drenched when I went to hang the dispenser back up on on the pump.

I core punched the storm from the north, which always makes me jumpy and is a risky maneuver that many chasers avoid. My jumpiness got the best of me and I had a moment of terror when, through the rain, I thought there was a tornado bearing down on me in the field to my right. It was just an optical illusion, however, as my brain had interpreted a rain shrouded gap in the trees as a white wall in front of the trees.

I came out behind the storm I was core punching, out of position to chase it. The next cell in the line had an interesting base developing just south of the forward flanking core and what looked like an attempt at a lowering.

I stayed with the trailing cell even though it wasn't warned, hoping it would organize as the cell ahead of it had done. The entire line was gusting out, however, and I found myself caught behind a huge whale's mouth. The blues, greens, and turbulent shapes in the clouds were quite beautiful, however.
I was trying to get ahead of the line, back in a region with clean inflow ahead of the whale's mouth gust front. Behind me, the cell I first got on started pulling in scud into the updraft. I hoped it was working on developing a wall cloud, and stopped to watch it for a couple minutes, but it never organized. I got back on the road, but diverted south when I saw reports on Spotter Network that highway 17 east of Lacon was flooded. Storms were also now popping like a zipper due south down the gust front. I dropped from cell to cell hoping to get on Tail-End-Charlie and that something that would go supercellular.

I had a few instances where I drove into the back of what looked like very low wall clouds, but I couldn't make out any rotation and the storms were not warned. The flanking lines cells would not stop building to the south, however, and they'd gust out as quickly as they went up. West of Pontiac I decided that this chase was done and I jumped on 55 and made for home, arriving by early evening.


A handful of tornadoes reports came in from eastern Illinois, but I don't recall seeing anything noteworthy photo or video wise from this area. The storm I initially fell behind had a very small funnel that some chasers captured. Overall, the chase was a best as I failed to capture much of anything in the way of supercell structure or tornadoes, falling behind some of the better storms. The day would have gone a lot worse if I never made it off that mud road at the start, however.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Make damn sure it isn't going to rain if you camp overnight on a dirt road.