May 17, 2020


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Champaign, IL
Springfield, IL 12:45 PM 5/17/2020
Springfield, IL 7:43 PM 5/17/2020
Decatur, IL
0 mph


Cold front setup in central Illinois. Targeted Champaign area for afternoon supercells. Waited for tornado warned storm east of Decatur but never got visual. Attempted to punch through squall line heading east on 72 but lost traction and spun out, getting stuck in the median and requiring a tow.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Sony AX100.




From my morning "chasecast" storm chasing forecast email discussion:

"Day 1 Today: Interesting surface pattern with that Pacific Cold Front and nice surface low, but the storm mode looks just terrible. No capping, probably plenty of lift with the midlevel flow already in place, keeps the warm sector socked in with meager instability as a result. Lots of moisture advection, but then lapse rates suffer and you wind up with the whole atmosphere overturning with these sloppy watery storms. Best shear looks displaced to the east too which will further contribute to messy storm mode.

Looks like a bit of an earlier show, so sorry for getting this emails out late. I'd intercept the cold front line when the instability peaks, probably nearish 21z/4pm and on the I-57 corridor between Champaign and Kankakee. But it may be more discrete an hour or two earlier than that east of there, say over Decatur to Bloomington. A reason to go south would be maybe picking up something more discrete, but shear looks better to the north, and terrain is more favorable north of 64. Another secondary target is I-80 in northern Indiana where the surface winds are backed, possibly in response to a lake breeze. If a discrete, surface based storm tracks up there, it'll hit a nice helicity pocket. Worried about storm mode and the urbanness of that terrain though.

Probably grey on grey needles in the haystack today."

Rotation Approaching Decatur
6 miles E of Decatur, IL
4:07 PM
I initially chased between Decatur and Champaign, north of I-72, missing supercells to my north and south and winding up with linear junk. I double backed to Decatur, but a developing supercell was about to track right into residential areas. Not wanting to get caught in town, I decided to wait for the cell on the east side. The storm picked up a tornado warning and reports from Andrew Pritchard followed shortly thereafter.
I had no visual to the west and my view never really improved. It was just a soup of grey on grey. The circulation dissipated before it ever got close to me.

Spin Out
Cisco, IL
5:38 PM
I posted this to Facebook a few days after the incident:

"Last Sunday I was trying to see a tornado in my backyard. I had been super down about the season thus far. I hadn’t been able to get out much, and the couple times I was close to a tornado, I couldn’t pull off a clean shot. It was just one frustrating exercise after the next. I had just missed another tornado shot near Decatur on Sunday. I thought about throwing in the towel and driving home defeated. But I decided to stick it out and see what happened next. A steady, heavy rain fell on the highway as I pushed east to get ahead of the line. I didn’t hear that distinctive sound of tires buffeting atop standing water. The car simply started to rotate. I nudged the wheel to the right, but there was no response, it kept rotating left, so I was just going along for the ride. It was at a full 90 degrees and at highway speed when the car left the roadway for the median. I was quietly resigned to the fact that the car was going to roll. But it didn’t, and I was now skidding backwards at speed through the median. I hit the pond in the middle, mud and grass pouring over the roof. I couldn’t tell where I was at this stage, disoriented by the spinning, and the windows covered in mud, but now quietly resigned to the idea that I was going into the oncoming lanes. The slippery sides of the depression kept me in the center of the median, however, and plowing into the boggy water at the bottom was the brake I needed to bring this amusement park log ride to an end. The car did a full 360."

Cisco, IL
5:52 PM
"That’s not where this metaphor ends though. My own depressing plight is pretty trivial compared to all the shit going on in the world. I realized I was fine, the car was fine. I could pick myself up and keep going. With some help, I got yanked back onto the road. I pulled fistfuls of boggy muck and wadded up straw out of the wheels, undercarriage, and jammed into the seams of the body panels. I sputtered home shedding more mud along the way. My tires were worn down, and that was the culprit. They weren’t bald, but they were due to be replaced. I had been putting off the work because of the Covid situation. We talk a lot about avoiding that monster tornado, but it’s a hard reminder that it’s the mundane that will most likely take us down: some standing water, looking down at a screen and missing a stop sign, an animal in the road, a drunk driver… I ordered a new set of all terrain tires the next day, had them installed on Thursday, and on Saturday I was back on the chase. "


I missed another tornado shot pretty close to home even though it wasn't particularly photogenic but low contrast. Spinning out on the wet highway was a wake up call to pay closer attention to vehicle maintenance issues and be more careful in adverse driving conditions. I was fortunate I didn't hit anything when the vehicle left the highway.

Lessons Learned

Follow On The Web!
Storm Chasers Giving Back!

Webpage, graphics, photos, and videos © Skip Talbot or respective owner 2018. Skip's Webzone