March 23, 2021


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Macon, MO
Springfield, IL 11:00 AM 3/23/2021
Springfield, IL 9:12 PM 3/23/2021
Brookfield, MO; Rockport, IL
0 mph
Tornado, Wall Cloud


Early season cold core setup in eastern MO/western IL. Targeted Macon, MO for midafternoon low topped cells in hopes of documenting photogenic convection and maybe a funnel cloud. Chased lackluster cells east toward Mississippi before retargeting warned cell tracking through Louisiana, MO into Illinois. Observed brief weak tornado west of Rockport, IL at close range before storm fell apart at dusk.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Sony AX100, Samsung S9.




Tuesday, March 23, I was pretty much just looking to get out of the house. I had zero expectations going into this chase. A cold core setup was forecast across northern Missouri into extreme western Illinois. I wanted to get out, feel like I was chasing something again, do some equipment tests to make sure everything was in working order before a real event came along, and these cold core events like to surprise even with marginal conditions. And conditions certainly looked marginal even by cold core standards. Temperatures were forecast to barely make it into the 60s with dews in the low 50s across the warm sector. Temps aloft were cold enough to compensate, but CAPE values below 1000 J/kg were forecast across much of the warm sector. Still, there was ample 0-3km CAPE at 100-200 J/kg peaking by midafternoon in northeast Missouri, so I figured I’d give it a shot and there might be a pretty, low topped storm and maybe a funnel cloud in the mix.

Rain Showers
Marceline, MO
2:14 PM
My initial target was Macon, MO. Storms looked like they’d be ongoing through morning, firing off a Pacific cold front and tracking into a warm sector with strong, backed surface winds amidst strong southwest flow aloft. I left the house later than I probably should have but was at my target by about 2 pm. A north south line of rain was in progress and I decided to get on the eastern edge of it as the catch of the day would probably not have any prominent supercellular characteristics on the radar, and so the main play was already underway. A couple of updraft bases scooted by, but really I was looking at nothing more than rain showers.

Gust Front
3 miles NNW of Marceline, MO
3:04 PM
I let the main rain band overtake me to see if there was anything more robust embedded. I was greeted by a big gust front coming in from the west. It looked like something kind of storm like, but it wasn’t a good sign. The cells were probably being undercut by the front.

Photogenic Convection
2 miles ENE of Macon, MO
3:36 PM
I saw blue sky and convection to the east, and scrambled to go after it, fearing I might miss the show by getting suckered too far west by junk while the real cold core cells fired just east of my original target and moved away. Skies were pretty on the approach with wispy cirrus, hard convection, and solid bases, even though updraft height looked pretty meager.

Cold Core Chase
6 miles ENE of Macon, MO
3:40 PM
I turned north off of highway 36 to try and actually chase one of these little cells. It looked both pretty and robust for a few minutes, and I hoped for the coveted white funnel on dark blue background shot, but the cell quickly fell apart, as if the instability just wasn’t there for sustained updrafts.

Junk Line
5 miles NNE of Hunnewell, MO
5:35 PM
The “storm” fell to pieces. I found myself next to a pond listening to spring peepers and wondering what to do next. I decided to punch back west through the main rain band and see if the backside was photogenic. Nope. I punched back through it eastbound. There were a couple of semi interesting bows in the line so I ran north into what would have been the inflow notch on one. There wasn’t any real motion on the lowering in the “notch”. It just looked like scuddy junk. The line was narrow but starting to pack some punch with its downdrafts, with blasts coming from different directions as the line overtook me. I ran east staying ahead of it to Palmyra, but by the time I was approaching the river, large amounts of rain were falling east of what was already a pretty junky looking shelf cloud. I wanted to stay as long as possible and enjoy every last moment of being out of the house, but driving in cold rain, I decided there was no point anymore. I called the chase and started heading for home, crossing the river at Hannibal and zipping east down 72 into Illinois.

Tornado Warning
2 miles SSW of Rockport, IL
7:05 PM
Meanwhile a couple of “schnibs” (small cells) south of the MCS I was on started to organize. One picked up a severe thunderstorm warning and was even sporting a velocity couplet with a tiny hook echo. It was a minisupercell for sure. It was tracking through gnarly terrain in eastern Missouri, and it would probably be dark and fizzled before I could get on it, but I decided I better try to head it off anyway and give every opportunity a chance.

I took the next exit, which happened to be for Barry, and checked out the situation while I refueled. The storm was heading right for Louisiana, MO, the next river crossing to the south, and I had a nice highway straight to it. ETA and sunset were both in 30 minutes. The intercept was looking plausible.

I made good time heading southwest and arrived before the storm with plenty of light and nice sunset color still in the sky. I thought for sure the little cell would fall apart quickly just like everything else had that day, but amazingly the velocity couplet persisted, and then right on cue, a tornado warning. I stopped short of the river crossing where I had a solid view to the southwest across the Mississippi floodplain, and then plotted my next move. This had suddenly turned from a backyard excursion into a real chase.

3 miles SSW of Rockport, IL
7:12 PM
In the distance there looked like a couple of nondescript bases, but I couldn’t make out much more than that. Bluffs on the other side of the river obstructed the view a bit. The couplet was still on the west side of the river. I poured over the maps and radar for a bit, hemming and hawing about making a run for the river crossing at the town of Louisiana into Missouri. The terrain looked pretty dicey on the other side of the river, and I figured I would just get slowed down in town enough that I would miss my intercept window before the storm crossed into Illinois. I decided to hold my ground and wait for the storm. I looked up from the screen, and the storm caught me by surprise. It had been rapidly cycling downstream to the northeast, a wall cloud now forming on the Illinois side of the river. It was a good thing I took the moment to hesitate. Had I barreled straight into Missouri, I would have fallen behind for sure.
I repositioned the car northeast to track the developing wall cloud, and then got out to watch. Howling inflow hit my back with temperatures in the low 50s; uncharacteristically cool for a potentially tornadic supercell in the Midwest.

Classic Supercell
3 miles SSW of Rockport, IL
7:15 PM
Classic supercell structure unfolded including a wall cloud with vertical motion on the lead edge, a prominent inflow band and notch, and overhead: a mesocyclone painted in shades of thistle by the sunset light. The view was breath taking.

Overarching Updraft
3 miles SSW of Rockport, IL
7:16 PM
A dramatic cylindrical updraft spanned overhead. I was just exhilarated by the chase at this point, and forgot about the ultra-wide lens on my DSLR that I left in the car, which could have captured this scene better. Definitely a moment where I wish I had my photographer chase partner with me.
The storm was cruising northeast. I jumped in the car and barreled north after it. The wall cloud was wrapping up, and I thought this storm might actually try to produce.

Developing Tornado
2 miles SW of Rockport, IL
7:19 PM
The wall cloud wrapped up into a cyclone in textbook fashion. A point funnel quickly developed underneath. I couldn’t tell at the time, but it was already a weak tornado, a ground circulation evident in the video.
The filaments of the small funnel flicked about for a bit, before a more robust cone started to take shape. The video captured dust kicking up from the ground underneath confirming the feature as a tornado.

Tornado West of Rockport
2 miles SW of Rockport, IL
7:20 PM
I continued north after the funnel. The structure in the tornado cyclone above was spectacular and I was awed at this point. A more robust dust cloud kicked up here momentarily. I hadn’t been tracking the ongoing dust cloud, but was pretty confident this was more than a funnel cloud. Yet without the strong visual confirmation, I decided to report the feature as a funnel cloud via Spotter Network. Tragically, my GPS was not setup properly in the software. My abbreviated report got sent to some perplexed NWS office in Kansas rather than St. Louis.
The cone dipped even lower, but trees obstructed my view of the ground for a minute.
Emerging into a clearing once again, my attention was focused on the small, white nub funnel aloft. The camera picked up the faint dark dust tube of the tornado, and a fine white misty circulation on the ground. It was a small, weak tornado, but it was right next to me in the field now.

Tornado Crossing Road
2 miles WSW of Rockport, IL
7:21 PM
I continued to nose forward as the circulation crossed the road ahead.

Rope Out
2 miles W of Rockport, IL
7:22 PM
The funnel seemed to dissipate, but then suddenly it was back for one last grand finale. A long snaky rope condensed half way to the ground, writhed around for a second, and then withered away.
I linked back up with highway 96, but it ran northwest, and the storm looked like it was cycling again downstream to the northeast. I’d have to hurry to catch it. After a couple miles and kissing the back edge of the forward flank core, I decided to try my luck on one of the side roads to get through the river bluffs and to the flat road grid a couple miles to the east.
The unpaved road twisted and turned through dense forest and a large group of deer darted in front of me, but I made it through to a paved east road.
I was in a hook slicing position now, but there wasn’t much in the way of identifiable structure ahead, just jagged gust fronts and cloud debris. I had lost data, western Illinois being a large hole in Verizon’s coverage. When I got a new scan from the 1x coverage a couple minutes later I could see that the storm had completely fallen apart. Only remnant showers remained, the warning long since dropped. Another tornado warned storm was coming up from the south, but this one looked more heavily embedded in rain. The last of the light in the sky was fading to blackness, and the warned storm soon fizzled as well. Cells must have finally overrun the modest instability axis. I called the chase, and it was just over an hour’s drive to get back home.
Time: 0019 Location: 2 WNW ROCKPORT PIKE IL Lat Lon: 3955 9105



The tornado was brief, and weak, but I had gone into this chase with no expectations of catching anything more than some pretty rain showers. To witness a gorgeous meso lit in sunset shades spin-up a small tornado at close range, and have it all to myself on the first chase after a long winter and dismal 2020... that was pretty special.

Lessons Learned

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