May 3, 2021


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Mt. Sterling, IL
Springfield, IL 1:27 PM 5/3/2021
Springfield, IL 9:54 PM 5/3/2021
Ashland, IL; Riverton, IL; Decatur, IL
0 mph
Brief Tornado, Wall Cloud, Striated Supercell Updraft


Warm front play in central Illinois. Targeted developing supercell near Mount Sterling noting robust wall cloud followed by brief dust whirl tornado between Ashland and Pleasant Plains. Tracked wall cloud through Sherman noting other dust whirl tornadoes between Riverton and Decatur followed by dramatic supercell structure at dusk northwest of Mattoon.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Sony AX100, Samsung S9.




I was initially expecting more of an MCS play up by Peoria on May 3, but 3Cape and severe weather parameters looked favorable for a "backyard chase".
I held at the house until I had a defined target cell. A developing supercell was heading for Mount Sterling. I headed it off just outside of town noting a robust wall cloud.

I chased the storm across the Illinois River, and past Beardstown where I could see it was really starting to ramp up. Maneuvering around the river and town put me behind the storm and I was aggressively positioning to get back ahead of it, making up good ground on highway 125 which almost paralleled the storm motion.

Dust Tube Tornado
Ashland, IL
5:24 PM
Rounding the bend at Ashland, I was coming in behind the cylindrical base of a wall cloud. A dust plume was kicking up underneath, nothing too exciting at first, but after a minute or so it really started to take shape. A tight debris cloud with a well-defined dust tube stretched up toward the rotating mass aloft: a tornado.
Cars were pulled off on the side of the road between Ashland and Pleasant Plains, no doubt in response to the dusty little vortex.
I turned north onto the grid to try to get closer. The ground swirl dissipated, but the wall cloud structure was dramatic. I fell in behind a line of other local Illinois storm chasers including Andrew Pritchard, Colin Davis, and Devin Pitts. We snaked our way across the Sangamon River, losing our view for several minutes.
Entering Sherman, we got right up to the lowering as it moved over town.
The sirens wailed, and the wall cloud looked like it meant business, but fortunately the menace remained in the clouds while it was over populated areas. I was following Andrew and Colin as we zig zagged through town trying to get to I-72 and we missed our turn. I had to stop and replot my route and was momentarily caught up in the trailing precipitation.

Birdfart Tornado
3 miles WSW of Dawson, IL
6:12 PM
I was able to catch back up with the storm blasting east down 72. A dust whirl was kicking up again beneath the wall cloud. I watched from a few miles back as closer chasers reported it as a tornado, pendent to the wall cloud aloft. It was little more than a "birdfart" though, a brief, weak tornado, usually one with little to no condensation funnel. Birdfarts would be the theme of the season for me.

New Dust Whirl Tornado
2 miles SSW of Illiopolis, IL
6:24 PM
The fast highway not only allowed me to catch-up but blast ahead of the storm. I drove underneath, through the inflow notch with the wall cloud to my south and the forward flank to my north. Once I had some solid spacing on the storm, I exited at Illiopolis, the storm drifting over perfect central Illinois storm chasing terrain. I caught up with Andrew, Colin, and crew. A dust whirl was in progress beneath the huge block wall cloud. It was most likely another weak tornado, as it looked like the storm had cycled in the minutes between the previous dust whirl spin-up, this time with a prominent RFD cut digging into the wall cloud.
I stayed until the gust front of the storm was moving overhead. The circulations had dissipated and I was mainly getting surging outflow with pointy scud at this point. Looking south:

Classic Wall Cloud
10 miles WSW of Long Creek, IL
6:50 PM
I leap frogged the storm and stopped just southwest of Decatur. The wall cloud structure was exquisite in the evening light and colors.
A cloud to ground lightning barrage began, and I suspected the storm might be gearing up for another tornado, but the rear flank was also filling in heavily with precipitation.
Skirting the south side of Decatur, the CGs continued east ahead of the core.
It was my turn to make the wrong turn. With Andrew in tow behind me, I missed the slight right onto Illinois 121 and had to turn around on a side road. The core of the supercell overtook us and we were blasted with wind, rain, and hail.
I fought my way out from underneath the storm on 121, the southeast highway leading directly away from the right turning supercell. It had permanently transitioned into a high precipitation state so I backed off for a structure show.

Structure Show
8 miles WNW of Allenville, IL
7:29 PM
And what a structure show it was. The HP RFD gust front bowed out with dramatic mothership structure, the likes of which you’d expect on the Great Plains instead of the Midwest.

3 miles WNW of Mattoon, IL
7:56 PM
The view was awesome and the highlight of the chase, much more so than the handful of dust whirl "birdfart" tornadoes.
Darkness fell and I let the bulk of the core pass to my north as the trailing gust front went overhead. The storm was tornado warned again and I hung around to see if I could catch something backlit by lightning from the west. There was some scud moving around under the base, but I didn’t see anything tornadic. I let it go and made my way west toward home.


I'd tally three tornadoes on this backyard chase, but they were mainly count padder "birdfarts" with dust whirls and no real condensation funnel. The supercell structure at the end of the day elevated this to a great, well rounded chase, and one of my best for the 2021 season.

Lessons Learned

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