December 10, 2021


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Effingham, IL
Springfield, IL 6:15 PM 12/10/2021
Springfield, IL 10:24 PM 12/10/2021
0 mph


Nocturnal prefrontal cold front chase in central Illinois. Attempted intercept of tornado warned cell approaching Virginia, IL but aborted due to data loss and no visual. Failed to get ahead of line on I-72 between Springfield and Decatur, ending chase.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Samsung Galaxy S9.




This was an extreme shear, low CAPE setup, typical of these cool season outbreak scenarios. Initiation was expected well after dark with the event possibly peaking by 11pm to midnight. A low was ejecting through the Midwest dragging up an airmass with 60s temps/dews and a 100 knot midlevel jet. Convection Allowing Models had a line of storms moving out well ahead of the main cold front into the open warm sector. With the strong advection and extreme shear profiles, a potential tornado outbreak was possible, but storm mode and instability were potential limiting factors. Best shear/instability combos were down in the Mississippi River valley from far eastern MO/AR into KY/TN. CAMs consistently showed supercells into central Illinois too, however. I didn't want to pull strings to get out of the house for a weekday chase with a target hours away, after dark, for a point intercept. So I instead decided to play this one closer to home after work hours. My plan was to snag something discrete between Effingham, Champaign, or Peoria to Lincoln using the interstates to stay downstream of fast moving cells.

Foggy Morning
6 miles WSW of Springfield, IL
7:23 AM
The day started with a blanket of thick fog. Lots of moisture flowing into the region with this strong storm system.

Ready to Chase
6 miles WSW of Springfield, IL
5:17 PM
I had no expectations for this chase. Given issues with storm mode and the possibility of little lightning due to low instability, it was entirely possible I wouldn't be able to see anything at all, even if there were tornadoes, and that seemed like a big if. The potential was there given the extreme parameters, and I was excited to get out for a December chase opportunity. I prepped the car, but held at home until I had a clear target to go after.

No Situational Awareness
6 miles WSW of Salisbury, IL
8:01 PM
A line erupted in Missouri and was entirely tornado warned before it entered Illinois. The lead cell was holding its own tracking through Griggsville, IL toward Virginia, IL north of Jacksonville. I decided to spring for this one. There's no Verizon data west of Jacksonville, IL. With the fast moving storms shrouded in darkness, intercepting anything west of Jacksonville I ruled totally out of the question. I'd have to wait until I had good data and a fast, clean escape route. I turned north before I got to Jacksonville, and then northwest to Virginia, pushing into the center of a tornado warning polygon with the storm minutes away. Then I hit the data hole. It was inky black outside with light rain. Sporadic cloud to cloud flashes of lightning illuminated nothing. For safety's sake I had to immediately abort and drive back the way I had come. I had zero situational awareness with no visual and no data. I was hoping I'd get my data back in a couple mintues, but I wound up having to drive all way back to Pleasant Plains before my phone picked up a 4G tower again. By then the storm was off to my north, buried in a blob of heavy rain. A TORR warning meant a tornado had been reported with the storm, and it had tracked right over Virginia. Had I not turned around, I could have been in serious trouble. There was zero play on the storm now though. The rain would preclude any chance of a visual spot, and the roads and terrain get dicey near Petersburg.

I decided to drop south to toward New Berlin and then run east on 72 to get ahead of the line, hopefully making an eventual play on a tornado warned Tail End Charlie out by Effingham. I started to hit the heavier side of the line as I rounded the east side of Springfield. Cars were pulling off the road on both sides of the highway and there was leaf litter strewn about. I pushed as fast as I thought reasonable, but the car started to hydroplane. I had to back off, and after a few more miles I realized that I would never be able to get ahead of the line, which was moving east between 45 to 60 mph. I was making no headway. I called the chase half way to Decatur and made for home. I saw the Tornado Emergency on my screen for the Quad-State Tornado that was underway moving across AR, MO, TN, and KY, but I wasn't interested in following the carnage or what other chasers were capturing.


This was was an incredibly frustrating end to one of my worst chase years. Losing all situational awareness mere miles from a tornado intercept, followed by hydroplaning on the highway during a second intercept attempt, and the chase was as dangerous as it was aggravating. The initially reported "Quad-State Tornado" wound up being two EF4s, which inflicted dozens of fatalities, yet the record path length of the the infamous Tri-State Tornado of 1925 remained intact. A discrete storm with prolific lightning, it was actually quite possible to get dramatic shots of it and relatively safely when it was over the MIssouri Bootheel floodplain. Several chasers managed to pull off capturing the harrowing beast. I never want to see catastrophe, but it was still deeply discouraging going out on a chase, returning with nothing, and missing out on a historic event.

Lessons Learned

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