April 4, 2023


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Mount Pleasant, IA
Springfield, IL 12:12 PM 4/4/2023
Springfield, IL 10:30 PM 4/5/2023
Table Grove, IL
0 mph


Targeted southeast IA warm front for evening tornadic supercells. Intercepted tornado warned supercell in open warm sector near Table Grove, IL noting damage. Was never able to get into viewing position on the storm, and blocked several times by damage trying to get home.

Crew and Equipment

Solo chase. Equipment: Sony AX100, Samsung S9.




My initial target was Mount Pleasant, IA, strategically placed fast crossroads in southeast Iowa. My plan was to continue up 218 and catch a developing storm in the high CAPE air where it would bump the warm front draped south of I-80 and spin-up a tornado. Highway 34 ran southeast with four lanes through Burlington and back across the river in case I needed to make a mad dash back to a western Illinois warm sector storm. Or, worst case, I could run west on 34 for the cold front play. But it looked like the warm front was it for tornadoes based on the parameters with the only significant area of 0-3km CAPE, its moisture convergence and backed winds. Elsewhere it appeared storms would struggle against inhibition in cloudy parts of the warm sector or when the boundary layer cooled by early evening. I thought the 15 hatched was massively overdone. The cold front storms could easily be a line of undercut “squidge” in mixed out dews, and the play to the east was highly conditional with a lot of potential to go belly up. By 21z I thought we were looking squarely at a bust. Large amounts of cirrus had overtaken he warm sector and were cooling things down. The cumulus field on the warm front had thinned out, and the first attempt of the day that had fired early way down in west central Missouri was now dying in the capped air. A cluster of showers was percolating in northeast Missouri north of the dying cell, and the cold front was lighting up 200 something miles to my west. I could cap bust out here, and I was content with that. I kind of wanted the setup to bust even. Why? Maybe I didn’t even want to chase this setup, but perhaps I felt I had to.
I did the math to make a play on the cold front. I could maybe make it before dark. Was that worth it? I even liked the cold front play. If something semi-discretish tracked northeast to the warm front, it could totally spin something up, and it would probably be pretty photogenic with the steep lapse rates and higher bases. But I had talked myself out of this (and unknowingly the tornado of the day), figuring I better play the parameters for a higher potential payout. A new cell fired in the wake of the ongoing activity to my south and rapidly went severe, while the showers were gradually gaining in intensity. Additional initiation looked unlikely elsewhere, so I figured this was it. I blasted down 34 back through Burlington. The cluster was amalgamating into an intensifying blob moving north-northeast. I’d cut south right through it and get to the updraft, inflow end as it organized. I definitely expected this thing to develop into a supercell in the increasingly sheared environment. But it was also becoming an increasingly capped environment. Inhibition was forecast to fill back in by 23z, so I expected to be chasing striations and that was going to be it. Whatever, it’s on the way home. My route followed the river southwest, which was the snowball just starting to roll downhill on this chase. I thought that was fine, I’m on the “wrong” side of the complex, but I’d avoid a lot of rain and still just come out fine on the bottom side of the storm no problem.
I stopped with a mix of chasers and locals at the railroad crossing in Lomax, IL. The guards were just coming down. A freight train lumbered on through, car after car of Amazon shipping containers. “Well, it’s a real chase now,” I thought. It didn’t seem to be a problem, the storm still had a long way to go before it was ready and I was still downstream of it. The storm might not do anything at all, anyway. The train finally cleared and we all patiently waited for the guards to go up. A minute went by, but the flashing reds and bells continued. FIVE minutes went by, and the guards were not coming up. I thought maybe the cars would start taking turns driving around the crossing guards, but nobody was making a move. I’m “Mr. Safety” and with several cars in front of me, I sure wasn’t going to be the one to do it. But I thought about it. Can I detour around this crossing? It was several miles back the way I had come, a mile or so on gravel, a few more miles back south on gravel. I’d lose another 15 minutes easily. It could be hours before these guards come up though, who knows? I should have shrugged and driven home. Sometimes you see a pretty storm and sometimes you see a train. But no, I had to keep at it because I’m not a storm chaser if I don’t. The chasers ahead of me started to turn around and I followed.
So now I’m really starting to get behind the curve. The storm had consolidated and turned northeast. It still needed time though, and I needed to get ahead of it, so I decided to cut east across the forward flank. I plowed into the back of the storm on the four lane highway at the posted sixty-five mile per hour speed limit straight into the driving rain and hail. Not because I wanted to follow the speed limit, but that’s all I thought I could possibly do, and even that was probably way too fast for conditions. The van bucked in the wind and the tires buffeted atop water. And then out of the rain, surprise! I came up real hot on a yokel with barely working taillights doing 40. My brakes worked without losing control as I was simultaneously passed by several other chasers going way over 70. This is really, really stupid. Why am I even doing this? Because if I don’t I’m going to miss it, and then I’ll hate myself even more than I already do.

I pushed on, but as the reflectivity updated, I realized I was making no ground. Ok, I told myself, I’m not getting ahead of this thing to the east, but maybe the base will just lift north in front of me as the strong southwesterlies aloft carry the storm northeast and I continue to plod east. I could tell the storm was getting ready to do it. The velocity lit up with a big bright patch of green, a huge inflow surge. I had maybe 15-20 minutes to get into position. Macomb was coming up now and I let my phone route me a bypass around it to the north. The velocity went quiet for a few moments as the storm chewed on all the air it just pulled in. Then boom, couplet, phone buzzing with a tornado warning, and reported tornado. I had no visual still, just driving rain, and a velocity couplet a few miles to my south embedded in the core of an amorphous blob of a supercell. As long as I had radar I could track it though, right? A couple minutes went by and I was looking for the next scan. Five minutes went by. What if this thing occluded and careened left into the forward flank? NINE minutes went by, driving in the hammering rain with no velocity update. This is really, really dumb.

The radar finally updated, and while I had gone north around Macomb, the storm had continued to turn right, and at this point I was basically driving away from the tornado, and any sort of play on it. Multiple times I adjusted my phone route to account for the right turning. Yet the storm, now moving almost due east, turned further right still while also propagating southward as it ingested new cells. I was perpetually stuck in the northwest corner of the forward flank like an idiot while my screen lit up with all kinds of storm chaser reports of tornadoes. Now I was frustrated with my own incompetence and mediocrity. I could have just run east initially to get ahead of the complex. I could have done my own routing instead of lazily letting my phone just whisk me away from the area of interest. Why do I even bother with this if I’m not even very good at it?

Forget trying to get east. I rerouted due south. I’d come out the back of the storm, but maybe if there wasn’t a ton of precipitation in the hook I could get a view of the tornado from the west. I rerouted for Table Grove, IL where the current area of interest was passing. As expected, I emerged out of the western edge of the core greeted by a view of turbulent cloud debris, non-descript structure and rain shafts in the storm’s wake. The redeeming view of the backside of the hook was not there. The weather does not reward bad chasers, the late, and the mediocre.
I thought I might have emerged from the rain to the north end of the horseshoe, an occluded updraft and the remnants of the Table Grove tornado hanging underneath. Or, almost certainly, it's just scud.

Table Grove Tornado Damage
Table Grove, IL
7:22 PM
Traffic got ponderously slow as I entered Table Grove. I was getting irritated now. “Get out of the way.” There was no view to the east, but perhaps I could run east from the south side of the storm now that I was in clear air. That is if it weren’t for this traffic. Finally they turned off the main drag and I was free to blast ahead. Instead I had to immediately slam on the brakes as I realized the reason for the slow down. There were trees down everywhere, damaged houses, and people standing around with shell shocked faces trying to make sense of what just happened. “Shit.” And now I just felt like a huge asshole, looking like I was impatiently trying to get around all this “stuff” (somebody’s house that’s now in the road) just so I can take pictures of clouds. In that moment, it wasn’t just me that felt stupid. It was the entire endeavor of storm chasing itself that felt incredibly stupid. Pathetic even.
Nobody that was standing around looked like they needed help or was trying to flag me down. I quickly pulled a three point to exit the scene before I made a spectacle of myself or got in the way of first responders. The south out of town was blocked. I carefully threaded my way through the residential side streets to exit out the back of the town. The damage path looked narrow. I could perhaps maneuver around it. I don’t even know why I was still trying to chase. Get out of here, and this situation. I made it to the sole back road that went east out of town. A series of powerlines hung loosely, low across the road like a web waiting to ensnare overeager straggler chasers, but for me it was just a giant hand in my face saying, “No.” Debris was strewn about. Baseball sized hail littered the ground. Neighbors stood around watching me. I turned around again, and threaded my way on side streets north out of town.
It was miles to the next east and I took it. The road was gravel for a couple miles, but then it degraded to pancake batter. I stopped to check it with my shoe. A half inch of mud clung to the bottom of the sole. I looked at the map. The road got squirrely, and it was four miles to the next option. Like some kind of lunatic, I was actually considering if I could make it. Then reason finally kicked it and I snapped out of it. You’re miles and miles behind the game, and now you’re considering a dicey mud road? I called the chase and turned around. I routed north to the next major east highway to hopefully go around the tornado path and find a south option toward home. A pickup came up real hot on my six, and then blasted around me once we made it to the east highway. A straggler still trying to live the dream, we were twenty-five miles behind the storm at this point and the sun was just setting. Good luck with that, buddy. Dejected, I fell in behind a flatbed truck doing 10 under the limit, and that was fine by me. It was for the best even as I wasn’t on my guard or in the best mindset, and the truck slowed as we had to thread through yet another debris path in the darkness, boards lying in the road.

I let the phone route me home and finally turned south to make for one of the few bridges across the Illinois, eager to be leaving this all behind me. A police car passed me, awhile later another. And then up ahead I could see a stream of flashing ambers, reds, and blues. The traffic slowed to a stop. “Dammit.” Apparently some asshole chasers decided to drive directly into the tornado. I turned around and drove back up to the east highway to find another south. My second attempt was the same: an increasing amount of flashing lights up ahead, and looking at my map, sure enough, I was approaching the string of storm chaser tornado reports. There was a car off the side of the road with no glass. It was miles heading back north and this time I drove way east until I was well ahead of the chaser reports and when the phone had long since given up trying to turn me around as I ignored its directions. It plotted me a new course home and I turned south. After several miles, fire trucks and utility trucks appeared ahead. I looked at the map. The phone had routed me to follow the Illinois River southwest, right back to the same highway where I had already tried unsuccessfully to cross the river. I wanted to just get out of the car and shamble aimlessly away into the field. I wanted to head to the dive bar in the tiny town I passed a ways back and spend the night there. I wanted to be anywhere but here.

I wound up having to drive all the way up to Peoria, hours out of the way. It was a long time to think about how much I hated this. How even if I somehow made it, beat the train, blasted through the storm while surviving the falling trees and hydroplaning, to emerge victoriously in front of what I sought: some grey on grey funnel that no one would remember a week later. So what? The tornado was garbage. It was garbage that some people were willing to kill themselves over. I need a break. I hope the weather shuts down for a long, long time. I hope it’s mid-May at least before I have to dread the decision of whether or not to head back out there.


The Table Grove, IL tornado was rated EF1 followed by a long track EF3 that tracked near Lewistown and impacted several incompetent and reckless storm chasers. Fortunately there were no fatalities with either. The storm of the day, however, was in Pleasantville, IA with a beautiful white trunk tornado.

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