March 28, 2006 Eastern Illinois Chase

by John Farley

I started the day disappointed at having reluctantly decided to pass on the plains setup, but ended it happy with the results of a much shorter chase in Illinois. No, I didn't see any tornadoes, but I saw more than could have been reasonably expected considering the weather setup in IL. I had decided that, since I thought (correctly, it turns out) that the nearest plains storms to me would be a 9-hour drive away in western KS, it was just too long a drive, especially for storms that would likely be moving 50 mph. Congrats to all who had success along the dryline! Instead, I decided that I would stay home and get my taxes done, and hope something might fire along the nearly stationary front draped NW-SE across IL.

However, by morning it did not look like anything much was going to happen on this front, so like everyone else, when I looked at weather online periodically during the day, I mostly focused on the plains setup. My attention was abruptly shifted back to the front in IL around 3:30, when I noticed that one of the first TOR warnings of the day was out of ILX, for a confirmed tornado near Lincoln. I quickly decided to head for the front, figuring I could get to it with around an hour of driving if I headed east on I-70 toward Effingham. I figured the specific storm that produced the tornadoes (apparently there were 2) between Lincoln and Bloomington would be long gone before I could get to it, but I saw there were strong cells farther southeast and, hoping they could continue to fire, I headed that way because I could get there more quickly. I didn't really expect to see much, but figured if it could happen in one storm it might happen in another. I checked the SPC mesoscale analysis page and saw that they, like me, weren't paying much attention to IL - the area where the tornado occurred was not even in one of the data boxes, though the area farther southeast was. It had some localized areas of heightened shear and instability, though overall the parameters were not supportive of severe weather. But I quickly decided what the heck and was on my way by 3:45.

I arrived in Effingham around 5:00, to a pretty rainbow:

Had I been there 5 minutes sooner, I could have gotten a picture of the giant cross with the rainbow behind, which would have been a keeper for sure, but by the time I got to the cross, the rainbow had begun to fade. At this point I was undecided on where to head next, but I then noticed a nice tower going up to the south. Since it was the best-looking thing I could see in any direction (though there were showers and storms to the north, east, and south at this point), I decided to head that way. With the very slow movement, it would also be easy to get in position to see the updraft base with good backlighting. So I headed south through Hord on route 45, and soon had a nice, backlit view of the updraft base. I was encouraged because, although the wind fields were weak, there was some directional shear - the surface wind was southeast, while the winds steering the cells were from the west or WSW. I stopped on a side road about 3 miles south of Hord just west of route 45, and on cue a small lowering began to form. Within a few minutes, around 5:30 or 5:45, I had a pretty, slow-moving, backlit wall cloud under the cell's mail updraft:

Around the time I took this picture, I felt the inflow sharpen, with a notable increase in the breeze from the southeast, toward the wall cloud. However, the breeze felt cool, probably due to contamination from a line of showers and storms to the southeast, so I figured this was probably about as good as it was going to get. The wall cloud persisted for about a half hour, though, and moved so slowly - 5 mph or less to the ENE, that I could watch it without leaving the spot where I first stopped. A while after the picture above was taken, it formed an inflow tail:

About 10 minutes after this picture was taken, the wall cloud became less lowered and more elongated, and eventually detached from the cloud base. The show was over by around 6:15. Given the weak wind fields and the limited instability, I was very pleased to see as much as I did. The storm never approached being severe, though it did produce localized heavy rain over an inch just north and northeast of Hord. I never saw any lightning or heard any thunder, either. But it sure was a pretty little cell, and the slow movement made it an enjoyable chase. Not bad for just an hour and a half from home! Only bad thing is I took a different route home which turned out to be MUCH slower. Lesson: The interstate is usually faster, even if it is not shorter. I keep having to re-learn this one!

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