We woke up yesterday to wet pavement from a squall line that had just blasted through the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area with very strong winds. We were still reeling from the epic letdown in Iowa the day before. A day with CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy) of over 6000, which is HUGE, went to absolute waste. So we looked ahead at what we could get out of the day. All the SPC talked about was a squall line forming and sweeping right across the Ohio Valley, with the slight chance of some more discrete storms forming ahead of it. So we headed east toward Bloomington, IL in hopes of catching these discrete storms before they became linear or got swallowed by the squall line.
Around mid-afternoon storms began firing towards Piatt County, IL, a spot that has proven magical for the chase team in years past. So we dove east. About the same time, more impressive storms began firing back towards Peoria, IL. With the Piatt county storms looking less impressive, we did a 180 and headed back west.
We sat just to the northwest of Bloomington watching the storm come towards us. We could see a slight wall cloud with the Severe warned storm, heading for us but still a little ways away. We dropped south just a hare to the west of Bloomington and the storm came right to us with a very impressive wall cloud.
A local cop came up to us seeming concerned over the lowering. Realizing we were going to get trapped by the wall cloud by Bloomington, we ran as fast as we could southeast, beating the hail core by minutes through town. About this time, we saw another storm firing just to the southeast of us. The Bloomington storm was starting to weaken, so we streaked SE for the new one.
This was a more difficult storm to approach because, once again, we got screwed up by an urban area, this time Champaign, IL. Coming in from the Northwest isn’t the best approach either, but it’s all we could do. We had to wait to get though Champaign because traffic on I-74 was crawling due to very heavy precip. We finally ducked south and then turned east on some local roads. Right as we did, the weather radio went off, and a Tornado Warning was issued. We could just barely see the wall cloud from where we were to the SW, so we continued east to try and get in front of it. As we did, we watched from the left as heavy precip and wind was blowing in from the north from the storms RFD, or Rear Flank Downdraft, a precursor for tornadoes. We had to bail south to avoid being hooked for the 2nd year in a row, possibly causing us to miss a view of a tornado. We got corrected and continued east, with spectacular visuals of the wall cloud now. Warnings were constantly being issued with funnel clouds spotted, but we weren’t seeing them. Nonetheless, we were looking at a spectacular sight.
We chased the storm onward into Indiana, where it eventually weakened. However we did get a spectacular lightning show out of it.
Just behind us, the aforementioned squall line was rolling in. We pushed east to get us back on the interstate. As we did, Tornado warnings were being issued for the squall line just behind us. We pulled off the interstate about 15 miles west of Indianapolis and looked back west, and saw a spectacular sight. Non-stop lightning was lighting up the storm, showing off the shelf cloud of the squall line, and near the horizon, we could make out a well defined wall cloud. Just to our south, a tornado siren was blaring, adding to the eeriness of the situation. We stayed there as long as we could and blasted east again, flirting with the gust front from the storm as we navigated through Indianapolis. The line weakened fortunately as it passed over us, but we still got a spectacular lightning show out of it.
While the agony of what could have happened in Iowa will plague our conscious for a while, so will the three wall clouds and spectacular lightning from yesterday. We still didn’t get our tornado for the year, but we certainly improved on what we saw earlier in May by a long shot. This is Andrew Smith, coming to you from the hills of West Virginia along the Kanawha River on our way back to Blacksburg.