Thursday, June 10, 2010

06/05/10 Illinois June Tornado Magic

Tornado southeast of Kirkwood, IL in
rural-Warren County, IL

Saturday, featured a long-awaited opportunity for redemption. Up to this day, I've seen some great supercells and severe thunderstorms this spring, but have usually ended up with "snake eyes" when it comes to getting some "tornado magic". However, June has ALWAYS been my month in years past where my luck tends to turn around. Sure enough like years past my tornado luck changed again in June for the better! So lets begin shall we?! Last Saturday, Illinois finally woke-up in terms of tornadoes after a rather quiet spring with a MDT risk of severe weather being outlooked by the SPC. The night before the "event" I forecasted tornadic supercells along a Galesburg-to-Lacon, IL line as long as morning convection would clear out and destabilization would take place Saturday afternoon. I also have to give a shout out to Alan Black (NIU Alumni) as he nailed the forecast as well the previous night! My forecast ended up being nearly perfect come Saturday evening as supercells erupted from Burlington, IA northeast toward Princeton, IL. Saturday however, I had to work in Peoria, IL which complicated my ability to chase, but I got off at 4:00pm which I figured would be just in time for the show. While working I couldn't help but notice clearing taking place around noon and had that feeling that I'd need to get on the road as soon as possible. Once off work I quickly noticed the clear blue-skies overhead and the atmosphere felt tornado-ready with dews climbing well into the 70's. I quickly hit the road blasting west where it seemed supercells would initiate in SE Iowa near Burlington, IA. On my way, I stopped at Monmouth, IL for a quick data-check to get updated on the severe-threat. Here we had a 83/70°F surface ob. Nice! After some more analyzing I headed west, but also kept an eye behind me (back east) which can always cost you as a chaser if you rely too much on your target. I learned this during a chase in Nebraska in 2008 as a supercell developed behind me along a warm front in SW Iowa on my way to my target-area (Kearney, NE supercell 2008). Well, I learned my lesson that day and this would come into play during this chase. I debated heading into SE Iowa near Mt. Pleasant, IA, but as I arrived in Burlington, IA (right on cue) some weak-echos begin to "pop" overhead. Ok, ya they looked like sh*t on radar, but structure-wise you could easily tell this would be the beginning of the "show". So I decided to turn around! Once these showers/thunderstorms began to develop you could quickly see the shear allowing for better and better organization and it was apparent it was just a matter of time before they became supercells with higher instability (CAPE) off to the east in west-central Illinois. The best parameters via SPC mesoanalysis indicated that the threat was shifting more into Illinois than Iowa as well. After getting pelted with a few big rain drops I photographed the developing supercell in Burlington, IA for few minutes. After wards, I quickly punched east basically driving in the inflow-region along U.S. 34 for about a good half hour before pulling off U.S. 34 onto IL-Rt. 11 south of Kirkwood, IL (before U.S. 34 curves back north toward Monmouth, IL). At this point rotation was rapidly increasing overhead and I had no choice to pull-over since my gut told me this thing was about to produce overhead. The RFD becomes better defined visually meanwhile radar-scans looked kind of lousy at least reflectivity-wise. That changed in 5-10 minutes! I watched this storm quickly "wrap-up" to my northeast (southeast of Kirkwood, IL) forming a tight wall cloud that quickly extends to the ground. Funnel protrudes touching the ground for a brief period (10-30 seconds) before lifting halfway above the ground. This actually was the first "tornado" this storm would produce before it really got going. I'm kind of surprised no other chaser observed this, but than again I was the only chaser behind the storm as everyone blasted east into the rain (probably didn't have good contrast and visibility like I had at the time). Nevertheless, the tornado touched down briefly in a farm field. The storm weakened briefly, but later it formed a huge hook that quickly would produce many tornadoes in Knox and Peoria Counties during the evening especially near Elmwood, IL. Unfortunately, after I got this weak tornado I couldn't catch back up on this supercell to get any of the other tornadoes it would later produce..argh! Also, after viewing that tornado my adrenaline to chase quickly changed as a supercell developed and made a hard-right turn toward my house and hometown that looked to take a direct hit. That storm would later cause significant damage in Streator, IL off to the east. Anyhow, I quickly rushed home on U.S. 34 as I heard while on the road from my family the circulation was clearly visible and it just missed my house by 1 mile to the south (Talk about a close call). I was able to save some radar images from this supercell and the tornadic supercell I photographed as well outside Kirkwood, IL. It's quite strange my house continues to be a magnet for supercells year after year...amazing! Furthermore, my Davis weather station captured the "pressure-drop" yet again as the mesocyclone passed nearly overhead here between 7:30 and 8:00pm. What a chase could have been better, but I'll take a chase that delivers a tornado on one tank of gas. I've posted some photos I took during the chase and added some archived radar images as well below:

Supercell in its initial stages over Burlington, IA
Rotation beginning to form as this
circulation passes overhead...

Wide-angle view of the supercell (looking northeast)
as it
begins to rotate as it crosses the Mississippi River
Portrait-view of the super-cellular structure
As I punch through the RFD trying to keep up with this supercell
I'm greeted by "this" crossing the road...

(funnel halfway to the ground here)...yikes!
I continue east and I stop to photograph
"mothership" over Biggsville, IL
Backside of the mothership...
The "mothership" now begins to produce this
lowering and eventual wall cloud
Love this shot! This was shot right before the tornado develops...
She's getting closer...
Portrait-view of the intermittent touchdowns
that lasted between 10-30sec.
Great contrast for an Illinois tornado! (Wide-angle shot)
Brief tornado beginning to lift at this point...
Tornado has now lifted with obvious funnel
present halfway to the ground
One last shot as the storm moves farther off to my east
Supercells exiting the area leaving behind an eerie sunset
Convection trying to reform along a boundary at sunset
 An interesting color...
 Storms moving away at dusk...

All together, a successful chase for myself with low-top supercells producing a tornado outbreak across Illinois and into the Ohio Valley overnight. If you want to read up more on the tornado outbreak click here. That link will take you to the Davenport NWS office with a full write-up on the outbreak. Also, the damage survey from the Lincoln, NWS forecast office regarding the Elmwood, IL tornado and more can be found here.