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March 14, 2019 expedition log: southern and central Illinois
This was a very strange expedition day unlike any other I've had. I set my alarm for 6:30AM, expecting to have a couple hours to do a forecast before leaving for an early show to the east along the IL/IN border along I-64. I awoke to see convection already in progress just to the south and east, about 2 hours ahead of where models had it the night before. I immediately scrambled and jumped in the car to head east, making it ahead of the line at Mount Vernon shortly after sunrise. I stopped at Mill Shoals (I-64 about halfway between I-57 and the IN border) to watch a few of the individual cells race by. Everything looked like complete junk. All cold with no structure and no low-level inflow.
To the east, more precip and clouds ahead of the main line weren't doing much to sell me on that area as a target, despite the great shear in place. Furthermore, the first visible satellite images of the day revealed a large dry slot behind this main line with dewpoints in the upper 50s, and storms with lightning were already firing upstream of this in central Missouri. Low-level shear was more than adequate in central and northern IL, and with each radar scan, the Missouri storms were slowly transitioning from linear to an arc of discrete cells as they approached St. Louis.
The dry slot looked much more appealing to me as a target for all of those reasons, and in great chase terrain at that. I turned around and headed back to St. Louis, then north on I-55 to catch the middle of the three storms north of Springfield. This storm looked much more promising, with strong rising motion in a mean-looking base on the north side of the RFD punch. But even with the storm exactly paralleling I-55, I was losing ground with each brief stop to look. The storm got ahead of me at Bloomington right as it looked its best on radar. The slight uptick in intensity caused it to turn right just enough to put I-55 in its core, so the Interstate was no longer an option to keep up.
I turned east at Towanda. The storm's base still beat me across the road. It was of no consequence, because it and the storm to the south were losing intensity, looking ragged both on radar and visually. I continued east to I-57 at Paxton to look at the last two storms moving north, both were weakening and had stopped producing lightning before I reached them.
Event over - it felt like 7pm, but the clock showed 2pm. I made it home at 5. I didn't shoot any video or pictures during this expedition.
Post-chase thoughts. I was initially having a hard time believing the model indications of peak supercell/tornado potential before noon, but they were spot-on. I gave them the benefit of the doubt early, but the look of the storms in that area didn't provide enough confidence to stay. Had I waited an hour to see the rapid organization at Paducah, I would have stayed on I-64 to catch the supercells crossing in the Evansville area. From what I could tell, none of those produced anything visible. This was an unprecedented chase for me due to the timing. Prior to this, the earliest supercell/tornado expedition I had embarked on was November 17, 2013 which got going at 11AM. To have one start cranking at 9AM wasn't something I was really prepared for, despite all of the the models (both medium and short range) showing it.
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