April 19th 2011 Litchfield, Illinois Tornado

Feb 26, 2012

IL warm fronts!
Summary:
Played setup along warm front draped across IL in very favorable airmass for severe weather. Abandoned original target for development further west. Intercepted southern-most storm ahead of quickly evolving yet severe linear complex. Filmed amazing tornado as it crossed i-55 just before storms congealed into massive derecho.
Stats:
Tornadoes: 1
Hail: .25″ [pea]
Wind: est 65mph RFD/inflow into ongoing tornado.
Miles: 610
Something I’ve always known: When its an IL day, target Springfield!
Detailed Account:
Today was a flip flop of emotions during the days leading up to the event. There was a chance for a significant outbreak of severe weather. However concerns were that storms would favor a linear mode and that the cap would again be quite strong. Not only that, the night before the 0z NAM painted a horrific scenario that almost made me regret committing to the setup. Despite that. A very, very moist airmass was in place. The night before dewpoints were already in the mid to upper 60s. A deep surface low was forecast to quickly move across C MO into IL with associated warm front/cold front scenario. Helicity along the warm front, plus the extremely juicy airmass along with a narrow corridor of backed winds near the surface low and along the warm front meant if a storm could form, it would go bonkers, but that was a big IF.
The morning came and I awoke to see an MCS moving out of the area around 9am with rapid clearing occurring behind it. This was a promising sign as the MCS would surely send some sort of outflow boundary into the target area and the clearing would allow for maximum heating and destabilization in the warm sector. The big question was could we get a storm to pop far enough ahead of the cold front to utilize these amazing parameters, or would strong linear forcing win out and leave us chasing a 600 mile long shelf cloud?
I teamed up with the usual Danny Neal, and this time with Mike Boik and a man by the name of Jonathan Williamson out of Wisconsin, he had contacted us asking if he could tag along to get some chasing in with “experienced chasers.” Us, along with most other chasers seemed to like the area around Effingham. Most forecast models showed the surface low to be over STL by 21z and that would put us in a good spot. We left Chicago in a disgusting 36 degree and light rain environment, but made quick time getting into the warm sector, which was a very sharp boundary that we could actually see as we approached it.
As soon as I drove under that low hanging black cloud I watched the thermometer in my truck climb from 46 to 73 in about 15 minutes. Hello warn sector! I have noticed days with really sharp boundaries like this often have favorable results [4-22-10, 5-10-10, 5-22-10, and recently 4-9-11 all came to mind.] We met up with everyone in Effingham and did the usual milling around for about 2 hours time chatting it up and keeping an eye on things. Around 4pm storms began to exploded west of the Mississippi River up north by Quincy. That was quite a ways away from where we were all expecting storms to fire and we secretly hoped they could cross the warm front and die. Skip was first to fly off after them, with the rest of us following 10 minutes or so after. En route the storm went tornado warned and Reed Timmer documented a very nice tornado. My heart sank thinking we blew it and this would be the only tornado producer and we would be left with a linear squall line fest.
Radar showing how far we were from Reed’s storm.
Hope began to grow though, also on the radar you can see little storms beginning to pop closer to us. These storms eventually intensified and gave us hope for the day. Reeds storm up north was the main storm at the time, and the one we considered going after, but in the complex ahead there was an isolated, southernmost storm beginning to form. I was torn which one to go after, but after much debate decided to go after the southern one. I have been burned by NOT doing this one too many times.
The storm was forming in a great environment. 20kts of backed surface flow in a 74/68 t/td spread. As we began to approach the storm we noticed some nice mammatus under the anvil.
We got ahead of the storm but noted no structure…at all. Just a black sky filled against the lovely flat terrain of C IL.
I figured storms would be very HP but this was ridiculous. We had to let the storm basically come on top of us to see anything, no harm there though! Eventually a base came into view and finally, what looked like a wall cloud and area of rotation. Around this time Skip Talbot reported a nice cone tornado on the north storms we decided to ignore. I was beginning to get frustrated and was quite dis-heartened to think we picked the wrong storm again.
The storm was moving at a decent clip so we played cat and mouse with it. Allowing it to catch us and then darting ahead of it a little bit.
Eventually we began to notice the rotation increase dramatically. At one point we noticed a funnel cloud come down but it did not last long. Radar showed the squall line quickly approaching and we feared the storm would get munched up before it had a chance to produce. We stopped just east of I-55 near a frontage road and observed some really rapid rotation. It was now or never.
Fortunately for us, it was NOW! About 20 seconds after the above picture was taken a funnel cloud dropped, a few seconds after that dust kicked up underneath and a few more seconds after that the funnel slammed to the ground. A strong tornado had rapidly developed close by and was now about to move over I-55. I switched into video mode but made a couple attempts at snapping still pics, the best being this one:
We sat there in awe, filming the entire life cycle of the tornado from rotation, to funnel, to peak, to death. It was an incredible tornado. A stout, dark grey cone with large brown debris cloud backlit by an evil looking green HP core. The motions were incredible and unfortunately as it crossed the highway we noticed debris swirling around in it. The tornado lifted after about 5 minutes. Our chase was over at that point as the supercell that spawned the tornado was now engulfed in the squall line and the derecho was now in progress, but what a tornado! It was absolutely gorgeous and all the various contrasting colors made it that much better. I finally got a good daytime tornado in 2011.
Here is the video. Unfortunately my stupid auto focus defaulted back on [I really wish there was a way I could set my camera to not do that] and I was trying to do about 4 things at once so I am a bit disappointed in the quality of the camera work, but that does little to take away from the experience.

Needless to say this tornado already made my year. We moved north once the tornado dissipated and noticed some damage along the highway including a house that had part of the roof missing. Occupants were reported to be ok. At this point we were engulfed by the squall line and could no longer see anything. Radar Images show the storm and just how close it was to being overtaken around the time it produced the tornado.
We pulled over to edit some video, chat with some locals and then proceeded to Springfield to have our celebratory dinner.
Conclusion:
This day turned out great. A day that held promise along with some big IFs. Much like June 17th it went from extremely disheartening to purely amazing. The tornado was one of the most beautiful ones I have seen. Not so much in terms of photogenic viewability, but in terms of pure chaos and contrast. I love those crazy colors that contrast each other really well, and seeing the rapid motions within them all. I only wish I could have done better with the camera work or have gotten it on the tripod so I am a bit letdown by that. Now that I got the good up close, intense and beautiful daytime tornado out of the way for 2011 I shall make sure I limit these mistakes during the remainder of the season. Still though, it is an awesome feeling to know I have a great tornado catch for the season so early. It will make the rest of the year that much more enjoyable!
Map with zoomed in area of tornado intercept. Red arrows shows location tornado was filmed, red dot shows where damage was encountered.
SPC Storm Reports. It was quite an active day!

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