July 24 2009 Northern Illinois Storm Chase

Mar 05, 2012

Popped my July cherry! December is now the only month I have never chased in.

Summary:
Arrived home from work to discover big supercells firing near the WI/IL border, decided to make a run for them knowing they would probably weaken by the time I arrived. That is exactly what happened but regardless I was treated to some good lightning, a wee bit of structure and some white knuckle driving.
Stats:
Tornadoes: 0
Largest Hail: pea size or even smaller [>.25″]
Highest wind: est 50mph thunderstorm gust
Miles: 190
Chase first: I had data connection the entire time.
Detailed account:
It takes allot to lure me out on a chase in the summer for a number of reasons. I have used up a good amount of my time off work, and I want to save what I have left for next year in case its active. I am also paying off the amount of debt I accumulated during the typical season. The setups are harder to get something worthwhile out of them, though it is still possible. These reasons and more probably clouded my judgment when forecasting this setup. I knew there would be severe weather, I wasn’t confident in tornadoes which ended up verifying, but I also thought things would be linear long before reaching Illinois, which did not verify.
Because of this I worked a full day, even an hour late [typical for me as I usually work more overtime than not.] Upon arriving home and firing up GR3 my eyes bulged out of my head and my jaw hit the floor when I saw 3 beastly supercells near the IL/WI border. GR3 was showing hail almost 4 inches in diameter. Earlier in the day a similar storm took out the windshields of some fellow chasers so I knew this was no joke. After a long debate I decided to take the gamble and I shot out the door.
The problem with where I live…the city. It takes an hour to go the first 20 miles because no matter what option you choose this is what you get:
Yup, its very hard to make good time when all your expressway options travel at this speed:
Eventually I broke free of city traffic and began to haul it to make up some time. It would have worked out in the end had the storms held together but as I expected a weakening trend began with the loss of peak heating and instability. Eventually I made it to Rochelle where it was time to gas up when I discovered I made a horrific mistake. I left in such a hurry I left my cash and my wallet in my work pants. I needed gas and had no cash or credit card and to top it off I bolted down the highway without a drivers license.
Luckily for me I was meeting with fellow chaser Matthew Cumberland who graciously used his credit card to fill up my beastly gas tank. I would have been in a major predicament if he was not there and I am very thankful he loaned me his card to fill my tank up. The rest of the chase I had drive normal to not risk getting pulled over.
The first big cell in the line was about to head over us but by now had weakened into a tiny blob that was only spitting out pea size hail at best, the sun was setting but at least we were able to catch a glimpse of some interesting cloud formations along whatever was left of its inflow region.
This was probably once a beautiful meso. It was now weakening to nothing more than a heavy downpour as it became increasingly elevated.
The storms began congealing into a line with the stronger parts developing to the west and the eastern edge weakening. Matt and I continued on to Dixon where we would make another executive decision at that point. Once in Dixon it became apparent that everything was now weakening. We decided to make a slight jog to the west in hopes of at least getting some severe hail so we went back south to I-88 and waited for the line to arrive. Once it did though there was no hail left, but quite a nice lightning display.
I called the chase at this point and turned around to head home. On my way home though things got interesting when part of the line strengthened over us. It provided some white out driving, the kind that has me crawling along an expressway with my hazards on doing 15-20mph when the speed limit is 65. At one point I heard a few clicks on the windshield from some really small hail…yay.
A radar grab of the drive. A few moments later we drove over allot of tree debris on the highway. Probably a 60mph gust or so rolled though, some of the gusts tried to push my truck so it added a nice element to chase. Ive driven through much worse but its always nice to keep the driving skills sharp…
I recorded a majority of the white knuckle driving…not much to see on the video as it looks like Im in a waterfall. Of course I shut off the camera and not more than 30 seconds after doing so a large CG blasts the ground probably less than 2 blocks from me…then another then another than another all followed by extremely loud thunder. GR3 would then confirm the CG barrage:
The lightning bolts are coordinated by color, the color changes depending on how many strikes there are per minute. The intensity scale goes yellow, red, purple, white with white being the most intense. It made the drive a little more worth it. Good summer storms have been not common this year due to the cool pattern. I was happy just to be in the midst of some powerful lightning. Part of my passion for the chase derives from being able to experience the storm first hand, and although there wasn’t a tornado, gorilla hail or incredible structure, frequent lightning strikes and loud thunder always makes me happy. It was worth the relatively short drive.
Conclusion:
There were some really big storms today and some chasers got some incredible photos and major hail damage. I underestimated the forecast and missed out on what could have been an exciting hail chase but I was happy to at least get out there and experience the storms. The storms that hit Chicago were nothing to write home about, an intense MCV formed to the south of the city and sent lots of anvil crawlers over my house followed by long, dull rumbles of thunder. It was nice to come home to though. I will re-evaluate the way I forecast summer setups though. Chasing is forever a learning process.
I am glad I took the gamble, had the storms maintained themselves I would have been more upset I sat at home and did nothing about it.
Check out this reports thread to see what other chasers bagged earlier in the day.
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