June 30th 2014 Iowa Severe Weather – Chicagoland Tornadoes

Sep 16, 2014


Targeted Iowa intercepting first round of severe storms noting shelf cloud but no real severe weather, mostly torrential rains. Raced line home for lightning shots before second, much more powerful round of storms slammed home.


Tornadoes: 0
Hail: .25″ (pea)
Wind: est 45mph outflow

The Forecast:

Very rich, moisture laiden air creating extreme instability ahead of unseasonably strong shear along cold front forecast to surge east. Severe storms seemed a certainty in this explosive combo. Main concern was lack of good directional shear for tornadoes, but some forecast models, most noteably the NAM developed a secondary area of low pressure allowing for ample turning. This was quite alarming to see as forecast tornado indecies were off the charts in local turf. A chase was warranted.  SPC rightfuly went with a MDT risk, with higher tornado probs conentrated where storms were expected to initiate and had the best chance of remaining discrete, transitioning into a widespread damaging wind threat further east. The big question of the day is would a potential early morning squall line wreck the chances at a higher tornado threat?


Detailed Account:

Today held some potential, and I was eager to get out and do some home turf chasing. I left home in the morning to get into position, and about 2 hours into my drive I realized I left my video camera at home. How do I even allow myself to do that? I scrambled to calculate if I had the extra funds to buy a cheap camera at a local Best Buy, and was prepared to do so. At the very least I could use it as a dash cam later, something I’ve been meaning to do anyways. Instead, Jonathan Williamson agreed to loan me his for the day, since he is more of a still shot guy as opposed to video. I met him along with Alan Detrich at my usual Iowa 80 truck stop, and we milled about for a bit. An intense line of storms was already ongoing to our west charging directly for us. The storms already being linear in nature likely meant the tornado threat would be low, but the forecast called for an extreme damaging wind event. We let the storms approach, and then made a move to get a view of whatever shelf cloud the line mine have with it.

We decided to play the southern end of the line which looked like it had some semi-discrete development ahead of it, but everything wound of congealing along the way. We advnaced west towards the tiny town of Conesville, which had some suprisingly rough terrain for Iowa thanks to a river valley. We found a good view to pull over and let the shelf approach us. As far as shelfs go it wasn’t overly photogenic, as the air was loaded with moisture, giving everything a hazy look, like when you step out of a hot shower. Allan snapped a neat panorama with his phone of Jon and I watching the shelf approach.

Me, still learning my new DSLR, attempted my first pano shelf shot, it turned out well despite the shelf being sub-par photogenic wise. Click to enlarge

Iowa shelf 2

A concerned farmer came to ask us if his crop was going to get destroyed, but I explained the storm was probably more bark than bite. Sure enough it rolled over us with barely 40mph winds and some cold outflow and only pea size hail. Overall it was pretty uneventful. As it passed, a nice looking whales mouth came into view on the back side, this provided another photo op at least.


There was some new development to the south so we made a brief run at that, but it would soon suffer the same fate. It appeared a large linear complex was now going to march east and become the main show, and that our chase was largely over so I called it and decided to try and beat the line home, so I could at least document it in my backyard. Attempting to get ahead of the line was a real challegne, and I found myself driving in blinding rains for nearly 3 hours all the way back into central Illinois when I was finally able to break free. I played cat and mouse with the line a few times along I-80 as I approached home. The air outside was gross, as dewpoints were in the upper 70s. The storms reflected this environment and were very hazy from a distance and hard to see until they were basically on you.

North of Morris, IL now. The storm had some cool scuddy lowerings, but was still barely severe as it overtook me.



I decided at this point it probably wasn’t worth trying to race it home, and just let it overtake me and took my time. I arrived home around 8pm and began to unwind from the day. I was uploading photos and looking at video, totally unaware that a second, more intense line of storms had formed behind this one and was making a B-line straight for the area. It wasn’t until I saw someone post about it on facebook that I realized THIS was the main show, and the line I had spent all day cat and mousing was just leftover junk that was only able to barely maintain life thanks to the ridiculous dewpoints adding fuel.

I started to notice embedded areas of rotation within the line, and even hook echos on radar. This line was packing a major punch, and would end up spinning more than half a dozen QLCS tornadoes across the Chicagoland area. The line overtook my neighborhood with tremendous force, killing all power, sending tree limbs down, and swapping lawn furniture between various houses. I attempted to film the onslaught through my window, but a northward facing window never works out well with an east racing squall line. Once the line passed, an incredible display of anvil crawlers shot across the sky for hours. I attempted to get a shot I always wanted of multiple steaks over my house, but my settings were off and most of them came out over exposed and unsalvageable. I did manage this one though, so at least I learned a lesson in shooting this type of lightning, and will make another attempt in the future.
House AC


This was a day I could have stayed home and got better storm action as opposed to driving 4 hours west, but I would always rather try and have things not pan out than sit at home and miss something great. The second round of storms really was intense, and though I have little documentation of the storms themselves, it was without a doubt the most significant severe storm event to hit the Chicago area in 2014. I can safely say that because it is now November 18th and I am FINALLY getting around to writing this log. The NWS classified each line as 2 seprate derecho events, and for them to occur only hours apart is pretty impressive in itself. The worst of the damage missed my neighborhood directly, but many areas weren’t as fortunate. Although the chase didn’t live up to expectations, the overal forecast of this being a high end event certainly did.
NWS derecho

MAP. Click for full.

6 30 14 map

SPC Reports:

SPC Storm Repoprts


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