June 7 2008 Chicago Tornado Crosses I-57

Mar 05, 2012


After a high risk bust 2 days ago in Nebraska I was in need of something to make up for it and boy did I ever get it.
An un-planned, last minute local chase will probably be number 1 for the year and likely remain a top chase for my entire life. Amazing how things pan out in this game. Quickly left my house after a lone tornadic supercell heading into Will County which I like to call “the tornado alley of northern Illinois.” Core punched the storm with some penny hail, saw INCREDIBLE STRUCTURE I never imagined I would see so close to home and then filmed a rather intense tornado as it crossed I 57 around mile marker 335. Got stuck in traffic due to the damage and the chase was off but what a chase it was!


Tornadoes: 1

Largest hail: Penny [ .75″ estimated.]

Highest wind: RFD winds around 55mph [estimated.]

Other features: Amazing mesocyclone complete with “stacked dinner plate” striations.

Lesson learned: Its very easy to loose composure and drop a few F-bombs when so close to a large tornado. Stay cool, focused and shut up. Always have the NWS phone number ready so you don’t have to call 911 instead.

Detailed account:

I had oral surgery that morning and spent all day spitting up blood wishing I could be out chasing in Iowa. Low and behold, conditions in IL began to favor severe weather. Watches were issued and so were warnings. I was skeptical at first but after some quick glances at local surface obs I realized a sharp warm frontal boundary was sitting just to my south that locally backed the winds with an already tornadic supercell racing towards it. Reported tornadoes already, 2.5″ hail on GR3 and a cell heading into better environment finally convinced me to grab a cup to spit blood in along with some of my gear and bolt out the door.


I knew I had to quickly get to I-57 if I wanted any hopes of catching this thing. I took the fastest way I know of to 294 then 80W to I-57. Luckily for me traffic was good. City expressways are horrendous during chase conditions!


The storm had classic supercellular shape to it on radar. A large [though somewhat elongated] core and a nice hook echo feature. I was drooling just looking at it. I finally got up to the core just south of rt 30 and I-57. I knew tornadoes had been reported, and core punching is a very dangerous interception tactic, but I felt confident enough given my position, storm speed and motion.

Sure enough I emerged from the core to see this:

Now that is the mother ship of all striated mesos, absolutely incredible structure! I never thought I’d see something like this on my home turf, but alas, there it was. I knew this storm was a true monster at this point and meant business.


Another still a few moments later.

If you ever see something like this while driving, its probably not a good idea to proceed.
Video; It begins after I emerge from the core, which consisted of blinding rains and about 5 seconds of hail.
At the end of the video you may have noticed a clearing. That is the next sign of impending doom. A clear slot is often a precursor to a tornadoes formation as the RFD cuts away the clouds allowing sunlight to pierce through.
At this point I know I’m in the danger zone and my sense of awareness went up quickly. I look out my passenger window and back a little to sure enough see a rope funnel, which may have been the rope out of another tornado or a new one forming. Either way I knew I had to go a bit more south to be out of harms way. I knew the storm motion was NE so I didn’t have to go far, but given all the trees I wanted to find a clearing. I found one soon after and jumped out only to see this!
Amazing! This tornado formed so fast and I had gotten into perfect position to safely get awesome video. In this second clip you can see powerflashes. I’ve seen plenty of these but they were always those “what is it” type situations. This time I knew for sure.

You can actually see the tornado transition into two different stages. It begins as a violent cone and then transitions into a very large multi vortex which to some people makes it look like its not on the ground. The tornado hasn’t lifted yet, it is now much larger, just kicking up less dust making it harder to see and even more dangerous! You can actually see people pulled over start driving towards it.

Here are some stills:

You can see the powerflash here.

Large stovepipe!

Now in a multi vortex stage, notice how there seems to be at least 3 funnels. These are all separate vorticies within the main circulation, thus the term “multi vortex tornado.”

After the tornado moved on my thoughts quickly turned to getting back on the chase. I went south on 57 to the next exit so I could do a loop around to go back north and then east. Once I got onto northbound lanes I got trapped in the expressway shutdown due to all the damage. I was stuck and couldn’t go anywhere. People shut off their vehicles, came out to take pics and talk about it. Allot of them were spotters, but just as many were totally oblivious people who didn’t believe it was a tornado until I showed them my video.


Some damage shots.


Rolled semi, I’m happy to report the driver was not seriously injured.

Flipped SUV along with all the curious people who want to know why their commute has been put to a halt.

Scarred trees I’m used to seeing in Kansas, along with destroyed buildings behind them.

Lighter tree damage, I think this was during the tornadoes transition period.

Large warehouse/factory that sustained heavy damage:

After about an hour being stuck on 57 they finally let us through. Tornadoes were still being reported in Indiana, but there was no hope in catching it now. I headed for home to meet up with my chaser pals who were curious to see what I had captured.


For my many friends and family in the Chicago area: I say all the time these types of things can happen around here. This is a screen shot of all the tornado reports from my radar at home, and just how close they were to some of the places around here. A slight shift north in this storms track and it could have been much worse for allot of people. When watches and warnings are issued, its IMPORTANT YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.

Here is a radar screen-cap as the tornado crossed I-57 as I was filming it. Very nice looking supercell for this part of the country!

Google map. This will probably be my shortest chase ever!

SPC storm reports for the day, look at all those reports in northern IL all in a straight line. This storm dropped tornadoes for quite some time!

And so ends chase 13 for 2008. One that will be hard to beat. My first tornado in my home state. A day I will never forget and a reminder that although lake Michigan can kill our storms sometimes, it doesn’t always protect us like the urban legend says.

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