March 15th 2016 Warsaw and Trivoli Illinois Tornadoes

Mar 18, 2016


Targeted well to watch storms initiate, witnessing two tornadoes before the chase was over!


Tornadoes: 2
Hail: 1.00″ (Quarter)
Wind: n/a
Milestones: Most tornadoes (3) this early in any season. Most tornado days (2) this early in a season.

The Forecast:

Rapidly deepening low along with beautifully negative tilt, diffluent jet stream moving into Illinois. Forecast CAPE values to be pretty high for March (2000+) Shear profiles beautiful throughout the column. Lapse rates also forecast to be very steep due to typical early season cold system. Quality of low level moisture was the only concern due to system a few days ago cutting off return flow. Some models were forecasting dewpoints into the mid 60s, but mid-upper 50s seemed more likely, which would lead to higher based storms and lower tornado potential. Still, upper 50s would be sufficient, and with everything else in place SPC went enhanced risk with 10% tornado probs.

Detailed Account:

March chasing in Illinois? Something I hope for every year, has been lacking since 2009. The setup didn’t initially impress me when it showed up on the GFS 10 days away, but things trended better and by the time the day rolled around, it was an obvious chase. The target made a dramatic shift the night before, from roughly 90 minutes away to a less favorable western IL chase, but the potential still looked just as potent. The above mentioned moisture issues were really the only negative factor in this setup.

I departed home around 10am, meeting up with Alec Scholten and Nick Batholemew in LaSalle where they jumped into my truck and we were off with a general target around Quincy. It looked like storms were going to initiate in Missouri and Iowa and quickly move into Illinois, so we wanted to be there waiting for them as they matured. Western Illinois is a data hole so we briefly crossed the river into Hannibal, MO to monitor things. It looked like we were in a good spot, but we decided to make a short jog to the Quincy area where we found a frontage road to pull off of and wait. It wasn’t long before a cumulus field went up to our west. One of the best moments in chasing is arriving to see this, the first signs of storm development.

Anticipation runs high when those towers first go up, knowing youre in a good environment for severe weather. Soon after we spotted another good luck sign, a horseshoe vortex. These are a good visual indicator of an environment characterized by lots of shear and lots of ascent. I’ve only spotted them a couple times, and they were always associated with good storm days.

Horseshoe vortex
Soon the cumulus towers grew into storms, as the first lightning strikes discharged in the distance, sending booming thunder overhead. Everything was building up slowly, just the way you want it on a chase day. Especially being in position ahead of time.
Developing Storm

The storms began tracking to our north a bit, and were displaying couplets on radar so we made our move. There were a pair of storms and we decided to head up in between them keeping them both in play. Heading north we could see the rock solid updraft of the eastern storm.
Illinois Storm March 15th 2016

As we moved into position on the storm to our west, the base came into view as kind of shelfy and elongated with no visible areas of rotation. The base was a little higher than I would prefer, given the barely acceptable dewpoint levels (the main problem with today’s setup.)

Approaching Warsaw, we decided to make a jog east but Alec quickly spotted a developing funnel cloud, prompting a swift U-turn to get a view. Sure enough, a slender funnel began descending from what otherwise looked like a shelf-cloud. It was odd, but why complain about technicalities? While we were positioning a vortex streamer condensed on the ground, confirming ground circulation and an ongoing tornado, but away from the funnel cloud we were watching. What the heck is going on here?
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Turns out, there were two funnels, and the one closer to us was the one making ground contact (that we could see)
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It wasn’t the beastliest tornado you can catch, but it was there! We moved to keep up position with the storm and found ourselves skirting the southern edge of the precip core, with almost no visibility. Enduring rain and hail, we kept pushing east. The two storms had begun to merge with the eastern storm taking over. This storm went on to produce a tornado near Good Hope, but we were never able to catch up to see it. We did wind up crossing the tornado’s damage path near the town of Avon, with several large trees down across the road. Luckily I was able to drive over/around them.

Navigating through some towns and a surprising number of slow moving chasers, darkness began fading as we neared the town of Farmington. We thought our day was done and decided to let a new storm run us over with the hail core.

After the storm passed we spotted a nice meso occlusion on the backside as a new couplet began strengthening on radar. We decided to keep east with it, and only a moment later I spotted a stout funnel cloud in between lightning flashes. The funnel quickly condensed to the ground and I pulled over at the first location I could find to watch the ongoing tornado. The location ended up being someone’s backyard I think, I wasn’t sure. We stepped out to catch glimpses of a stout tornado ongoing just to our north. The lightning wasn’t too cooperative and we couldn’t get any nice strikes to light it up for a good video still, but Alec managed one that’s decent enough to at least see it.

We lost sight of the tornado as the rain wrapped around and moved north. After a couple minutes we were unsure if it was still on the ground until I regained visual during a good lightning strike. The tornado was surprisingly close, and took on more a trunk shape now that reminded me of the Pleasanton, NE tornado I documented on June 20th 2011.
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Perhaps a moment too late, it dawned on us to try and pull over to take some still shots with our DSLRs. This is something I need to get better at doing as its often easier to capture a tornado at night this way than trying to pull video stills. I pulled us over at the next available spot and we jumped out to quickly setup. Naturally, as soon as we did this the tornado began lifting, but I managed to capture at least some of the funnel in its last moments.

The mount on my tripod is not that secure and was swiveling in the wind, causing the image to blur. I need to make sure this is fixed for future chases otherwise I would be much more peeved at ruined images. Once the tornado lifted we moved to keep up, catching another suspicious lowering as we entered Peoria. The NWS did later confirm an EF-0 tornado in Peoria, so that could have been what we saw, but there is no way to confirm that. We called the chase and grabbed dinner at a local Perkins. I brought Alec and Nick back to their cars and was home around 1am where I then fell asleep while editing video.


This day pretty much went perfect. From arriving to the target area in time to watch the first towers go up, to tracking the tornadoes in the dark. The Trivoli tornado ended up being rated EF-2 making it the first strong tornado of the year for me. If only we had about 30 more minutes of daylight, that would have been a career tornado, as it lasted over 10 minutes and took on stout structures, but that’s March chasing for ya. 2016 is off to a good start for me, as I’m 2/2. Being able to get out there early and document some good supercells and tornadoes, especially in your home state is a treat. So far so good.


Map. Arrows show locations tornadoes were documented. 
SPC Reports:

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