Chased early season setup intercepting several tornado/severe warned line segments noting areas of rotation and a few funnels but could never confirm any tornadoes.
Wind: < 58mph
Strong, seasonal speed shear as a deep trough plowed into the midwest coupled with record warmth as far north as Chicago. Lack of instability was a concern, as well as only moderate low level directional shear. A squall line was to develop over parts of eastern Kansas/Oklahoma/Texas and move eastward into the midwest bringing mostly a potential for damaging winds and a few isolated tornadoes. A larger outbreak was forecast for the south, but it was supposed to be a night time event which I chose to ignore. Original forecast here.
Each year I eagerly await that first setup. Usually in March, sometimes sooner. When this setup first appeared on the GFS nearly 2 weeks away it caught my eye. It seemed like a long shot with such record warmth so far north, but I was optimistic. Amazingly enough the setup never faded away, though had some changes. Experience tells us that such early season high shear/low cape setups often yield little results. However, there have only been just a couple of these setups to happen so far north, and most of them have produced tornadoes. With such a small sample size to go off, and not wanting to miss another potential rare surprise I decided to bite on the local, north end of the setup.
I teamed up with Alec Schoelten and Jonathan Williamson who were also eager to get out. I had my eye set on rough an area from Quincy to Springfield, IL where models did at least show some cape and local wind backing to enhance the meager directional shear. Since it was such an early season chase I was fairly unprepared. My mobile internet is de-activated and my gear hadn’t been used in awhile. I met them up in Mendota, IL where I realized I forgot my power inverter. I also forgot to charge my still camera but luckily the i-phone can serve as a decent back up.
There was some clearing through parts of Illinois which got our hopes up that we would actually develop some instability and we set course for the target area. Storms were already ongoing which was a concern. We got on our first storm near Hanava, IL and noted nothing more than whales mouth and some brief heavy rain.
I installed a panorama app on my cell phone and was eager to test it out. Not bad for a first trial run, but I will have to perfect this before the bulk of the season.
We then debated about whether to follow these storms north or continue south after some tornado/severe warned storms in Missouri. The decision was made to continue south where we intercepted several line segment storms near Jacksonville, IL. Storms seemed to weaken a bit once entering Illinois, likely moving away from the better instability. These storms were pretty linear and never showed much more than a hazy shelf cloud with some heavy rain and very little lightning. After bouncing around on these storms for awhile we were about to call the chase and get some dinner. I looked out the back window and saw some rapidly rising scud that began swirling under the leading edge of one of these storms.
In a matter of about 10 seconds this rising, swirling motion condensed about halfway day down the ground. Alec slammed on the brakes and we jumped out with our cameras, our moods completely changing. In that short amount of time it was already over though, but a new area began doing the same thing almost overhead and it was time to move. The rotation was indeed rapid with several scuddy funnels dipping down, but we could never confirm anything reaching the ground. Radar indicated some inflow notches and areas of rotation. These were likely QLCS tornadoes trying to spin up as the linear storms moved into an area of backed surface flow.
After cat and mousing these storms for another hour darkness was beginning to fall, and we called the chase to get some dinner with Skip Talbot in Springfield as planned. When we got to our exit we noted more areas of really rapid rotation overhead. We pulled over and watched this rapid rotation for about 5 minutes before admitting to ourselves that it if hadn’t done it already, it wasn’t going to. We had dinner at Bdubs and then headed for home.
It was great to get out and dust off the gear as well as give the chase muscles some exercise. I had realistic expectations of the day, thinking at the most we would get some severe winds and maybe small hail. Instead we were dealt some rapid rotation and some real attempts at QLCS tornadoes. Sitting under that rotation really got the blood pumping for the spring season that is soon around the corner. You really can’t ask for a better chase in Illinois in January. Our targeting and positioning was spot on, and if we had just a little more low level CAPE to work with, we could have easily had a tornado during one of those attempts. 2013 is a whole new season, and I am ready!
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