July 19, 2006 Springfield, IL Chase

by John Farley

I saw what MAY have been a tornado or funnel cloud Wednesday, July 19 while storm-chasing near the north edge of Springfield, IL. Or more like being chased, the way those storms were moving.

I had not initially planned to chase, given that the night before and even that morning it appeared that the best action would be in Minnesota, farther than I wanted to go for a somewhat marginal chance of tornadoes. As the day went on, however, the threat shifted farther and farther south. Around 3:00, it became apparent that the storms were going to get south even of the severe thunderstorm watch that had by then been issued for eastern Iowa and northern IL, already farther south than where it looked earlier like the best action would occur. By then, it was evident that the storms would at least get as far south as Lincoln or Springfield, IL, and that I could intercept them within a couple hours, especially since they were moving in my general direction. Moreover, while the setup in this area was less favorable for supercells than that farther northwest, the radar signatures of these storms suggested that they were as much cellular as linear, and not as outflow dominant as one might expect with what was becoming a rather long-lived MCS. Hence, I headed out hte door around 3:30 with an initial target of intercepting the storms somewhere around Lincoln.

By the time I reached the Springfield area, there were SVR warnings for all of the counties just north of Springfield, with storms expected to reach a line from north of Bloomington to near Jacksonville by 5:00. I was still planning to continue up I-55 to intercept the storms near or a little south of Lincoln, when I heard a TOR warning for Mason Co. for a storm approaching Havana, IL, moving south around 25 mph. Hence, I decided to exit at route 124 at the north edge of Springfield and cut over to route 29 and from there working my way west and north toward Havana, hoping to intercept the storm somewhere S or SE of Havana. Howver, it quickly became evident that the storms were moving south faster than 25 mph, and that not just the tornado warned cell but the whole line now seemed to be moving south, rather than its earlier southeastward motion. This put me in danger of being overrun, but I thought I could still get west on the continuation of route 124 west of 29 and hopefully intercept the storms somewhere to the west-northwest of Springfield. However, my map-reading was not the best, and the road turned north, which quickly took me into the strong winds of the gust front, which was well ahead of the precip area. I crossed the gust front between two cells, one to my NE which was very electrified and another off to the west (the tornado-warned one). In this location the wind did not seem not too bad where I crossed the gust front. However, as soon as I crossed it, I began to notice quite a few trees and large branches that had been blown down. I tried to work west to intercept the TOR-warned cell, occasionally slowing to dodge branches that had been blown onto the road. However, I soon realized I was road-screwed. The road turned to the north, and having neither westward nor southward options, I was forced to back-track, eventually all the way back to 124 and 29.

By the time I was back approaching route 29 on 124 coming from the west, the core of the storm to the northeast had intensified - looked like it had a nice hail shaft - and I ran into the edge of the core just before reaching 29 and turning right to try to get back ahead.

Just as I turned right, the alarm went off on the weather radio to announce a TOR warning for Sangamon Co., with radar "tracking a tornado" 3 miles NW of Sherman. That put it a couple miles north of my location! A minute or two after ILX issued this TOR warning, I noticed a dark column extending toward the ground off to my southeast, probably a mile or two away. It was somewhat diagonal, not straight down, with the top to the SW of the lower end. My location at the time was on route 29 just south of route 124, near the north edge of Springfield. Minutes earlier, spotters had reported a tornado about 3 miles north of where I was, moving southeast. I had just turned south on 29 when the warning came over the weather radio, and I saw the column within a minute or so of hearing the warning. I could only see it for about a minute, and could not tell for sure what it was - looked like it could have been either a cloud lowering or smoke - though it disappeared after about a minute. One reason I could not tell for sure what it was is that I was looking through rain curtains just ahead of me that were surging to the southwest - and also had to concentrate on driving in the lousy conditions. Hence, no photos or video. And no way to see whether or not it was rotating. However, it was along the path of the meso, as the next NWS statement 5-10 minutes later reported rotation indicated by radar a few miles southeast of where I saw the column. This map shows the approximate path of the meso, the locations of the reported tornado, the possible funnel I observed, and the radar-indicated rotation and the wind damage as of the next NWS statement.

At that point I thought I might still be able to get back ahead of the leading edge of the rain, but it didn't happen, as the storm surged south quickly and I got held up by traffic and stop lights. Shortly later, I broke off the chase and found a parking lot to ride out the storm where I would be safe from falling branches, etc. At that location, I got what could pass as hurricane video, except for the frequent lightning. Intense wind and rain that lasted for at least a half hour, with visibility falling to a couple hundred feet or less at times. Here is a video capture:

After the storm finally subsided, I observed lots of branches down all over Springfield, as well as a few trees, and power out in many areas. A lot of emergency vehicle activity, too.

I followed the storm home as it surged south toward the St. Louis area, where it also caused very widespread damage, including measured wind gusts of 84 mph downtown and 92 mph a little north of the metro area. Power was knocked out to as many as 600,000 customers, an all-time record for the St. Louis area, and buildings were unroofed in a number of areas. Heading home, I had no hope of catching up to the storms again, but a good CG show on the way home.

Local Storm Reports from the Lincoln, IL National Weather Service

Local Storm Reports from the St. Louis National Weather Service

Public Information Statement from NWS St. Louis on storm damage survey

John Farley
Edwardsville, IL