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  • Andrew Pritchard

Downtown Urbana Turbulence

It’s been a rough spring, again. It’s hard to describe to “normal” people the void that I have been feeling in my life as the last couple of storm-less springs have begun to take their toll on me, but it’s a pretty sad feeling. In what has been a relatively quiet period of late anyway, it has seemed that the only active weather days come on the one or two days during the week that I cannot get away, and the days I sit idly at home waiting on the sky to say hello, she stays quiet.

I spent Sunday night lying in bed, watching our bedroom light up with the constant flickering of lightning from distant thunderstorms. I rolled over and checked radar several times on my phone, watching the storms to the north back-building, but never really getting any closer. Typically, even distant lightning storms during the summer peak my interest and get me out the door, but this really didn’t have the feel. I eventually couldn’t take the strobing of the walls any longer, grabbed my glasses and threw on some shoes and walked out the door. I walked downtown to where I would have a decent few of the storms to the north, just to confirm that they were indeed not worth my time.

A boundary of cold outflow air had surged ahead of the storms long ago, and just as I had suspected was blocking any chance I had at viewing any actual bolts of lightning, or anything photogenic at all. I walked back home, laid back down, and the storms died a quick death.

Monday seemed to be more of the same. Monday’s are typically my down day during the week. I had a wonderful morning with Sophie, walking to a downtown cafe and grabbing some coffees, exploring our new neighborhood and enjoying the warm breeze. Thunderstorms were again in the forecast, but I kept my hopes at bay. The entire day passed, with nothing more than warm sticky air and harmless cumulus. Thunderstorms did eventually develop during the afternoon near the Mississippi River, off to the west, and began slowly moving our direction. The overall setup was not conducive to this cluster of storms living very long, neither to that magic hour of twilight that I love photographing lightning, or making it into central Illinois at all.

Colin Davis confirmed around sunset, with the storms still 3 hours away from reaching me that they were a grungy mess. Shortly after however, that outflow boundary, often signaling the demise of the thunderstorm complex began surging ahead. Typically this would begin bumming me out, but with my hopes as low as they were this was actually a decent thing. The sun had already set, and lightning was almost non-existent at this point. Generally, the outflow boundary of a dying thunderstorm complex can still exhibit photogenic cloud structure, with banding and turbulent skies which I had hoped would be something to see as they were illuminated by the city lights of Champaign-Urbana. Again, I laid in bed watching radar updates on my phone while reading. I texted another weather starved friend, Paul Hadfield of the Decatur area, just a short 30 miles to my west if the outflow boundary was at all photogenic and worth heading out for. He confirmed that it was indeed a decent photo op, and I decided to make what I could out of the lame opportunity that I had been given. I wasn’t up for going far, so I thought of what I could do locally.

The downtown Urbana area I thought might be pretty photogenic, and would be within walking distance. I again threw on some shoes, grabbed my camera, and went for a little walk. I stopped just across the Champaign County Courthouse, and began shooting. I actually set up my timer and shot interval photos to eventually make a time lapse of the shelf cloud passing overhead, but for now have just chosen a couple of photos from the bunch to share. It was certainly worth the trip.

I will continue to hope for the best, that late spring and early summer will give me another chance to play with the sky, but will continue to do the best with what I get.

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SKYDRAMA | Meteorologist & Atmospheric Photographer Andrew Pritchard

I'm a meteorologist born and raised in the American Midwest passionate about forecasting and observing severe storms.

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