February 2nd 2016 | Southern Illinois Mini-Supercells
I tweeted yesterday morning "Shout out to $1.45 gas for bringing back the 'for the hell of it' storm chase."
A potent storm system slammed into the middle portion of the country bringing with it a full spectrum of weather hazards. A blizzard in the north transitioned to significant tornadoes in the Gulf Coast states. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I was hoping a lesser talked about target closer to home would throw me a bone.
The surface low was forecast to position itself over northern Missouri on the afternoon of the 2nd, with a pre-frontal trough pushing into Illinois. Incredible wind shear was in place over southern Illinois, with forecast models differing on how much instability would be present.
I monitored things all morning, initially thinking the target area would stay clouded over and lead to nothing, but then was quickly swayed by the warm front's northward movement and some slight clearing in the clouds over southern Illinois. It appeared temperatures would reach the middle 60s at least, which was good enough to get me out the door. As my tweet eluded to - gas was cheap, and the target was an hour away. I would be some kind of pissed at myself if I sat it out and something did happen. Sometimes it is that thought alone that is enough to get you out the door. The fear of missing out on something always trumps the fear of busting.
I jumped on Interstate 57 south toward the Effingham area. I'd sit there for a moment and monitor things to decide whether it was worth progressing further south toward my actual target of Olney/Flora. I emptied the bladder, bought a lemonade to replenish it, looked around at the fog and cold wind and thought about how dumb it was that I was out there thinking I would see a tornado today, before seeing a couple of cells developing to my south and getting back on the road. Again, fear of missing out > fear of busting.
I came into Flora and immediately the northernmost and closest storm was taking on supercell characteristics. It never once was Tornado or Severe Thunderstorm warned, but did show some weak rotation on radar as I approached it. True to form, the storm quickly weakened once I gained visual.
Never fear - next in line! Another storm was quickly coming up from the south. The terrain down in this area isn't ideal - but this time of year with no crops and no leaves on the trees it really wasn't bad at all. I navigated around a river valley and had visual on this second storm. It immediately died.
That's okay! It's 70 degrees, and I am chasing storms in February. This really was about as gracious a defeat as I'll generally take. There were no tornadoes nearby that I missed by making a bad decision, it simply did not come together, and I can accept that.
I got back on the road and headed up Interstate 57, noting several towering cumulus clouds with the last lights of the sunset hitting their tops. These towers eventually exploded into a pencil thin, but intense line of storms that met me at home in Champaign. I shot lightning photos for a while, before the core of pea-sized hail overtook me ending my night.
Here is a brief video documenting the day:
Radar highlighting my location as the first mini-supercell approaches Flora during the last moments of its life.
My first storm - nice flat base, but nothing going on underneath:
Second storm is dead, time to just enjoy the warm air:
Lightning as I return to Urbana: