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  • Andrew Pritchard

September 29th 2019 | Champaign County, IL Flying Saucer Supercell

I almost botched this day by flinching after an early supercell near Peoria, IL. The storm had prompted tornado warnings and was continuing to march down Interstate 74 in the direction of my home in Champaign-Urbana. I'd expected storms to eventually fire closer to home, but once it got to the point where I was doing the math and realizing that if I left now I'd be looking at the storm in 45 minutes or so, an hour at the most. It just feels weird knowing you could be looking at a tornado warned supercell in 45 minutes and not moving, so away I went.

I did end up actually spending a few minutes on this storm, too. Well, I should jump backward a second. As I'm driving down 74, eyes on the storm ahead of me which was now producing a tornado near Emden, IL that my usual chase partner Colin Davis saw. But to my left, there's this rock hard updraft going up. This would be about 30 miles west of Champaign-Urbana, and should it develop into a sustained storm, would track right toward home. I kept wanting to just call it off and break free for that new updraft, but stuck with the original I-74 storm long enough to actually get a view of its base.

I wasn't there long though. The storm was spitting out plenty of lightning, which was stimulating enough, but the base was clearly benign and not looking like it was in any shape to produce further tornadoes. Not without some work. With that being the case, and this new storm exploding and moving toward home my decision was obvious. Even though I'd just arrived on this storm I'd been targeting for only a couple of minutes, I quickly plotted a course for this new cell which was currently over Seymour, IL and away I went.

I came in behind the storm on Highway 10 near Bondville, IL. The trees in town had been shredded by hail. Initially coming in behind the storm was a bit nerve wracking as it did exhibit some broad rotation in a low hanging wall cloud, just west of Champaign-Urbana.

Knowing the roads around my hometown helped, as I was quickly able to leapfrog the storm around C-U and get out ahead of on Hwy 130 east of Urbana. That's when the structure started. Initially it presented a look that convinced me to let the wife know that I'd be home later than expected because this storm was going to be worth following until it decayed after dark. But after another 10-15 minutes as I approached St. Joseph and Ogden in eastern Champaign County roughly along Hwy 150/I-74 the structure went to a level I'd never seen near my home. An absolute flying saucer.

The tornado potential continued to seem pretty low as it never really got cranking in any sort of condensed fashion in the low levels, but incredible visual structure persisted until I let it go in Vermilion County.

Why let it go? A second storm was moving in behind me, passing south of Champaign-Urbana. I could see the updraft also exhibiting fantastic structure with the setting sun behind it. The storm was spitting out frequent visible lightning bolts as well - how could I not?

I set up the tripod and photographed the storm moving over Philo, IL.

Radar at 5:41 PM CT as I come in behind the Champaign County supercell:

Cascading hail core on the back side of the storm, traveling east down Hwy 10:

Getting ahead of the storm now on Hwy 130 east of Urbana:

Unbelievable structure now near St. Joseph/Ogden:

First view of the final storm, near Philo:

Lightning display:

Lightning bolt missed this shot, but helped illuminate the stunning structure this final storm also displayed:

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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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