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  • Andrew Pritchard

A Surreal Snowy World With No Horizon

A compact little storm system that was forecast to deliver 1" to 2" of new snow to much of central Illinois on Saturday night overachieved and dropped 6"+ over a small portion of the I-72 corridor between Champaign and Springfield. The wife and I spent the first part of our Sunday running errands and tackling post-holiday projects. Even though it was Sunday, I had a little work to do in the afternoon, and then figured I'd just check out for the evening with a cold beer and some televised sports.

My storm chasing partner and best friend Colin Davis was already out shooting the wintry scenes and gave me a nudge out the door. Colin is a winter scrooge, and if he's having fun, I won't hate it.

I grabbed the camera gear and headed out the door. The sun was going to hit the horizon in an hour, and we were socked in with clouds in Champaign-Urbana. Checking visible satellite before heading out the door I noted a sharp end to the cloud deck about 30 miles away. I could totally make that. I didn't plot a course toward anything in specific - instead just hopping onto the grid road network of rural central Illinois and zig-zagged my way southwest. Passing through the town of Sadorus, which was hit by an F4 tornado in 1976 always brings the vibes.

As I passed through the town of Ivesdale I noted a sliver of orange on the horizon. There was my clearing! I had about 20 minutes until the sun would set and felt good about my chances. This could be epic if I make it, I thought.

Approaching Hwy 105 south of Bement, IL the sun finally cleared the clouds, and the show began. I snapped a few photos of the broken cumulus clouds, the fluffy snowpack, and the sun peaking through.

As the sun sank toward the horizon, I noticed something else on the horizon. To my west it appeared a low, ground-hugging fog bank was moving in.

I drove another mile or two west across Hwy 105 and arrived on an entirely different planet.

The layer of dense fog was only 20 feet tall, but obscured the horizon in every direction. As I stood there in the middle of an empty farm field, I felt like I was alone on the top of a mountain peak.

I'm a warm season guy, my passion for meteorology was born out of the thunderstorms of the spring and summer - but I don't hate winter. At my core, I just love a good sensory weather experience.

Chasing light and foregrounds, driving around on the backroads alone in The Cloud Mobile, it scratched that itch.

Turn left or right, but there is no Earth ahead.

Even as darkness settled in I stopped several times along my leisurely drive home, just totally in love with the scene around me.

Throw in a "fogbow" in the headlights for good measure.

Also, expected, but interesting to note how much colder it was over the thicker snowpack to the southwest vs the partial ground covering here in Champaign-Urbana. The temperature rose 10 degrees F over about a 25 mile distance after dark, when the temperature would have otherwise been falling. The temperature in the Bement area where I shot most of the photos bottomed out at 17 degrees F. My car thermometer read 27 degrees F when I returned to the outer limits of Urbana.

What a winter treat!


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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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