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  • Andrew Pritchard

June 9th, 2020 | Tropical Depression Cristobal in Illinois

The remnants of Tropical Depression Cristobal made their way up the Mississippi River and into portions of the Midwest on Tuesday, June 9th. High-resolution model guidance waffled back and forth in the days leading up, dancing back and forth between several rounds of potentially tornadic mini-supercells and windy rain showers. Before heading to bed on Monday, I'd honed in on two corridors - a potential morning round of rotating storms in the outer bands of Cristobal's circulation during the late morning and early afternoon hours, "lunch tornadoes" they were deemed, and then a potentially larger second round during the evening assuming the airmass recovered after early-day convection - "dinner tornadoes".

I had trouble sleeping the night before and eventually crawled out of bed around 3:45 AM to start knocking out my ag-weather forecast content for my work at Nutrien. As the sun began to creep toward the horizon shortly before 5 AM, the underbelly of Cristobal's leading cloud deck turned a fiery red and pink. I took my coffee outside and enjoy the spectacle with Henry (the dog). As the sun continued to rise, the boundary layer began to decouple and Cristobal's winds began to slowly hit the tree-tops in Urbana. I ventured back indoors and resumed my morning work so that I could transition into fun mode asap.

Colin Davis made his way to my driveway in Urbana around 10 AM, and I began the slow process of loading my gear into his car. We'd discussed the idea of either riding together (for the first time in 2020!) or just caravaning in our separate vehicles and communicating via HAM radio. Given that the target area seemed to revolve around the Champaign-Urbana area and surrounding portions of east-central Illinois, it seemed silly to double up on vehicles.

We left the driveway a little before 10:30 and quickly realized we had nowhere to go at the moment as the atmosphere was still priming across the area. We quickly decided it'd be a perfectly good idea to just stop at my favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant, Huaraches Moroleone. We could grab an early lunch on their patio and keep an eye on the first little cells that were lifting northward right at us.

After eating, we made our way back into the vehicle and started heading south out of Urbana. Once we got out into the open, we were greeted by streaks of brown dirt on the horizon, being lifted by Cristobal's strong surface winds. This amazed me, given the area had received between 3 to 6 inches of rainfall from slow-moving thunderstorms the week prior. This was saturated soil being blown airborne.

We took in the dust storm for a while there south of Champaign-Urbana, before making our way east and then north of town keeping up with pulsing storms in the leading bands. We flirted with the idea of blasting into Indiana but continued to attempt to keep up with storms racing northward into northeast Illinois. It quickly became apparent that we were fighting a losing battle with storm speeds and the environment. A defeated feeling quickly settles in as you're staring at rather mediocre storms that are getting even further away on the horizon. It's like, if this storm doesn't even look decent, why am I keeping the pedal to the ground trying to keep up? Especially when we've got a potentially bigger round 2 waiting for the evening.

We got back to Champaign-Urbana via I-57 around 2 PM, again realizing we had nowhere to be for a few hours now as the atmosphere recovered. If this second round was going to materialize, it likely wouldn't be until at least 5 or 6 PM, and should in theory be pretty darned close to Champaign-Urbana once again. Colin and I made our way back to my house and decided t just have a cold beverage in the backyard and wait it out. The wife, kiddo, and dog all joined the backyard party at times, and we were later joined by Jeff Frame, fellow Urbana resident and Professor of Atmos Sciences at UIUC and my brother, Wil who was also hoping to capture some stormy scenes that evening.

It was as things began to feel perhaps a little hopeless in our immediate area and I let my guard down and went inside to spend a little time with the kiddo while she ate dinner that I looked outside and saw Colin, Jeff, and Wil all craning their necks and looking at something going up over my house. "That's probably a good sign" - I thought. I didn't realize just how good it was looking and dragged my feet a little getting back outside, only to realize the tell-tale signs of a cluster of mini-supercells were presenting themselves right overhead.

We piled back into our vehicles, and the parade exited my driveway. We were initially split up while trying to exit Urbana, but Colin and I made our way east of town with one storm erupting to our northwest, and another to the southwest.

From here, I'll spare you all the dirty details. Capping and excessive wind shear really kept things evening round from getting off the ground. Every single updraft, it seemed, would take on supercell characteristics at inception and get our hopes up, only to have the updraft sheared off and the storm shortly thereafter evaporated.

One literal rain shower produced a photogenic, tall tornado, near Gilman to our dismay.

We kept after it until dark, hoping that one of our updrafts would find a way to sustain itself long enough to tap into the incredible low-level wind shear and squeeze out a brief tornado. Alas, while we did photograph several gorgeous updrafts, the "dinner tornado" event never materialized in full.

We watched one final flying saucer updraft over Potomac, IL as the last of the daylight faded away before the parade of vehicles began making their way home. Colin and I swung through downtown Champaign for some curbside pickup and ventured back to the backyard for a late dinner before he hit the road and I hit my bed.

No tornadoes, and no real sustained supercells, but still a fascinating and stimulating weather day in central Illinois. Blowing dust and photogenic updrafts still produced plenty of fun scenes, I think I'd just prefer a more conventional tornado and supercell threat during this, the peak season.

It feels like the heart of the season is slowly slipping away before it ever really got started. I've had some fun late June and July days in the Midwest, so until then perhaps.


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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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