It isn't often that you work a full day, come home and have dinner with your family, and then drive ten minutes and see a strong tornado, but that's exactly the scenario I was treated to this Friday evening.
The tornado threat became apparent around lunch time. A mesolow was traveling across portions of central Illinois, with instability building along and south of a warm front which happened to be draped right over the Champaign-Urbana area. I shot Sophie a message during the afternoon about the potential that I may head straight out after work.
As the day progressed the threat became a little bit less obvious as I wasn't positive we'd see enough instability for a tornado producing thunderstorm to sustain itself this far north. Other supercells were in progress further south along Interstate 70, but low level shear wasn't of the tornado producing type down there and I wasn't feeling a frustrating drive down there.
5:00 hit, and there was only one storm that had my eye and it was heading right toward the Champaign area. A storm near Decatur was showing off and on weak rotation, but not enough to warrant my heading out just yet. Especially with it heading straight toward me. I left the office, bought some food for our cockatiel, and headed home. Sophie had dinner ready so we sat down and ate while I talked about "this one little storm I've got my eye on".
No sooner than we had cleared the table and went onto the back porch for some ice cream and storm viewing as the Decatur storm cluster moved in, did the weather radio tone for a Tornado Warning on the cell. The tornado would miss Urbana, but not by much. I threw my shoes on (without even tying them) and jumped in the car, not even remembering that my camera gear wasn't in there.
I hopped on Highway 130 south out of Urbana and planned to intercept near Philo, which was a little shy of10 miles away. The core was more tropical than anything - heavy rain but not even much thunder, let alone gusty winds or hail that you'd typically associated with driving through the core of a potentially tornadic thunderstorm.
Passing through Philo, the base finally appeared. It immediately had "that look". I pulled off onto a small farm road and began following the wall cloud east as the storm headed over some of my favorite backroads for taking photos. There is something surreal about watching a storm prepare to produce a tornado over the same roads that you've been playing around on since you got your drivers license.
I'm going to let the video talk from here. It was only about 10 minutes from my intercepting the storm before it began producing a tornado.