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ChaseJournal / 2010-04-07

2010-04-07
West-central Indiana & East-central Illinois

Chase Map
Day 1 Outlook 06Z

Chase? Where?

Until the SPC issued the 06Z Day 1 Outlook, I was unsure if we would even attempt to chase; because earlier outlooks kept everything west and north of Indiana. The 06Z outlook (shown at right) gave me hope however, putting Indiana squarely in the Slight Risk area, with a 5% tornado risk, a 15% high wind risk, and a 30% hail risk covering the southern half of Indiana. So, a little after 2am that Wednesday, I went to bed planning to chase after a few hours sleep.

Once I awoke, I checked the SPC outlook again, checked the forecast discussions at IWX and IND, loaded the latest RUCs from IWX into BUFKIT and checked all the profiles throughout IN, IL, and OH. Nothing was real promising, but KHUF (Terre Haute) stood out as the most promising of the lot. I did a little analysis on a raw surface map and noticed a tongue of moisture SW-NE across Indiana, with the south-western edge at about Terre Haute, and the tip of the tongue near Toledo, OH.

By now, Josh was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get on the road. I decided to aim for Terre Haute, and we finally pulled out of the driveway at 11:21am (EDT).

On the road

It was mostly cloudy and cool as we headed south on I-69; there were a few sprinkles around. I decided to avoid Indianapolis and turned off I-69 at IN 26 to cut straight across to Lafayette, planning to drop south from there toward Terre Haute. Occasionally, the sun peaked through the stratocumulus, but surface temps never got above the upper 60s (in other words, it wasn't looking promising). Using Josh's iPhone, we kept tabs on radar and satellite; a few cells were beginning to pop up in east-central Illinois. I decided to avoid Lafayette, and dropped south on US 31, and then west on IN 47 toward Crawfordsville, IN.

Tornado Watch 61

Tornado Watch 61

We arrived in Crawfordsville a little before 3pm, and I headed for a motel parking lot where I could get free wireless internet access for my laptop. I was encouraged to see a Tornado Watch had recently been issued for the area we had targeted. There was a line of thunderstorms beginning to form along the western edge of that watch area; I decided to head into Illinois to meet them … after eating a quick lunch at Burger King.

We headed west on I-74 and arrived on the eastern edge of Champaign about 4:20 (EDT, 3:20 local time) and tried to find another motel parking lot where we could hook up wirelessly. We tried a few before finally finding a strong enough (non-password protected) signal. The northeastern edge of the line of thunderstorms was upon us; I stuck my Windtronics anemometer out the window as the rain, wind, and lightning engulfed us, measuring a max speed of 34mph before realizing I was getting quite wet. Josh suggested I let him stick the anemometer out the window the next time the wind is coming from my side of the truck.

The most intense part of the line of thunderstorms was around Effingham, heading straight up I-70 toward Terre Haute (in the tornado watch radar image from a couple hours earlier, that line was in the St. Louis area). I wanted to go through that line of storms (hoping for high winds and hail) and then follow them as they continued marching east-northeastward. I hoped it would clear out quickly behind that line so we would have a good view of their structure, and maybe get some impressive photographs of sunset-tinted Cb. So, we headed back east on I-47 and then dropped south on US 150 at Danville, headed for Paris.

Paris

We continued to drive in and out of fairly heavy rain showers, with occasional lightning, as we headed south. Two or three miles north of the northern edge of Paris, I noticed a possible wall cloud forming off to our west, so I turned on the next road to have a better look. We drove 1.6 miles west on 1400 N and pulled off at a short grain silo. There were no trees nearby, and the fields hadn't been planted yet; we had a clear view in all directions of the extremely flat Illinois plains; and it wasn't raining there. The wall cloud was just west of northwest of us, probably a mile or two away. The wall cloud dissipated after a few minutes, and then tried to form up again but disappeared into the rain. The enhanced photo below shows the wall cloud at its best.

Wall cloud near Paris IL

We hung out there for 16 minutes and watched the rain and lightning rolling by to our north. Using only my ninja-like reflexes, I captured the last moments of a lightning flash, faintly visible in the enhanced photo below.

Lightning near Paris IL

We got back on the road and drove through Paris. The town was bigger than we thought; only a couple of businesses had an Eiffel Tower on their sign. A little bit east of Paris we had our first, and only, clear view of some Cb; and those were only feeder clouds. I pulled off onto a little side road to take a few photos; below is an enhanced one.

Clouds near Paris IL

I really need to take random pictures more often, like the Welcome to Paris sign, and such. I should let Josh drive so I can concentrate more on the weather, navigation, and photography.

Cats and Dogs

We continued on US 150 toward Terre Haute. I tried to take a shortcut through the countryside straight south to I-70; but was thwarted by 1) not seeing the desired road show up on my GPS, and 2) a "Bridge Out" sign on the road I did take. I wound up only avoiding New Goshen IN, joining back up with US 150 just north of Coal Creek. We continued down into West Terre Haute, then briefly east on US 40 to Darwin Rd, where we dropped south a mile to get onto I-70. We drove east, through the south side of Terre Haute just keeping ahead of the most intense part of the line of thunderstorms that had marched across Illinois. I decided to take IN 46 south (toward Bloomington) to intercept the most intense cell in the area; continuing south on IN 159 where IN 46 turns east (just west of Riley). We encountered INTENSE downpours, but no significant wind and no hail; there wasn't much lightning either. I figured we had gone far enough south to have gotten through the storm's core, so I turned east on E Oregon Church Rd, then back north at the next left (S Daniel St or S 82nd St). After a couple of miles, I headed back east on E Dallas Dr (E 87th Dr). These roads were often narrow and mostly very poorly maintained, filled with large potholes flooded by the recent (and recurring) downpours. After what seemed like an eternity (about 7.25 miles), we turned north on S 250 W, east on W 100S, north on S 200W to get back onto IN 46. I was SO glad to be back on a civilized road! We drove east a couple of miles to IN 59, and stopped at the gas station / sandwich shop there (in the midst of another downpour).

22:20 radarThe narrow line of thunderstorms had suddenly smeared out once it hit the Indiana border, leaving light to moderate showers in its wake (the image at right shows the regional radar at 10:20pm EDT). We never could get on the back side of that line, as the back side stayed nearly stationary, to our west, for the rest of our trip.

Frequent Lightning

After relaxing a few minutes to shake off the angst from driving the "farmer Bob" roads, we headed north on IN 59 as dusk settled. We were in mostly light rain from this point on. In Brazil, we turned east onto US 40 hoping to find a place to eat; but not wanting fast food, hoping to find a local restaurant. We found nothing and continued east on US 40 toward Indianapolis.

The storm east of us was almost constantly lit up by lightning, and quite often we would "oo" and "ah" at the more extended and tortuous lightning bolts. Just after cresting a small ridge, we were jolted by a sudden slowdown and the deafening roar of water spraying out from under the truck. With the ridge, the darkness, the light rain, I never saw the 20 foot wide stream of water across the road until we were skimming across it at 60mph. We were across it in a second or two; but it seemed much longer. We continued on, but the engine was running a little rough and the Check Engine light started flickering. A short while later, the Check Engine light came full on and stayed on. As we were going through the construction in downtown Plainfield (where both directions of traffic were squeezed onto the westbound side of US 40), I would have to put the truck in neutral and rev the engine at stoplights to keep it from dying. We sputtered on 'til we came to the Applebee's at Perry Rd.

Tornado Warning

Moments after we sat down at our booth, I checked the radar (using the Weather Underground's iPhone-specific website http://i.wund.com) and noticed a Tornado Warning had just been issued on the northeastern side of Indianapolis in the vicinity of I-69 & I-465. Sigh. Of course it was too dark and too populated/congested an area for us to be chasing tornadoes, plus it was on the opposite side of Indy from us. And we were pretty well worn out, between the "farmer Bob" roads, skimming across a river on US 40, and trying to keep the engine from dying.

The storm with the copious lightning we had been watching was the one which prompted the Tornado Warning. The warning was based on radar; no tornado (or damage) was observed in that area.

We also later found out several mobile homes were blown off their foundations by a microburst at about the same time … less than 10 miles from home (in New Haven IN).

Awesome Lightning

After eating, we took Perry Rd south from Applebee's and wound our way over to the Ronald Reagan Parkway / I-70 interchange. Since it was after 10pm (so traffic wasn't a factor), we took I-70 through downtown Indy to join up with I-465 on the east side of town. Along the way, and especially after we got on I-69 headed to Fort Wayne, we would occasionally be treated with some of the most awesome lightning displays I remember. One particular display stretched nearly from horizon to horizon through the cloud tops and sent three separate bolts to the ground at the same time. If it hadn't continued raining, I might have pulled over to try to capture one of these in a photograph. I guess I need to buy a Storm Jacket for my camera!

Despite the Check Engine light and engine roughness, we made it home without incident. Two days later, the Check Engine light finally went off; so I guess the engine just got water where water wasn't supposed to go … and it took a full day of dry weather to clear it out.

Lessons Learned

  1. Get a Storm Jacket for my camera.
  2. Get a portable weather radio.
  3. Keep a packed overnight bag (toiletries at least) in case I chase too late too far from home.
  4. Create an iPhone-specific website (iwx.awcolley.com), some of the pages on my Chase Center here take too long to load.
  5. Get the Atlas & Gazetteer for more states (especially IL). Within Chase Country, I already have IN, MI, OH, and CO.
  6. Let Josh drive when he comes along.
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