Tornado Tuesday panned out! At the time of this writing there are 34 tornado reports from yesterday (keep in mind some tornadoes were reported more than once, so that’s not necessarily 34 separate tornadoes). For anyone that had been following along, you know that I began forecasting this event several days in advance.
In the morning hours, the SPC seemed to favor the RUC model, which brought back a signigicant cap over the warm sector well into the evening hours. I had a hard time believing this, especially since the NAM had consistently been eroding the cap over the last few days. As it turned out, the cap was not even an issue. In fact, storms fired VERY early, around 19z.
A tornado watch had already been issued before I was able to leave. I met up with Matt B. and had him drive so that I could analyze the data and radar. I decided to take I-74 to I-72 because the storms were forecast to move northeast, and as I learned a few weeks ago, you always want to position in the path of the storms. That way if you need to adjust, the storms are already heading your way. That turned out to be the correct decision as the first cells went up to the northwest of St. Louis. This one ended up producing a tornado in Bowling Green, MO. Unfortunately at that time we were barely into IL!
We ended up getting to this same sell near Greenfield, IL later on along Hwy 267. It was still tornado warned at that time, but the cell to the south had cut off the inflow to the north cell, and it was not tornadic. After stopping for gas and falling behind a bit, we dropped south to Co Rd 18 and headed east to catch back up with it. As we were going east, it did begin to show some rotation again, but catching up would be difficult. At the same time I was watching the cell to the south near the Shipman area. Sure enough it went torando warned, and was showing some rotation. When we got to Hwy 4, I told Matt to stop for a second, thought about it, and said, “go south.” I didn’t think we could catch the storm heading for Girard, and even if we could the area of rotation was about to get completely wrapped in rain. The cell to the south had no other cells to interfere with it, and in one scan it started to form a hook with a long appendage out a distance from the main rain core.
We got through Carlinville and began east on Hwy 108. Judging by my radar, the storm was to our south, heading N/E, so we should be able to catch up to the back side by the time it crossed 108. When we finally came out of the heaviest rain on 108 there was a wall cloud with a huge inflow tail directly in front of us, extending out to the south. We wanted to be traveling faster to the east, but there were several cars in front of us doing about 30 mph.
All of a sudden I see what looks like a debris field on the ground under the wall cloud. I didn’t even believe my own eyes, and I had to wait for a few seconds before I said, “is that debris?” Right after I said that the funnel came down, and there it was, my first tornado! We were a good 5 miles or so behind it, and it was still raining fairly hard at our location, so we didn’t have a great visual to see the details. We continued east as the tornado stayed on the ground for about 5 minutes. The condensation funnel lifted, and with us being closer at this point, we could see the wall cloud rotating VERY rapidly. I’ve seen weak rotation before, and this was nothing even close to that. The tornado was still on the ground despite the lack of a visible funnel. Once we hit I-55, we got into some awful country roads, and were stuck in the core of the developing cell that was behind us. Matt did a great job navigating the bumpy roads while we were getting drilled with heavy rain, small hail, and 50-60 mph sustained winds.
I am so glad that I picked up a laptop and tethered my phone to have radar data while I was out. There is no way I would have caught this tornado without that data. The cell we originally chased also dropped a big tornado in Girard, IL. From other chasers’ accounts, it was visible for a while, but did indeed get completely wrapped in rain. I don’t think we would have made it to that one, anyway. I’m not sure what our tornado will be rated, but judging by some of the close-up videos I’ve seen, it looks pretty violent. My guess is at least EF2, maybe EF3. It did hit some sort of structure, so we should see a rating for it later today or tomorrow.
Driving back was like a 2 hour core punch, as we rode the bottom edge of the bow echo through non-stop heavy rain, small hail, and wind gusts from Effingham, IL to Indy. The wipers were on high the entire time!