May 26, 1996 Chase by Gilbert Sebenste

Chase Summary, 5/27/96: It's Deja Vu All Over Again!

When we saw the surface map from our hotel room in Joplin, MO that morning,
I couldn't believe it. This looked like April 19 all over again. The
dryline was bulging eastward through central Missouri, and it looked like
west central IL would be ground zero for another outbreak of severe
weather. Strong upper level winds as the storm "dry punch" in the upper
levels had pulled on through, leaving most of the "Show Me State" sunny.
Scott Olthoff, Karl Schulze, Ed Mlozik and I were ready for a third try at
this storm system.

We headed east on I-44 at noon from Joplin after a quick breakfast at
Denny's. We arrived in the warm moist air of St. Louis around 4PM. At this
point, it was time to call for some weather information. NIU was closed,
but the College of DuPage folks were there, forecasting for their crew who
were in Waco, playing the southern edge of the dryline.

Anyway, we took I-44 from St. Louis to US 67 north. We decided the best
place to play was right along the warm front, basically along US 36 and
I-72 through central Illinois.

We stopped in Greenfield, IL for an hour and a half, playing basketball
and then stopping to eat at their local ice cream shop, with the weather
radio on "alert", and ready to blast loud in case anything happened.

Well, by 7PM, nothing was, though we were in light southerly winds. We
drove north to Jacksonville, stopped at a McDonalds for dinner, and I
called COD back. Then, astonishing things began to occur.

Even though we knew the warm front was right on us, and had already
passed St. Louis much earlier in the day, the dewpoint there had
shot up 8 degrees in the last hour. A line of storms was along the
Mississippi river, with the southern most storm near Quincy, moving
east-northeast. We ate in the car and headed west on State road 104. What
we did not know is that shortly thereafter, the line would die out, except
for tail end charlie, which would very quickly evolve into a large
classic supercell!!!!!!!

It's now 8:15 and were looking west on SR 104 near Chapin. I step out and
take pictures of the rock-hard updraft now coming into view. We are
excited, and we have good reason to be: the storm is looking very
impressive. But there's a problem. A low stratus deck was rapidly moving in
from the southeast. This would royally mess things up for us over the next

At 8:40PM, we pass through Chambersburg. Just then, a tornado warning goes
out for the storm, which is now producing frequent lightning off to our
west. A spotter and a pilot report a tornado down, and it's heading
for Chambersburg. It's also almost dark now as the sun has set! We get to
SR 107 west of town and turn south, about a half mile, where we have an
unobstructed view to our west. But the low startus and somewhat foggy
conditions ARE obstructing our view. We know we are playing with fire,
should the now eastward-moving storm turn southeast. What we don't know is
that it already has!

We see frequent lightning, but not near the base. Finally a few bolts near
the base convince us we have to get south and away from this beast. We can
see a lowering, but no tornado. Now, it's only illuminated by lightning.
The lightning slows down. It's not said, but everyone knows what might be
going on. As a gust front slaps us, we bolt south to I-72 and head east,
back to Jacksonville.

At roughly 9:00PM, we are on the US 67/I-72 interchange at Jacksonville
watching the storm to our west. Lighting illuminates the bell-shaped storm.
"Oh, my God", is all I can say. "This would be incredible during the
daytime!", Scott says. Ed and Karl agree. But we notice that the storm is
now WEST of us, instead of northwest. It's turning HARD right, some 60
degrees to the right of the mean flow!

We bolt south. As we do, I watch a lightning-illuminated lowering develop.
Then, what appears to be a funnel cloud develops! It lifts after twenty or
30 seconds, but several spotters are reporting a tornado down. But we have
no east options for quite a while!

Eventually, however, we find a small paved road that heads east. As we do,
we watch the incredible supercell off to our north, illuminated by lots of
lightning. Numerous reports of golfball sized hail are being reported.

Suddenly, a cry of "HANG ON!" pierces the darkness of our car. Scott slams
on the brakes and within 20 feet, misses a family of deer that had taken
residence on the road! The fields had flooded and they were looking for
some dry land. They found it, almost at our expense!!!

After honking the horn and scaring them off, we continued on. But we were
unsure where this thing was headed, and now the mesocyclone was appearing
to be rain wrapped. With no roads to escape with should we have a close
encounter, we decided to terminate the chase, as the mesocyclone continued
to move southeast south of Springfield.

It was a good decision, and still a very good chase nonetheless. We wound
up in Champaign around 1AM, and we dropped off Scott and Ed at home. Karl
and I drove home after a very rewarding week of chasing.


Gilbert Sebenste                                                     ********
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