Friday, May 10, 2013

Wall Cloud at Niantic Illinois

On a day when the majority of the weather and chaser community thought nothing would go down, mother nature once again stepped up to show us who is in control. Morning rain that was believed to have made the atmosphere less than favorable for afternoon thunderstorm development kept most inside being that there was little more than a few showers dotting the region. As for myself, I was watching an MCV (mesoscale convective vortex) coming out of Missouri on radar but dismissed it for cool, cloudy, stable skies were in place. Though I dipped out to have a better look at conditions away from the city, I was not impressed and instead, dropped down to Griswold Conservation Area in Blue Mound to hunt for morels with the camera. While there it began to rain at which point I happened to look out from a west facing clearing to see a wall cloud in the distance near Edinburg. Checking my phone for verification I was stunned to see a mild couplet on velocity indicative of rotation. Immediately leaving out and in the direction of this feature, I would end up in perfect position to intercept a separate cell with strong rotation to form between myself and the far western one. This cell would wrap up HARD from between Illiopolis and Niantic IL in the vicinity of I-72 and Old US 36 that for those wondering, runs all the way from Indiana to Colorado. The motion on this cell was so impressive that I notified the National Weather Service who were watching as well. Pulling over from just W of town, I managed to pop off a few shots and video during peak intensity. As was the case with everything to develop so rapidly this day, the storm became elevated and lost much of it's vigor just as quick. I would follow the storm and relay this information as well. Meanwhile, to the south in Christian County, a photogenic tornado developed near Owaneco that I could have easily intercepted had I not been so enamored by the distant wall cloud to my west. In hindsight being that I was able to photograph two unexpected storms that to my knowledge went undocumented while other locals got the tornado, it all worked out.

Velocity scan from the "magic moment" including the early cell observed at Edinburg but now near Buffalo (1.), the Niantic cell at the moment I intercepted and was calling in strong rotation (2.) and lastly, the Owaneco tornado in progress (3.). I am unsure why these areas weren't warned but believe that perhaps upper level activity did not meet warning criteria threshold despite surface boundary interaction that was quite literally flying "under the radar". This was a prime example of why spotters and people in the field are so vital to the warning process. I was only able to contribute for happening to be out and in the right place at the right time.

c/o RadarScope

Facing W from Blue Mound at the first cell near Edinburg to capture my attention. To give an idea for scale and distance, I am shooting through the 300mm which gives the impression of closeness but was roughly 13 miles away. The persistent scud fingers in the middle are associated with the developing mesocyclone that would become the Niantic cell though I dismissed them at the time.

The cell is now close to Buffalo and was drawing up insane amounts of ragged low level scud. Cursing myself for the distance and inability to make positive identification on the activity occurring, interest quickly abated with the realization of what the foreground cell was exhibiting.

What would become the Niantic cell took precedence for as I paralleled it on Four Bridges Road (CR 2025), when it crossed I-72 to my left, dangling scud fingers rapidly carouseling around inside the parent wall cloud led me to think it might produce a tornado so I called it in. Completing the call and getting into position as it pulled away to the N, I am shooting wide so it is much closer than appears though I was in no danger. RFD (rear flank downdraft) blowing around the back from L to R caused the power poles to strain but fortunately not collapse. For all I know, a ground circulation could have easily been occurring however with so much happening all at once I did not notice.

Following the storm, it would become cold and not pose the tornado threat it did during initial encounter. I would also call this observation in for just as important as warning issuance is, so too is warning restraint to curb unnecessary panic or use of resources. At this time as luck would have it, National Weather Service public radar feed unexpectedly went down. Yet another example of why eyes in the field are so important. Letting the storm go and getting caught up on social media regarding the Owaneco Tornado, May 9, 2013 was another lesson in why you don't turn your back on even the most marginal of setups.

Much later during the "blue hour".

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