Sunday November 17, 2013 is a day that won't soon be forgotten and will likely be analyzed for many years to come. What was initially forecast by the Storm Prediction Center as being a moderate risk event was upgraded to high risk for points along and east of I-57 only to then have that risk area expanded backwards across much of the state. As a result, nearly all of Illinois and Indiana would eventually be in the midst of a rare PDS watch (Particularly Dangerous Situation) that not surprisingly verified. My thinking for this day even though the best parameters for Illinois were much further north and east was to remain closer to home in the event something should happen locally. The hope was to finally document a tornado this season although preferably in an open safe area at no loss to property or life. A few cells would quickly go up out west and earn tornado warnings including near Peoria as well as SW of Lincoln. Already in position in Dewitt County, I targeted for just east of Lincoln since by the time I arrived, it would have raced up to meet me from its initial warning issuance in Menard County. The logic would be to then go east and watch whatever else might come up from the SW which I ended up not doing. Factoring the incredible storm motions, my strategy worked however, the cell became somewhat of an elongated mess with lots of dynamic activity but ill defined structure and no tornado (or that I am aware of anyways). The 'Lincoln Storm' as it would be labeled didn't do much for what I could see other than display some interesting base features and funnel clouds. As this first warned cell moved along and eventually weakened, another would follow in its path and generate an additional tornado warning. The whole complex from Logan all the way into McLean counties had by now become a big HP (heavy precipitation) mess but from my vantage on the south side it was like watching a train. Storms coming up from SW of my location behaved as I expected but were hardly worth dealing with. Rather than try to fight my way east through a fast moving zero visibility severe warned cluster rife with heavy rain, high wind and possible large hail, I allowed the complex to pass to my south while keeping tabs on it. Eventually dropping back to Decatur with no intention of trying to keep up with the line which was now exploding along the I-57 corridor, I experienced some strong winds from within the core of a marginally severe cell. Pausing in the country under a crisp cobalt blue sky, it was here via social media that I learned about the woes of Washington, Gifford and other locations. I was a little dismayed for not documenting a photogenic tornado as it is the holy grail for those of us who are into storm photography yet I am also very relieved that local weather related issues were minimal by comparison. Later review of images after arriving home revealed some surprising discoveries.
Waiting for initiation, countless horseshoe funnel clouds could be seen.
Here we go... (c/o RadarScope)
From just east of Lincoln along Route 10, I observed the following to the distant NNW. Quickly pulling over and shooting with the 300mm, I wasn't sure what I might be seeing but upon later comparison of time stamp with respect to shot location as well as professional consultation, it was determined that this is the upper portion of the Washington Tornado from roughly 53 miles away. The storm was morning lit and bearing the coloration you see due to extreme distance and light refraction as result of earth curve. The blue gray cloud along the top margin is the anvil portion streaming ahead of the Lincoln cell which is still to the immediate SW (left). This scene would soon fill in as the foreground Lincoln storm advanced.
The Lincoln storm now coming into view.
Base structure left much to be desired yet had its moments.
Funnel cloud vs. I-55 foreground traffic.
Note the right of center shear funnel.
It was here too that storm chaser and good friend Kevin Radley pulled up.
Letting the above storm go, I followed Kevin for a bit but then quickly fell back to wait for a new cell coming in. It was just as well because they were heading east and the way I drive like a turtle, I didn't want to cause delay. It was really good to bump into him as I rarely see anyone. The new cell earned a tornado warning but was part of a long cluster of HP storms congealing into a quasi-linear blob. This is looking NE at the blob with a hail core indicated by the aqua color. The sun peeked out for a few minutes which enabled the otherwise dull grey mass to give me some effect.
Now looking back west at a suspicious feature masked by rain.
Definite funnel but no ability to confirm touchdown.
Heavy rain coming in from the west as well as south quickly put an end to the above encounter. It was at this point I also decided to head back but not before driving through some intense rain and wind.
Clearing behind the initial wave with a distant line of additional severe warned cells heading into NW IL.
Waiting and wondering if the new line up north would build back to the SW, I decided to give a lowly tail end micro cell some love (because someone has to right?)
Regardless, thoughts are with those affected by this historic outbreak. For ways to help via The American Red Cross, learn more HERE.
Click HERE for an outbreak summary c/o The National Weather Service, Lincoln Illinois.
An organization I have had the privilege of working with has put together a fund raising endeavor to assist those affected by this event. Click the picture to learn more!