2009-05-13 Eastern Missouri into Western Illinois Chase

Winter to spring, Ma Nature gets horny again! Work was still slow so I was willing…

No matter how I sliced it, I’d have a new chase vehicle this year, my old Focus being totaled. I had bought a new Mazda3 the summer before, with the understanding that it would not come within sixty-nine miles of a hail core! To replace my old stormchase car, I bought daughter a 2003 Mazda Tribute from a wholesaler in Fort Worth. (Drove back home via Tulsa, south to north through Nowata on US-169 less than two months after I had driven on US-60 west to east through the same town on a chase!)

However, it is a gas hog and since I didn’t expect a lot of hail, I decided on my Mazda3. Beautiful car, chewed up the miles.

Earlier in the week, I had mentioned Decatur/Springfield, IL on Facebook and a lot of peeps who have more experience than I said I could do worse. The day before, some precincts started plumping N MO more and more. I planned on I-29 to Saint Joe, then US-36 east. Left 5AM in the middle of a SVR, got to Cameron, MO and still thundering. Super 8’s internet was working, my choices were continue east on 36 or head southwest on I-35 to Oklahoma, I chose Illinois.

Got gas in Macon, couldn’t snag internet but I noticed a lot of stormchasers’ VPNs in the area. That was my last chance to get updates for the next four hours, but I made an assumption that local radio during Limbaugh and Hannity would give updates. Maybe there wasn’t anything to update…

Crossing into Illinois:


This felt weird. Not weatherwise, the sky was clearing, into the 70s just before noon, but to be east of the Mississippi chasing for the first time. I couldn’t find a Walmart to buy a Delorme atlas until well after it would have done me any good.

Got to near Jacksonville, west of Springfield, decided to turn south, still in the middle of the risk area. Would have been better served to turn around and head to Kirksville, in hindsight, but there’s a psychological block I have about retracing my steps, I guess. Carrollton, Illinois, found internet, still in the MDT risk area but other chasers were aiming toward the eastern Saint Louis suburbs so I kept south on US-67.

I remember years ago when a blowtorch clear-channel AM station like KMOX would have been all over the weather but talk-radio pays the bills, I reckon. KMOX finally at 4PM mentioned to be careful because there are tornado watches out…north of STL and south of STL—not east and not in

I was screwed—not only because I was in the north suburbs of a major metropolitan area at the start of rush hour, but nothing was happening, according to the only radio I could get, nothing was going to happen anytime soon, and the boxes were clear across the metro traffic and into the Ozarks (no way in hell I’d chase there) or back where I came and I hadn’t seen anything there all day!

Bit the bullet, crossed the Mississippi at Alton, I-270 west to Mo-370 west to I-70 west. I was cutting losses like crazy, hoping for either a derecho coming in from western MO or better yet, something discrete popping in front of it. Either way, I wanted out of the metro, despite the odd thunderstorm popcorning in West County. I don’t care if an EF-5 went through the ‘burbs I just left, I just didn’t want to be debris.

Y’know, a day in my hometown, with Steak ‘n Shake for dinner, isn’t bad day at all.

About this time, Columbia radio, not KMOX, let me know about the Kirksville tornado. From the accounts I read over the next few days, this was a needle-haystack deal, rainwrapped, only two storms, and hilly country. No guarantees that I could have seen anything. C’est la vie.

Got to Columbia, checked into the Marriott Courtyard. Asked the lady at the counter for a room that looked west, so I could watch the squall line that was about 30 miles away. She mentions how much she likes thunderstorms, ‘Oh, you’re a stormchaser?’

I’m thinking—not enthusiastically–Dear Penthouse and ‘do you want to skip out of here, go to Jeff City and see a derecho?’

Next morning, I drove to Norborne and Camden, Missouri and chased trains. More productive than my stormchasing…

Friday was a chase to Lawrence, KS; never could get south of the warm front and nothing happened there, anyhow but a lot of hail. Beats staying at home or working…


Author: Damon Hynes

Used to chase tornadoes, until Ma Nature ran out of them...

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