2004-04-20: "Surprise" Illinois/Indiana Tornado Outbreak

Apr 23, 2005
I thought it fitting that the 5 year anniversary of this event should be recognized. I know it is still remembered among IL/IN chasers from this part of the country and it certainly did come as a surprise.More than 20 tornadoes from
supercells that developed along an advancing warmfront in a high shear/ low cape environment.Jon Davies( http://members.cox.net/jondavies3/042004ilin/042004ilin.htm ) and Al Pietrycha ( http://www.stormeyes.org/pietrycha/040420/summary.html)
have excellent web pages examining the synoptic setup leading up to this event.
I was working at home when my wife brought to my attention a tornado warning one county over to the southwest. Thinking nothing of it, considering there wasn't a big risk of severe weather that day, I asked her and my son to come along
figuring we will see what the big deal is and get a country drive out of it. I've lived in this area all my life so I know the area well, so we headed south across the Illinois river at Spring Valley and caught visual of the suspect storm south of Granville,
Illinois.The storm was not very tall and the anvil was a little diffuse but the base was amazing. I reported what the storm was doing via ham radio in contact through ESDA to the NWS in the Quad Cities. What I remember most was that the surface
winds where absolutely roaring into this storm and the structure was something rarely seen in Illinois.When the first funnels touched down I thought that it would miss the city of Granville since it was taking more of a northeast track.
For those chasers who like to get close to the action, what transpired next should be noted. The storm went from butt dragging wall cloud to multiple vortex tornado to wedge in literally 60 seconds. On top of that it accelerated more northerly and
went right into town. From this point on I was in shock, not only that a tornado was hitting a populated area but that friends and family were in the path. We continued to track the tornado along its 15 mile path across the Illinois River, the south
end of Peru (through my brothers neighborhood) and then the city of Utica where unfortunately 8 people lost there lives.The ultimate irony of this storm was that residents of mobile homes left there residence to take shelter in downtown Utica at the
Millstone Bar & Grill. This was the location of all of the fatalities.


This is the tornado as it entered Granville, Illinois. The picture on the right shows the gymnasium roof of the grade school being ejected from the tornado.


The first picture is the tornado as it nears Peru and the second is when it hits Utica Illinois. Note the city water tower to the left of the funnel.

I've added a longer segment to the Granville/Utica IL tornado to my video page that pretty much covers what we saw on that chase. http://creativejetstream.com/flash/Main.html

Part I of a PULITZER-PRIZE-WINNING Chicago Tribune Series on the Utica tornado http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/chi-0412050232dec05,0,4852884.story

Here is a link to some fascinating video of the cycloidial marks the tornado left in its path. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XxLqrD3K1s

It is and always will be the most memorable backyard chase I've had..
Thanks for sharing your pictures and account, Jerry.

This is a day that I will never forget, and it has special meaning for me because it was the day I caught my first tornado. Its even more remarkable that my first intercept was on a day that started with a 0% day1 tornado outlook.

As cells initiated in central IL, I ran up north on I-57 out of Champaign to catch one of them as they came close to the interstate. I intercepted near Chebanse, IL. The structure I saw that day was something I had also never seen before, and as Jerry noted, is quite rare for IL. A stacked plates LP supercell:

It was a little hazy that day, but you could still clearly make out all of the features. A few minutes later I saw my first tornado as it touched down near Kankakee:


I'm also very thankful this tornado only did limited F1 damage with no deaths or injuries. A rope in a field, the perfect catch.

Full log and pictures: http://www.skip.cc/chase/040420

I remember this day very well.

Intercepted a double touchdown around 5:40pm CST, 3 miles northwest of Greentown, IN and 5-6 miles north of Kokomo,IN. In Miami county.

Another touchdown about 10 minutes later in Wabash County. Strong rotation rated F1. Had very weak contrast so I inverted the second picture. it was on the ground picking up debris.




This funnel had several ground circulations

I was also on the cell Skip was on. I didn't have far to go to intercept it. We first intercepted the cell when it was west of Clifton, IL. and followed it all the way into K3. The tornado was going up and down until it reached 5000 south road where it stayed on the ground. We were about a mile from the tornado.
Here a couple of crappy stills from the video.


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I remember this outbreak well, myself. I was on the storm that produced the tornado Kurt mentioned, southeast of Wabash, IN.

They were low-topped storms, but they rooted themselves right along the warm front and that's all it took.

My photos from this day are located here:

And also have video highlights (somewhat) here:

Too bad, I was too worried about calling it in, than filming the tornado, itself. ;)
Well, I certainly remember this outbreak since it hit the town I grew up in.

It was definitely a surprise to me since SPC didn't have central or northern Illinois in even a slight risk for severe weather at the beginning of the day. The consensus seemed to be that the action would all be farther west, in OK, KS and MO.

So I was kind of surprised when tornado warnings started flying for areas north of Peoria (Marshall, Stark counties) late in the afternoon. But I still wasn't too concerned as those storms were moving away from us (we lived in Metamora IL, about 15 miles east of Peoria, at the time).

No storms hit in my area and I had just about forgotten the whole thing when around 7:30 p.m. or so, the phone rang and my brother was on the end of the line. He asked if I was watching the news, and I said, "Uh, no, should I be?" Then he told me Utica had just been hit by a really bad tornado and he could not get through to our parents. So I flipped on the news and sure enough, they were reporting lots of destruction and people missing in a collapsed tavern. Needless to say I started freaking out and began calling every friend of my parents that I could recall, to see if they were OK. I finally tracked down one of my mom's best friends, who had gotten into town right after the tornado hit and had checked on them. She said Mom and Dad were OK, their house was intact and they planned on staying there through the night even though the power was out.

At the time I worked for the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, which included that area. I called my editor and told him I would head up there first thing in the morning and bring back pictures and a report on the damage. When I arrived, all the roads into town were barricaded and everyone was being directed to a checkpoint north of town. I went to the checkpoint and explained that my parents lived in town and I wanted to check on them. But I was told I could not go in since I was not a resident. Then I said, by the way, I'm also a reporter covering this for my newspaper. I showed my press credentials and had them call my editor to verify that I was indeed on assignment, and THEN they let me in!

The village is down in a little valley near the Illinois River and when you come into town from the north, like I did, you go downhill on a winding road, around a few curves and then you see the town. That first sight I had of the town that morning is one I will NEVER forget. So much was gone or torn to shreds. The first place I went, of course, was my parent's house; thankfully they were OK and insisted that I not worry about them. Their immediate neighbor's house was uninhabitable, and they already knew (by word of mouth, because it had not been officially announced) who had died in the collapsed tavern. After visiting them for a while I started making the rounds with my camera taking pictures and notes. The only thing more mind-blowing to me than the tornado damage was the number of TV news satellite trucks parked everywhere. Later in the afternoon I drove back to Peoria, turned in my pictures and wrote a first person story that was, hands down, THE most difficult piece I ever had to write.

Even though almost 8 years have passed I still remember this as if it were yesterday. And one thing I do to this day because of it, is keep my eye on the weather even when there is no slight or moderate risk area or tornado watch posted, because you just never know when a "surprise" like this could happen again.