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Jesse Risley

Staff member
I initially targeted Geneseo, IL due to the position of the surface low, dryline bulge and moisture influx. When I first exited I-80 to start the chase I was literally less than a mile from where a tornado would later pass. :confused: I really didn't have high hopes for this area but figured LCLs would improve closer to 0z given otherwise ambient shear profiles. When the first severe warning of the day was issued I drifted north up towards Tampico, IL and played with a SVR warned storm for about 35 minutes. I initially wrote off the discrete sups south of Moline given that the airport was reporting Tds <45F and figured they were behind the dry punch and likely just going to be hailers (a closer look at surface data afterwards shows that these storms were likely pooling on the far western fringe of the deepest Theta-e feeding into the surface low and had I taken a closer look I would have seen this, but I was chasing by myself). When the first TOR warning was issued for Henry County I blasted back down IL Rt. 40 as the storm was approaching west of Annawan. Not wanting to be trapped on I-80 I opted to drift west on US Route 6 and passed through Mineral. I have video of a well defined lowering and plenty of low-level rotation that was the tornado in progress, although with it being dark I cannot discern a clear funnel or tornadic feature though there was visible dust at times beneath the lowering (I was approaching from the west but initially started at 6+ miles away).

Either the tornado was not fully condensed or it was obscured from my vantage point due to rain and it being dark, but the video clearly shows the circulation and cloud features associated with the pendant cloud. I observed the storm north if I-80 near Annawan, IL and observed some suspicious fingers twisting around between lightning flashed but could not definitively confirm a tornado for the NWS at that juncture, though there likely was still one ongoing. The circulation became rain wrapped as the surging RFD overtook the prior clear slot and the storm weakened shortly thereafter. Hearing on the scanner that a semi was overturned on I-80 I took US 6 west and came upon a damaged farmstead 3-4 mi NW of Annawan on the way to Atkisson. The farmhouse and several buildings across the highway were damaged. After checking for injuries the owners gave me permission to take some damage photos which I immediately relayed to the NWS via Slack. This is the first time I've successfully intercepted an actual tornado in progress in February.


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I opted for the backyard secondary target in Southern Illinois/Indiana. As is typical for Midwest secondary targets, it ended up busting for tornadoes thanks to the lack of storms ahead of the cold front.

I initially targeted Mount Vernon, but returned home after noting the radar-visible dryline retreating back into the STL metro area.

Storms started developing in the St. Louis metro after 10pm as the front overtook the stalled dryline bisecting the city. I got on the first storm tracking along I-70 east. It was just ahead of the front, but too close to it for low-level organization. I captured a few lightning stills.


The storm got a few miles ahead of me, and despite parallel-to-storm-motion interstate speeds, I could not get back ahead. I never observed any supercell structure with this.

I observed two more storms that formed back to the southwest near Altamont and Irvington, but they both were a few miles behind the cold front and didn’t have much visible lightning.

A few more rounds of weak thunderstorms moved through the metro area, capped off by snow bands at 4am.
Targeted a Bloomington to Kankakee, IL line hoping for a long-shot, high pay-out isolated supercell initiation off what looked a lot like a bulging dryline with surface temps near 80 F just behind the dryline and low 60s F dews ahead of it. Wait, this is... February... and Illinois, right?

The cumulus field across eastern Illinois started to thin by late afternoon and it became obvious there was insufficient lift despite eroding inhibition in the area. Visible satellite showed imminent initiation off the cold front on the IA/IL border with building convection and streams of high altitude clouds highlighting strong flow aloft. I ran north up 39 for a fallback cold front play, heading off cells coming out of northwestern IL. Cells fired earlier than I expected, an hour before sunset and ahead of the boundary in the open sector, which was extremely promising. I targeted the lead cell northwest of Mendota, as it was the most robust and would get first rights to the increasingly favorably sheared and unstable environment to the east. Annoyingly, the lead cell lined out as high based mush, and trailing cells back on the cold front became the discrete tornado warned supercells. Meanwhile, new initiation was coming up from the south to core me. I dodged east and then around. With night falling, and the cells merging into a large complex, I didn't want to get caught in the path or the core. I approached the complex from the east and was disappointed to see that the mesocyclone looked to be buried deep in the core. The discrete play was west it seemed.

South of Paw Paw, IL,I waited in the last of the twilight to see the gust front of the HP supercell/complex approach, hoping lightning might backlight something buried inside, but it looked like a scuddy mess.

Then as luck would have it, a mesovortex formed on the RFD gust front as it approached my position. A nub funnel roped out just to my west northwest. I dismissed it at first as it was in the "wrong place", the supercell's mesocyclone still buried much further northwest in the core. But the rope-out was obvious. The shallow mesovortex didn't show up on velocity until the funnel was dissipating, probably as the rotation finally got stretched up a few thousand feet to the beam height of nearly equally distant KDVN and KLOT.

Ultra-wide shot of the gust front just before the funnel, the mesovortex kink is just right of the telephone pole.

Dash-cam catching some front lighting on the feature:

Ultra-wide shots showing the rope-out sequence:

I tracked the cell east, just keeping even with the rear flank gust front. I stopped to shoot structure and was hit by the gust front with an amazing blast of surprisingly warm southwesterlies. The van was pelted with small rocks and I was sandblasted with gravel before I was able to get back inside.

As I approached Sandwich and other small towns along Highway 34, I knew I would never be able to get up in front of the notch before the storm hit Aurora and the western suburbs, so I called the chase. I was surprised to see other chasers were way up in there.

Around 1:30 I gave up the idea of positioning for the "Illinois dryline bulge dream storm" (that one HRRR run though...), and opted to stay nearer to I-80. Drove to the Mendota area from my home in Machesney Park and noted rapidly growing cumulus on visible satellite near the Quad Cities. Wasn't long before Cu towers were going up, and the easternmost storm was just a jaunt away so I began approaching from the east. As Skip noted above, this storm remained high-based and more linear in appearance. I then found myself turning around and heading back east to reposition on a new cell firing south of me. I skirted the edge of the hail core while getting pelted with a few nickels, finally stopping a few miles east of Sublette, IL. This was the view looking west. I was a bit disappointed at how quickly it became HP, but it was still an awesome looking storm.
The RFD gust front had a nice chunky look to it with a couple of bulges where it appeared low-level rotation was present.
My location (blue marker) below:
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At 5:58pm I noticed a legit funnel cloud condensing to my WNW and snapped a few photos:
The funnel lasted a couple minutes at most, and finished with a little rope out. Couldn't confirm any ground circulation, but with a condensation funnel halfway down I bet it threw a few corn husks around. After this excitement, I repositioned east towards Paw Paw losing light fast. I pulled over and spotted another funnel cloud to my northwest along the RFD again. I believe this is the same one Skip photographed. I considered falling back onto a more discrete tornado-warned cell to the west, but it soon dissipated. Maybe it encountered stable outflow left behind from the growing cluster heading into the Chicago area?

Anyway it was a fun local chase for me, with early initiation compensating a bit for February sunset time.