May 23rd, 2020 Always Chase Illinois Warm fronts: A Sad 2020 Story

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If you are looking for a nice story of how a chase day went perfectly right then well you should probably find someone else’s post. This one goes out to all us sorry saps who have sat out on a dirt road thinking today’s the day we get that mothership with a picturesque tor just for the cin to win and the target you passed up goes nuclear. The only way I could sum this day up would be 20 freaking 20.

Two maturing supercells west of Goodland, KS

All good busts always start with a split target decision.

Where to start with this day. I guess probably start with the day before where on a hail-mary (punny), my chase partner and I turned down a day 1 10% along the Red River to chase cold-core Kansas and proceeded to miss a tor because of a 5-minute re-analyze stop. Luckily we had a friend we could snag some free housing for the night and a shower in Lawrence Kansas. This becomes critical the following day and our no good boneheaded decision. After a solid night’s rest, my navigator and I were up early with a big decision on our hands. Option 1. is a quickly developing Illinois warm front setup with great SRH and 0-3km cape. Pretty classic mini supercell tornado setup and the cams were all over it. It was a 6-hour drive to Peoria, IL, but storm initiation was going to be early and there was a chance we wouldn’t make it. Option 2. was to make the long trek across the beautiful state of Kansas and chase the higher terrain of eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and western Kansas. The cams, mainly the hrrr (mistake numero uno and we should have known better), had several supercells in an environment supportive of at least a nice mothership. The main question out west was would the cap break and the area destabilize enough with morning clouds over much of the area and suboptimal moisture. I think everyone knows where this decision went. Logically you would think Illinois warm front because Illinois warm front, but no we decided Kansas hoping to re-ignite the magic of Wray Colorado. (Shameless plug to check out my article on Wray and the magic my chaser partner and I were blindly hoping to re-kindle). We packed the car and got our move on.

Mysterious pain is the first sign of a bad day.

We did not make it very far across Kansas before the hype train derailed and not because of models trending the wrong way or the environment not doing what was expected. All that comes later, this is the beginnings of a much worse storm. After about 45 min to an hour of driving, we picked up the classic McDonalds breakfast and some caffeine. Unknown to me and my navigator, an old filling apparently came out on a tooth, and well eventually some bacteria got down to the root. If you have ever had a real toothache you will quickly know that it feels like someone is driving an ice pick through your skull. What makes that pain even worse is an ice-cold sugar-filled large sweet tea from McDonalds. It is now 5 hours of riding in a car to Goodland Kansas with excruciating pain, but the thought of high plains magic kept me going.

Wray Colorado: Home to where my plains chasing began.

After fighting through tooth pain for over 5 hours, we made it to our target destination. Of course, we choose Wray! We even stopped and sat at the location where it all began that wonderful May day 4 years prior. We had a perfect view of the developing dryline with several road options. The sun was beginning to peak out and the cumulus was beginning to bubble. Unfortunately, that was not the only thing that was agitated that afternoon. In an attempt to ease the pain of my tooth, I had consumed copious amounts of water (we are talking several 32 oz. water bottles) and we all know that liquid is good but that much liquid before a chase never ends well. The worst part was that it didn’t really help the pain at all so we ended up with compounding issues. The day just keeps getting worse as by this point the cams have begun to back off on cell development and rumors of too much cin began to float through the air like the sound of the guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grain asking to “bring out your dead”. Alas, we had dug our graves at this point so we were going to chase till we fell in them.

The results of our first trip to Wray back in 2016.

Game Time, or so we Thought!

By late afternoon the cumulus started to tower along the dryline and several attempts at initiation had tried and failed. That was until I noticed an area of more significant CU along the dryline bulge west of Goodland so we quickly raced back down. By the time we were north of Goodland, the cap had broken and two semi-discrete supercells had erupted along the dryline. Its_happening.gif! The storms quickly organized with solid mid-level meso’s and even some flying eagle presentation on radar. Something didn’t feel right and the first sign of trouble was when the first storm quickly split and the storms didn’t seem to be able to get off the boundary. These would be the first signs of trouble, but for now, we had a perfect view of two LP supercells.

Supercells just west of Goodland Kansas


This is the part of the story where everything falls apart and goes downhill in a hurry. Let’s start with the storms and their failed attempt to get off the boundary. After the first cell split, it appeared to start to struggle a bit on radar. It didn’t look as healthy as it did prior to the split, but we wrote it off as maybe cycling. That was until I noticed visually the mesocyclone was quickly becoming more laminar and shrinking rapidly. Much like my hopes for that day, this storm was quickly succumbing to dry air and convective inhibition. The mood on that dirt road was quickly going south; however, hope remained for the second cell. Head still throbbing and now getting to the point where the pain was almost debilitating, I could not take it anymore and we quickly left our spot to head into town for water (I drank all the other water I had). In the time we went into town and came back the second storm had begun to suffer the same fate as the first. All that was left was a shell of its former self in the shape of a lone weakening barber pole. The frustration, pain, and disappointment now at an all-time high as I snapped one last picture.

The final stages of the second supercell as it succumbs to cin.

The nail in the coffin

I think after this chase I will come up with a rule to never look at another target or Twitter after a bust. We made both those mistakes as the second storm slowly evaporated into the blue Kansas sky. It did not take us long to realize we made a critical error and that in classic Illinois fashion the warm front had gone bonkers and produced numerous tornadoes that day. To slap us in the face was the fact there were several pictures of said tors. Not that I could take any more pain at this point, the Texas Panhandle decided to do a little Panhandle magic leaving our target the only one to really see absolutely nothing. Yes, there was a landspout report but I watched those storms for a couple of hours, and not once did I see anything remotely looking like a landspout. At the end of the day, there are two morals of this long story. 1. Chasing with a toothache is absolutely the worst. I give it a -10/100 recommendation. 2. If Illinois warm front is an option, you take it!

Severe reports from May 23, 2020

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