May 20th 2014 Supercell over Chicagoland

Heading into this week with a ton of distractions in my real life, this day was a much needed escape. I’d been seeing the event come in the models from days out, knowing it would be a relatively large event throughout the Great Lakes region. Due to weak winds and shear, there was not much of a tornado threat in the region; but numerous supercells popped up from western Iowa to Michigan and eastern Ohio.

I picked up a local friend around 1pm here in Saginaw, and we began traveling across the state to the southwest corner, eventually stopping in Schoolcraft for a while to see if any cells would fire off the lake as some models hinted at. While towers did go up, nothing came of them, so we continued the trip. It was roughly 6 when we left the area to continue heading SW, getting into the southeastern side of Chicago with plenty of time to wait for the right cells to move into town. We continued west on I-80 until we reached I-294, following that to the north until we hit US-12 to intercept the first cell, which had fired when we were halfway through the jog through Indiana across I-94.

Initial storm heading into Oak Lawn, IL (cell phone picture as camera was dead)

Initial storm heading into Oak Lawn, IL (cell phone picture as camera was dead)

While the cell closed in on us, I grabbed my camera only to realize i had left it on and completely drained the battery…Luckily the charger was in my bag, so I popped into my power outlet in the Nitro and began charging. The cell had 1″ size hail just across the road, yet we missed out nearly all of it. The cloud had an elevated base that we were watching, but as it crept closer it began to shrink. A quick peak at radar showed another monster just behind it producing straight line wind damage near Aurora, and quickly swallowing our cell. I made the decision to head south and move into position on that cell at this point, so after figuring out the roads a little bit we headed a few miles to our southwest.

My location circled in black.. Radar grab stolen from Adam Lucio while he was on I-80 - -

My location circled in black.. Radar grab stolen from Adam Lucio while he was on I-80 – Find his awesome work @ –

As the cell got closer to the KLOT (NWS Chicago) radar site, it began to transform from more of a blob into a rotating supercell, and was nearly directly over the radar site. The radar images were actually hiding most of the supercell, as obviously the beam that goes outward cannot measure directly overhead. At this point we could see a VERY well defined lowered base with structure to our WNW, from our vantage point near Tinley Park just north of I-80. The lightning with this cell was PHENOMENAL! At this point it was completely dark and roughly 9:30 central time, so as the mesocyclone got almost overhead, we jumped on I-80 to head east.

Rotating wall cloud near Tinley Park, IL

Rotating wall cloud near Tinley Park, IL

At this point, I realized my data on my phone had COMPLETELY died; leaving me without radar or navigation, so the chase was basically over, but the fun had just begun. Now the hailcore had arrived for me. Heading out of Chicagoland with 2″ hail blasting your vehicle and a great lightning show is the PERFECT way to end a great chase day. We were in the core of 4 lined up supercells for about 120 miles until we got to the MI/IN border. Continuing into Michigan proved fun to, maneuvering around and missing most of the cells while still flying completely blind without radar.

Hoping to straighten things out in life and head back out soon! The fun is just beginning for the Great Lakes region, so stay tuned.

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