may 1 2016 supercell kansas illinois

5/1/16 Kansas, IL and Plainfield / SW Indianapolis, IN Near-Tornadic Supercells

What I remember most from this day was racing down I-70 through the forests and hills toward Indianapolis to catch up with a beautiful supercell, but watching hopelessly as it made a determined attempt at producing a tornado that would inevitably just barrel into the metro. I remember thinking out loud I was just not ready to see that happen. When a thick funnel descended about a third of the way down, I got such a sick feeling. When it quickly retreated back up, our collective subconscious “hopes” of seeing a tornado turned into a wild relief that we didn’t for me.

We targeted Champaign, IL and as soon as we got there storms formed directly over the city and a bit south. Two cells became dominant and we fled south toward Arcola to catch a glimpse at what was becoming one of the most beautiful supercells I’ve seen in Illinois.




As soon as we first stopped, all our hair started raising with lightning static. That stop didn’t last long.

The dark, spiralling inflow clouds fanned miles from the storm, a precursor to a strong, long-lived supercell that would continue following along it and pulling it in, wrapping it into its massive circulation.




Rain wrapped viciously into the storm.




A cycle or two later and a semi-convincing lowering appeared.




It was having trouble organizing itself and is somewhat split in two now. Awesome waves, patterns and textures.




It got messy really fast.




But kept evolving.




The sun streamed in behind it.




It was pounding rain and 2″ hail right now. We saw a high-based shear funnel up in the inflow, perfectly harmless but cool to watch.




Isolated, near aptly-named Kansas, IL.




We left this cell immediately, though, as we saw another pop up ahead of it that looked like it had better potential. That was when things got interesting. We were well behind it and needed to drive through the hills and trees from Lafayette toward Indianapolis, IN. It was not a great idea, but we ended up right on its tail. As it grew dark we really became aware of what was going on; this supercell and its repeated attempts at producing a tornado was headed right toward the suburbs of Indianapolis, specifically toward also aptly-named Mooresville and Plainfield. At one point, like a hallucination we saw a small white condensation cloud dancing at the ground, but could not discern anything else. Very shortly after the storm cycled, however, a very thick funnel cloud slowly started to descend about a third of the way down. It was sickening to watch, but it quickly lifted. Crisis was averted.




The storm a few minutes after it made its attempt at a tornado. Completely leaned over by shear.

We ended our observation once it got dark and we realized we were basically riding aimlessly around the suburbs. Conveniently, our first supercell that we watched be born almost 100 miles away decided to end up right behind us again, so we let it blow over and watched it finally breathe its last breath.