Tornado Outbreak - (Missouri and Illinois) - September 22nd, 2006
BY MARTIN KUCERA
(c) 2006 - FloridaLightning.com
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(September 23rd - Chicago Trip at the end of the page)
It was 2:30 am and I noticed the Storm Prediction Center's next day outlook showed a lot of promise. I needed to get to
the Miami International Airport in four hours. Called a great friend of mine and he was willing to take me. Great. Packed
all the equipment and we went out the door at 3am. The area of interest was centered just around St. Luis, MO. This fact
kept me worried all through the flight, knowing the area is not favorable for tracking and photographing storms at all.
Winding roads, plenty of hill with no reasonable view and generally very heavy traffic kept obscuring my mind till I got
to the Bloomington-Normal Regional Airport, in central Illinois. This great little quiet airport provided an immediate
access to the surrounding countryside. I rented a nice SUV and set off on a journey due south. Storms exploded about
two hours into my drive. The sky started to look threatening and the chase was on shortly after. I noticed a nice couple
supercells approaching southern parts of St. Luis. It was 5pm on Friday afternoon and I was getting closer to a major
city. At first, everything looked great but at the back of my mind I knew things were not meant to go so smooth. Right.
Just as the storms started looking great and producing tornadoes - the traffic came to a complete stop. A long while later
a tow truck showed up along the shoulder of the interstate. It was time to find an alternate route. I got off the interstate
and entered a labyrinth of winding, steep country roads and even with a GPS and the "Neverlost"  navigational system
I immediately felt lost. The chance to find a nice storm in this mess was minimal. So I just drove around enjoying the
countryside, viewing some distant storms. It was almost dark. I quite expected things to pan out this way... this wasn't
Kansas, after all. Well, at the end of the frustration I managed to find a great looking supercell. It was on my eastern
horizon just before sunset and I enjoyed photographing it very much. Later I drove back to central Illinois for the night,
enjoying a nice supercell related lightning show. All in all, this decent day spent storm chasing only reinforced a well
known fact that this part of the country can quickly turn out to be a very frustrating mess and often, storm chaser's
worst possible nightmare.
Taken during the take off from the Miami International airport. Only several hours ago I did not even know I was going.
One of the suburbs surrounding
Atlanta International airport.
The traffic at the Atlanta airport was quite busy and we had to wait for several planes to clear the runway. I spent the
time taking some lame photos of the airplanes. Only a couple hours from the final destination at this point.
Rural Illinois - just moments before
final landing in Bloomington -
Normal, IL. What a great place and a
nice little airport to fly to.
The town of Bloomington, IL as seen
from the airport. You get into your
rental car and can track storms right
away. Country side everywhere....
First signs of unstable weather - just
about an hour south of the airport on
my way toward St. Louis and
southern Illinois. Looks threatening.  
Unfortunately this is the part where things get really interesting - for a short while... This is also where I begin to
encounter heavy traffic and hills are just everywhere. Finding a hill with a good view becomes nearly impossible with all
the businesses and neighborhood littering the place. Never again I would want to go storm chase to a place like this.
Beginning of the end. After spending
half an hour in this line of traffic I
simply turned around to try to avoid
major roads but it did not help at all.
Notice the white car in the upper left
part of the picture. The supercell to my
SE is producing confirmed tornadoes
at this time.
For the next several hours, I simply kept driving, enjoying the countryside, and trying not to thing about the bad traffic.
I was not happy about the way things worked out so far. At least, I was hoping for a storm to come to me if I was not
able to get to one. I guess my luck finally turned for just before the sun went down, I was treated to one of the most
amazing displays of nature - a well developed supercell thunderstorm, back lit from the setting sun. What an opportunity.
Also, during this afternoon - the radar
imagery showed a band of very strong
storms right over downtown
Chicago, IL. Later I learned these
produced two tornadoes. With the
sun setting, I already started thinking
about the next day's adventures.
Chicago sounded great...
Chicago, IL Front and Associated Squall Line Filmed From The Sears Tower
- September 23rd, 2006 -
OK, once I am out here I might as well do something - still one day left before flying back. I could either go south a very
long way - or I could opt for a northern trip and go to Chicago. When I woke up the front was already in full fury and
thunderstorms were raging over parts of western Kentucky, Tennessee and northern Louisiana. I  would have to drive
several hundred miles south to places I did not want to go to. Especially after the previous day. Also, the storms would be
very much linear with perhaps a few discrete cells but I was not going to even thing of chasing something like that. So, to
Chicago I went. The Sears Tower would probably be the last of the tall buildings on the north American continent that I
had never been too. I also wanted to visit the Buckingham Fountain and the Museum of Natural History later that day.
The Sears Tower in Chicago, IL became the world's tallest building when it was completed in 1973. It lost the title in
1996. However, the Sears Tower remains the tallest building in North America. It is also the third tallest building in the
world, according to most skyscraper statistics. The Sears Tower covers two city blocks and has 101 acres (4.4 million
square feet) of office and commercial space. The roof rises a quarter of a mile -- 1, 454 feet (442 meters).

Well, before you can get to the top of the building you pretty much have to watch a movie on the history of this
skyscraper. As soon as you get to the top you are treated to some incredible views of the city itself and those of the Lake
Michigan. Any direction you look - you can bet on spectacular results. The only negative thing I could find about this
experience is that you are inside the whole time - no access to the roof or the outside deck - like it was possible on the top
of the great World Trade Center in New York City. The open views are also much better if you are serious about the
photography part. I guess Chicago weather might have something to do with it. It really is quite windy around here....

I knew there was a front in the area but never imagined it would sweep though downtown Chicago while I was 1,353
feet (412 meters) above the ground. Well, lets just say the front sort of rolled underneath our feet as startled visitors all
around were watching in awe - some people simply took off for the elevator, many spoke excitedly to their friends on
their cell phones - I even overheard one woman saying that "the clouds are spinning out there and we might see a
tornado soon...". It is always amazing to see how fast the front rolls in and this one was no different. When I started
shooting some high definition video, the squall line was barely visible on the horizon and the next thing you know it
looks like the building is submerged in a bucket of milk. What a spectacular event this turned out to be. It certainly made
me forget all about the day before. The views of the approaching front must also have been pretty good from the Lake
shore. It makes you thing what it must be like for the people who work up there on top of the Tower year round and see
the storms roll in with lightning, thunder and on rare occasions tornadoes (like the previous day....). An hour later I
was back down in the street starring at the top of this giant wishing I could have spent a whole day up there with
storms in vicinity. Maybe next time. I just would not wanna watch that movie again. I can not imagine people who live
nearby and just want to go up and enjoy the view and they make them watch the movie every single time. Oh well.
After the squall line engulfed the building it seemed like the clouds were going to linger in the area for a while. Since
there was no point of me staying up there looking at the whiteout I decided to go back down and see what the Field
Museum of Natural History had to offer. Unfortunately I got there shortly after five pm and they were not admitting any
more visitors. Not wanting to leave Chicago so soon and with the weather clearing up fast I decided to go to the suburbs
and take some more photos before driving all the way back to the airport in Bloomington. I drove for about ten minutes
to the outskirts of Chicago and found an area of an old factory, probably not in use anymore - I thought it be a nice spot
to do a shot of Chicago skyline before the sunset.  It was not so easy to find a spot with no obstacles blocking the view.
A very early morning on a flight back home to Florida. Plenty of new experience and
beautiful memories filled my mind during the return journey.  The first photo shows
a town somewhere in Illinois - people down there are still sleeping - not knowing or
caring that we fly right over their place. I always feel so small when flying and
looking down upon the world... you see tiny cars going somewhere in many different
directions... people going about their own lives, life seems to happen so fast... I guess
it is the opposite of us starring up at the airplane from the ground, wishing we were
up there, on the airplane, going places... there is really something surreal about
flying, it feels to me like traveling in a different dimension, traveling in time....
Flying near the back sheared anvil of a
small thunderstorm. The intensity of
the sun reflecting off the snow-white
cloud at these altitudes is incredible.
A mini pileus cloud at the top of a
small updraft as seen from the airplane.
The pileus layer forms when the
cumulus cloud pushes a moist layer of
air above it upwards, causing
condensation in this layer. Eventually,
the cumulus will grow into and
penetrate the pileus cloud, after which
the pileus may remain as a cloud skirt
around the cumulus.
The river of grass, The Everglades National Park - one of the places that is closest
to my heart. Magic happens down there every day. It is my home. The right photo
shows an irrigation channel bringing water from the Lake Okeechobee, down
toward the metropolitan areas of southeast Florida. The growing population is
just one of the reasons the Everglades N.P. is not doing as well as it used to.
All Images and Text
(c) 2006
FloridaLightning.com