Northern Illinois Tornadoes 4/9/15

**FULL CHASE VIDEO BELOW** – Scroll down below the video to read the story, and see all of the photos from this chase.

In this video you will see our chase from start to finish. The first small cells, a wall cloud we got underneath, and then the massive wedge tornado which we chased for miles. At one point we even hydroplaned, but CJ gathered it up like a champion, all the while I never took my focus off the tornado while filming it. Toward the end of the video, you’ll see 2 tornadoes on the ground at once. One was a satellite. Intense chase day!! Enjoy the video.

4/9/15 – Where do I begin? This was such an amazing chase day. So many great times, and so many great sights. Prior to this chase day, there was a whole lot of computer model watching, and trying to decide which model was going to be correct, or at least, close to correct. There were difference among the models all the way down to the wire. The NAM seemed to perform the best of any at forecasting this event.

The day finally came, and I was prepared to chase with my friend Cort Scholten, but he works for the National Weather Service, so naturally, he got called into work for tracking storms due to Michigan being included in the SPC’s enhanced risk area. I was then in contact wit my friend CJ Postal, and we finalized chase plans to head into northern Illinois and see what we could get. A powerful low pressure system was deepening off to the west of us, and a warm front was moving through northern Illinois. There was tons of elevated convection during the morning hours, so the atmosphere was heavily worked over, and took several hours to recover. A few smaller showers and a few storms began to fire along the warm front. Nothing too spectacular, but we did see a bit of structure with these. We stopped in the field to look at data, and observe the elevated convection. Below is what it looked like. We also found a really crappy road. I mean, this might as well have been a trail through the field. We did not drive down it.

We kept driving westward toward one cell that started to get it’s act together. It became tornado warned, but then died quickly. So we continued on. We started following some new storms that were making at attempt again along the warm front. The recovering atmosphere and weak cap prevented these cells from getting much stronger. So again, we waited. All along the way between these small storms we saw a lot of cool towns, parks and things. We stopped near a wind farm to pour over data, observe radar and satellite trends, before we finally decided to blast westward toward the tornado warned storm coming out of Iowa.

On the way to the main storm, some cells began firing out ahead of it in the pre-frontal warm sector. One of which became visually interesting in a hurry. This small low topped storm developed a lowered base, a beaver tail feature, and had a nice leaning tower going up into the anvil. We kept our eye on this storm as we made our way westward. This small low topped storm did in fact become tornado warned as it moved off to the NE.

To our south, we saw some stout towers going up. They looked really good on radar too, and we knew that there was going to be a cell merger taking place soon. We blasted south, and then east to keep up with the developing storm cells.

Before long, the supercell to our south developed a small funnel cloud, which made it’s way to the ground and would be the first tornado of our chase, and it would also end up being the main show. Here is the tornado as seen from the north side through the trees. Meanwhile, the north storm (still tornado warned) exhibited a curious lowering, but we were kind of far away at that moment.

To the north of the road we were on, we were watching another funnel cloud rapidly rotating. It was hard to tell at first if it had touched down, but upon observing dust swirls, we were able to confirm that a tornado did indeed touch down. A half condensed tornado. Below you will see a series of images showing this.

We made the decision to abandoned the north storm, and go after the southern storm, which all the while, had a tornado ongoing. We were able to observe a stovepipe structure now through the trees. For the moment, we had 2 tornadoes going at the same time. One just to our north, and one to the south.

As we headed further south, we got caught up on some really bad road networks, and the tornado was hidden from view as we blasted down winding dirt roads in hopes of finding some better roads soon. As we came to a clearing, we finally caught a glimpse of the wall cloud, and as we drove out into the open, we suddenly realized that little tornado we saw, had turned into an absolutely massive wedge tornado, and was tearing across the landscape at a decent speed. Coincidentally, we ended up behind the Extreme Tornado Tours van. They were hauling the mail to get south, and so were we. Hot on their heels by this point. This next series of images shows several views of this massive wedge as we chased it across northern Illinois. Also included below is the first video I posted of the tornado which has garnered over 18,000 views on YouTube as of today 4/11/15

We came to one road that was mostly blocked by debris, so we took an east option. Then went south again, but could not go any further, as debris once again blocked our path. We had to watch at the tornado left us behind. On the backside, we did observe one confirmed satellite tornado. The satellite is in the screenshot from my video.

On the way to a nearby city, we saw a large supercell’s gust front which had a nice shelf cloud and some wicked looking whale’s mouth beneath it.

This tornado would go on to cause lots of damage to many communities, including hardest hit Fairdale and Rochelle, killing 2, and injuring many others, as of 4/11/15 the wedge has been given a preliminary rating of EF-4. This was such a beautiful, violent, and dangerous tornado. My first wedge, CJ’s first fully condensed tornado on video. This was a very special day for us, and I’m so glad we were able to go chasing together! The day went from questionable to extraordinary in under an hour’s time. That’s how quickly the atmosphere can change. You think the day might not be all that great, and then it just surprises you in an amazing way. The first tornado was cool (half condensed), the second one was absolutely stunning (wedge), and the third one (satellite) was just icing on the cake. All in all, a fantastic day. This is how we ended it. A very appropriate message on this sign at McDonald’s.

Chuck Russell

I shoot photos and videos of various different types of events related to weather, nature, motorsports, breaking news, and more and share what I capture with the world at

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