May 1, 2012:  Just outside the shop - tornado!

    All text and images Copyright Michael E. Lockwood, all rights reserved.

First, let me say this - your mirrors are fine!  The shop and house are fine too.

Yes, you read it right, I saw a tornado today, the first for me.  I did see a cold-air funnel about 20 years ago northeast of Cincinnati, but this was very different.  Most of the time it was funnel cloud, but I'm pretty sure it touched down at some point while I was photographing it.  It was no closer than several miles and not very strong, but certainly it was not expected.

I was talking on the phone with Rick Singmaster (owner of Starmaster Telescopes) when I happened to look out the window to see which way some very recently developed thunderstorms were moving.  The storms had popped up very quickly, and would bring some needed rain to the area.

I saw a strange, low cloud roughly ten miles to the west of my shop.  It was sunny at the time, and not raining.  The cloud looked quite distinct and low, and it appeared to be changing shape.

While still on the phone, not thinking much of it, I checked the weather radar, and it showed a fairly good storm to my west.  I clicked on the "Show Severe" option, which highlights severe weather warnings.  The storm's area on the map lit up with a red color, indicating a tornado warning!

I looked back out the window, noted the rotating cloud, and said to Rick - "I need to get off the phone.  I think I see a funnel cloud."  I don't think I can share his reply here.  Rick lives in Kansas

For a moment I was a bit worried, but then I saw that the storm was heading northeast.  So of course I ran (literally) to grab my camera and telephoto lens, and headed outside.

Funnel cloud west of my shop
Above we see the funnel cloud that got my attention, although it is a bit more funnel-shaped than it was when I first spotted it.  The silos on the horizon are in Tolono, IL.

Evolution of a funnel cloud
Zooming in a bit more, the cloud has moved closer, but it is now to the northwest of me and clearly not heading in my direction.  I was concerned about the town of Philo to my north, Urbana, Sydney, and Homer, because I thought it might get stronger.  I'm not sure it was on the ground at this point, but other photos from closer to it show that it likely was.

Thin funnel
At this point the funnel had gotten quite thin, and was moving to the right within the dark overhanging wall cloud seen in the image above.  It moved, disappeared, and reformed a few times.  Then it disappeared.

Dark cloud over Philo
This cloud was not spinning - it was just low hanging.  The water tower is in Philo, a few miles north of me.  The cloud was a bit north of there I think.  The sirens were going off at this time.

Wide angle shot of the entire storm
For this shot, while the funnel was not visible I grabbed a 14mm wide-angle lens to get a nice shot of the whole storm from the ground up.  The funnel had been appearing just left of center.  All of a sudden I saw some redevelopment, and put the telephoto back on to see what would happen.

The funnel returns.... and then disappears
For about 30 seconds, a very thin funnel becomes visible, likely touching the ground several miles to the northeast, and therefore a tornado again.  It rarely appears as a complete funnel, but it was close.  Right after the shot above was taken, the funnel disappeared completely.

I drove a couple of miles east to the top of a rise and saw no more funnels, just a mean storm heading for Danville, IL and then into Indiana.  It destroyed a metal shed in Tilton, IL, on the way, but there were no injuries.  It also damaged some homes in southwest Champaign, IL earlier on.

Please check back for future installements of "In the Shop".

Mike Lockwood
Lockwood Custom Optics

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