PORTAGE | While most people got up Sunday morning thinking about going to church or the noontime Chicago Bears game, Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham had other plans.
When he got up, he checked the weather forecast. With the prediction of severe storms in the region, Stidham hopped in his car and headed southwest into Illinois.
"It is a very, very amateur hobby of mine," Stidham said of his interest in storm chasing.
Stidham made his way to Coal City, Ill., watching the clouds and checking radar.
"I made it to Coal City just before the tornado touched down," he said.
Snapping pictures with his iPad of the moving clouds, Stidham said he was so focused, he didn't see an impending wall cloud, indicative of a tornado.
"It was a very eery sky. You got the sense something was going to happen. There was a bizarre green shade to the clouds, interspersed with rays of sunshine," Stidham recalled.
Stidham said his mind was racing as the tornado approached. He was fascinated by the storm, while at the same time trying to plan an escape route just in case the tornado moved in his direction.
It was a combination of adrenaline and nervousness.
As the tornado touched down, there was little hail, little rain. Then, he said, he was overtaken by extreme wind and extreme rain.
And, then it was gone. Stidham said it went past so quickly, he knew he couldn't catch up.
In the storm's wake he encountered downed power lines and uprooted trees. While the trip to Coal City took an hour, the trip back to Portage took four hours as he traveled country roads avoiding the damage left in the storm's path.
"This was the first time I was successful in seeing a tornado," Stidham said, adding he's not sure if his fascination with tornadoes is due to his living in Kansas as a child or to the storms themselves.
"Tornadoes are just an odd thing we don't understand," he said.