CHICAGO (AP) — National Weather Service teams were surveying storm damage Thursday in the Chicago area and northeast Illinois, where fierce winds from tornadoes ripped roofs from buildings, downed trees and sent residents scrambling for safety as sirens sounded.
Four teams from the weather service headed out Thursday morning to inspect storm damage reported Wednesday across numerous areas of the Chicago metropolitan area and points farther west to determine if tornadoes caused that damage, said Zachary Yack, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Chicago area office.
As of Thursday afternoon, the weather service confirmed at least seven low-grade tornadoes, including one that touched down in the Cicero area, near O’Hare International Airport. The twister sent passengers dashing for shelter at the airport and disrupted hundreds of flights, but no injuries were reported.
Teams continue to examine damage, the weather service’s Chicago-area office said on Twitter.
Ty Carr, a resident of the Skyline Motel in McCook, Illinois, said a tornado tore off its roof.
“Just chaos,” Carr said, cradling a toddler as he spoke to reporters. “It was really fast, and the noises and the crackling and the wind -- it was just something I’ve never seen or been through, you know?”
Rajan Patel, whose family owns the motel, said his family came to the Chicago area in the 1990s with nothing, and now their motel is severely damaged.
“The entire place is ruined," Patel said. "I don’t know, man. I don’t know how to recover anything. I don’t know.”
The weather service posted a map on social media highlighting nine yellow-shaded areas, including the Cicero area, where there were either reports of storm damage or indications from radar of possible tornadoes, Yack said. The teams will determine if tornadoes hit those areas, and if so, will work to pin down their tracks and intensity ratings.
The weather service said the suspected tornadoes were spawned by rotating thunderstorms known as supercells.
Meteorologist Victor Gensini estimated that most of the tornadoes that occurred Wednesday "were rather short-lived and rather weak.”
Morning rainfall and cloud cover dampened the amount of instability that could build up in the atmosphere, and the storm system was vertically shorter — and less deadly — than a typical tornado, said Gensini, who is a professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University.
“Sometimes thunderstorms can get so tall and so strong that they reach up to … 60,000 feet. The storms yesterday were in the 25,000- or 30,000-foot range,” he said.
A cluster of storms formed in mid-to-late afternoon in northwest Illinois, moved toward the Interstate 39 corridor and eventually into the western suburbs of Chicago, hitting peak intensity around 5 to 6:30 p.m. central time, Gensini said.
“I’m sad for the folks that are cleaning up today, and picking up tree limbs, but at least we’re not talking about planning funerals,” he said.
Hillary Timpe in Countryside, Illinois, a suburb southwest of Chicago, was with her husband, Greg, when the tornado whipped quickly through their neighborhood, damaging homes. No one was injured, although the force of the twister ripped their 100-year-old tree out of the ground.
“When the winds kicked up really hard, really fast, and I’m like, ‘Basement — now! Grab the dog, let’s go!’ And it wasn’t more than a couple seconds after that, that got really crazy.”
Video from TV stations showed hundreds of people taking shelter in an O’Hare concourse. Some 173 flights departing the airport were canceled and more than 500 were delayed, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware.
Kevin Bargnes, director of communications for O’Hare and Chicago Midway International Airport, told WGN-TV Wednesday night that no damage was reported at either airport.
The weather service quoted an unidentified emergency manager as saying a roof was blown off in the community of Huntley in McHenry County northwest of Chicago. Huntley Battalion Chief Mike Pierce told ABC-7-TV that firefighters and other emergency services were responding to downed power lines, trees and tree branches, and that power outages had been reported. Building damage appeared to be concentrated around two apartment buildings, he said.
More than 10,000 customers lost power in the region, but power was mostly restored by Thursday morning, according to poweroutage.us.
In southern Michigan, a team from the weather service and local emergency management will survey damage Thursday from a possible tornado that was reported Wednesday night near the village of Colon, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Kalamazoo.
Over the years many tornadoes have struck in the Chicago metropolitan area, and several have hit within the city limits of Chicago, according to the National Weather Service. Between 1855 and 2021, the weather service recorded 97 significant tornadoes in the Chicago metro area.
The deadliest formed in Palos Hills in Cook County on April 21, 1967. The twister traveled 16 miles (26 kilometers) through Oak Lawn and the south side of Chicago, killing 33 people, injuring 500 and causing more than $50 million in damage, according to the weather service.