July 11, 2008

Storms Rattle Chicago Area, Cause Outages: Tom Skilling: Powerful Squall Line; Hottest Day of Year Expected

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

Jul. 11--A line of powerful thunderstorms swept through the Chicago area Thursday night, knocking out power to thousands of customers and causing delays of more than 90 minutes at the city's airports.

Fueled by humid air and temperatures in the 80s, the storms fired north of Chicago and began to cross into Illinois from the Wisconsin state line late Thursday afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Gitro said.

As it headed south out of Wisconsin, the storm front packed wind gusts of up to 70 m.p.h., blowing over trees in Winnebago County and causing minor damages to roofs and siding in McHenry County, Gitro said.

Weather spotters also reported a gust of 62 m.p.h. at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling and penny-size hail in DuPage County.

But the storm lost strength as it moved into the metropolitan area, and much of downtown Chicago was spared the worst, Gitro said.

"As it continued to extend south, the punch from the storm was definitely starting to die out," he said.

Commonwealth Edison spokeswoman Kim Johnson said at the peak of the outages about 26,000 cutomers were affected, but only a few thousand remained out early Friday.

As of about 6 a.m., only about 3,800 customers remained without power across the region with the majority of those across the southern region, primarily in Kankakee and Bradley, Johnson said. The utility was showing no outages across the city of Chicago despite another less severe rainstorm that moved through the city overnight.

"Most of what we're dealing with was part of the whole system that moved through yesterday evening," Johnson said. ComEd had opened its emergency command center and had crews out working to restore power.

The storms caused long delays at the city's two airports Thursday night, said Chicago Aviation Department spokesman Gregg Cunningham.

Delays at O'Hare International Airport averaged 90 minutes for all arrivals and departures Thursday night, and more than 50 flights had been canceled as of 8:30 p.m.

"For a period while the storm was sitting right over O'Hare, there were no flights at all taking off or landing," Cunningham said.

At Midway Airport, most flights were delayed from 15 to 45 minutes, with some flights delayed 1 to 2 hours, Cunningham said. No major cancellations were reported at Midway.

Gitro said the threat of severe weather ended once the storms moved through. Temperatures were expected to be in the 60s overnight, and Friday's highs were expected to reach into the lower 90s with more thunderstorms at night.

Tribune reporter Dan P. Blake contributed to this story.

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