National Weather Service teams were surveying storm damage Thursday in the Chicago area and northeast Illinois, where fierce winds from suspected tornadoes ripped roofs from buildings, downed trees and sent residents scrambling for safety as sirens sounded.
The weather service warned Wednesday evening that a confirmed tornado was on the ground near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Passengers took shelter and the storm disrupted hundreds of flights, but there were no reports of injuries. A short time later, the weather service said the Chicago forecast area was “currently tornado warning free.”
Storm is moving
The storm moved into Michigan before passing through the state and into Canada early Thursday. Tornado watches that were in effect for parts of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio all expired.
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.”
Four teams from the weather service headed out Thursday morning to survey 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 morning, he said the only confirmed tornado was the one that touched down in the Cicero area, near O’Hare International Airport.
- We’ve got lots of reports of damage but we don’t know at this time what caused that so we're out surveying those areas today to find out exactly what went on - Yack said.
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, he 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.
Hillary Timpe in Countryside, Ill., a suburb southwest of Chicago, who was with her husband, Greg Timpe, said a tornado damaged homes in the neighborhood, but luckily no one was hurt. It also 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.”
The storm moved through quickly, Greg Timpe said.
“It really left as quick as it came," he said. "It was maybe 10, 20 seconds, and it was out of here, and all this.”
People in shelters
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.
Lynn Becker, a longtime Chicago resident, posted video to Twitter with tornado sirens blaring across the city’s iconic skyline.
“I’m in a 60 story apartment building so my options are somewhat limited,” he said. “We have to, I assume, go into the core of the building.”
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. Kyle Brown, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Syracuse, Indiana, office, said he did not have details of that damage reported near Colon, but said the survey results would be available later Thursday.
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.