Severe storms have hit the Chicago area and forecasters warn heavy rain, strong winds and large hail expected could plague the city and suburbs through the evening.
Some funnel clouds were reported along with wind damage, but the National Weather Service could not confirm any tornado touchdown. The wind and heavy rain caused traffic and commuter train problems, and some tree and power line damage has been reported although the power outages have been minimal.
A severe thunderstorm watch was in effect until 1 a.m. for Cook, DuPage, Lake, Will and other Chicago area counties. Isolated severe storms were coming through the area, according to the National Weather Service. As of about 8:15 p.m. radar showed most of the major storm activity south of Joliet and into northeastern Indiana, with rain and a few scattered storms throughout the rest of the area.
Law enforcement sources reported tree and power line damage in the area of Shabbona and Sleepy Hollow Roads in DeKalb County, possibly due to a tornado touchdown, but that has not been confirmed, according to the National Weather Service.
Similar damage, along with some damage to boats, was reported at Shabbona Lake State Park.
Funnel clouds were reported west of Chicago. The National Weather Service said a spotter had called in to report a tornado touching the ground near Somonauk, but the service was unable to confirm the report.
A tornado watch was issued for areas west of Chicago, including Rockford and DeKalb. The weather service said “potentially significant” tornadoes are possible in northwest Illinois.
Aurora activated the city’s severe weather sirens due to a tornado warning issued for Kendall County, but there have been no tornadoes spotted within the city limits, a city spokesman said about 5:40 p.m.
The area is seeing heavy rain, some hail and lots of lightning and thunder, but there have not been any confirmed damage reports except for the Aurora Fire Department responding to two calls of apparent lightning strikes on electrical transformers. There were no fires to any structures, said Dan Ferrelli, city spokesman.
All inbound and outbound trains on Metra’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific lines were temporarily halted about 5:30 p.m. due to the severe weather, along with some stoppages on other service, according to a Metra spokesman.
Of Metra’s 11 train lines, eight were moving again by a little before 7 p.m. Trains on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line had resumed service around 6 p.m. after being halted due to safety concerns earlier in the evening.
Trains on the Union Pacific lines remained stopped from about 5:30 p.m. until about 7:05 p.m., said Metra spokesman Tom Miller, but all service had resumed after that time. Delays were spread throughout the system.
At about 6:30 p.m., 11,236 ComEd customers were without power, including 1,546 customers in Chicago. ComEd spokesman John Schoen noted that that’s a small portion of the utility’s 3.8 million customers.
Schoen said the system was performing “very well” under the dangerous weather conditions, although ComEd announced it was adding work crews in anticipation of damage and power outages.
Lightning was the suspected cause of a Lemont house fire this evening, said Lemont Fire Chief Carl Churulo.
Fire crews battled the fire on the second story of the house in the 16400 block of Alba at about 6 p.m., Churulo said.
Much of the area saw brief episodes of hail, especially in Kane and Kendall counties, with the size described as being from nickel-sized to golfball-sized.
A flood watch is in effect for Chicagoland from 4 p.m. through late tonight, with heavy rain predicted between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Rainfall could total two to three inches in some places.
Airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights at O’Hare International Airport, and many flights were delayed, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
The storms could bring a “potentially dangerous weather situation,” meteorologist Tom Skilling said shortly before noon on WGN-TV. He said a “big batch” of storms could roll through the area in the early evening.
The weather service said the storms could include “damaging” winds with gusts over 75 mph, large hail and flash flooding.
As a precaution, the White Sox canceled their night game against Toronto. The city canceled all outdoor events at Millennium Park, including the opening night of the Grant Park Music Festival.
The city of Evanston has closed facilities and sent workers home early.
It’s a precaution that the city hasn’t had to take since the 2011 blizzard, said city spokesman Eric Palmer.
“We’re taking this seriously,” Palmer said. “This (storm) looks as if it’s going to come into the metropolitan area during rush hour. We want to make sure that we can get our staff home safely.”
Evanston closed all of its facilities as of 3 p.m. and is closing all beaches. Officials are also calling around to construction sites to make sure that construction materials are tied down and cranes are secured before winds pick up, Palmer said. Most city employees have been sent home, but some were held back in case the storms take down trees or cause flooding, Palmer said.
Showers and thunderstorms are predicted into early Thursday, then the day will turn mostly sunny and cooler, with high temperatures in the mid 60s.
-Chicago Tribune Reporting