UPDATED 10/26/10 9:30 p.m.
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FROM THE CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF AVIATION
CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM)- Tornadoes damaged homes in the far southern suburbs and winds across the area gusted at speeds of more than 50 mph, as the "Great Lakes Cyclone" hammered Chicagoland on Tuesday.
Heavy rains had come to an end by 9:50 a.m. By 11 a.m., winds had already reached sustained speeds of 24 mph at Midway Airport and 25 mph at O'Hare, 30 mph in Aurora and 32 mph in DeKalb.
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down about two miles northwest of Elburn in Kane County at 6:55 a.m. The tornado's path length was surveyed to be about 3/4 of a mile, the weather service said. Two barns and a grain bin were destroyed, along with a pole that snapped at the base at one farmstead.
A second powerful EF-2 tornado touched down about 7:40 a.m. in Will County, about four miles east of Peotone. The path of the tornado was surveyed at about a mile in length and 200 yards in width. Damage included a roof torn off a house at 30651 S. Will Center Rd. in Will County, a garage destroyed and exterior walls collapsed on a second home, according to the weather service. Several utility poles were also toppled.
And in Porter County, Ind., a tornado was confirmed between Malden and Kouts townships at 8:33 a.m. One outbuilding was damaged by the tornado, the weather service said.
There were also unconfirmed reports that a tornado briefly touched down in Iroquois, Ill., about 80 miles south of Chicago, officials said.
A funnel cloud was reported in St. John, Ind., and a possible funnel cloud was spotted in St. Anne, Ill., in Kankakee County.
A woman was impaled by a falling tree branch in the northern suburbs while driving her car.
CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports the roof of a house was ripped off in Will County, along the 3000 block of Will Center Road between Beecher and Peotone.
LISTEN: Newradio 780's Regine Schlesinger Reports
The storm that came through around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday did an awful lot of damage.
When the storm hit, Justin Schroeder was standing in front of the home. His younger brother, Jesse, was out on the porch, when a gust blew him back inside, leaving him with cuts to the head and fingers.
Jesse Schroeder was taken from what remains of his house to a hospital, Justin Schroeder suffered cuts to his face from the flying glass, but he chose not to be taken to the hospital.
The storm also tore a shed off its foundation. A front porch and a second shed were picked up and tossed some 30 yards away.
A farm right next to the Schroeders' was also severely damaged. One of the large buildings on that farm was reportedly moved far off its foundation.
At least 8 construction signs were tossed about on the Indiana Toll Road in the construction zone between the Gary Airport and Calumet Ave, causing delays, Newsradio 780's Bart Shore reported.
In addition, the high winds prompted the management of the Willis Tower to close the Skydeck observatory and Ledge attraction Tuesday. Building engineers actually retracted the Ledge inside the Skydeck as a precaution.
In addition to the Willis Tower, the Garfield Park and the Lincoln Park conservatories have been closed by the Chicago Park District because of the high winds forecast for Tuesday. The city closed the botanical showcase houses on the West Side and near the Lincoln Park Zoo because the roofs at both conservatories are made of glass, the Park District said.
Also, Buckingham Fountain has been turned off through Wednesday and because of the wind advisory, according to the Park District. The fountain will be off for the season after this coming Sunday.
Winds howled loud enough in the wee hours of the morning to wake Chicagoans up. Then in the 7 a.m. hour, rain was coming down in sheets as winds blasted the area at 35 mph.
The storms were gone by the 9 a.m. hour. By 10:30 a.m., blue skies with sporadic fluffy clouds had replaced the gloomy, ominous sights of the early morning.
But that doesn't mean the area is in the clear. The rain, thunder and tornadoes were only the beginning.
A high wind warning remains in effect for the entire Chicago area from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A tornado watch was also issued for the entire Chicago area. It expired at 11 a.m.
A tornado warning was also briefly issued for Kane County as a tornadic storm passed through the far west suburbs, but the warning was canceled by 7:10 a.m. Another tornado warning was issued for north central Kankakee County and east central Will County until 8 a.m., and for parts of Northwest Indiana as late as 9:45 a.m.
At O'Hare and Midway international airports, the FAA's Elizabeth Isham-Corry says air traffic is moving but slowly.
"We're going to hunker down and wait it out. Also we're going to move traffic safely when we can. We are departing and we are taking arrivals so it is moving but it's not moving at normal rates."
The Chicago Department of Aviation reported that more than 500 flights had been canceled at O'Hare on Tuesday, as of 3:30 p.m.
As of that time, airlines at O'Hare were reporting delays that averaged 45 minutes for flights both in and out of the airport.
A ground stop was in effect at O'Hare earlier Tuesday morning, meaning that no flights could depart, but some could arrive. The ground stop had been lifted by 10:30 a.m., aviation officials said.
O'Hare was never closed, the department emphasized.
The storm also caused trouble at Midway, where airlines reported delays of 30 minutes or more, and some minor cancellations.
Gusts of 44 mph were reported at O'Hare International Airport early Tuesday morning. There were also several reports of downed wires and power outages.
As of 9:15 p.m., a total of 12,000 customers across Illinois were without power, according to ComEd. That included 1,300 in Chicago, 2,900 in south suburban areas, 4,500 in the northern suburbs and 3,300 in the western suburbs. ComEd also had restored service to 193,000 customers that had lost power earlier in the day.
While a local tornado watch has expired, a high wind warning remains in effect until 8 p.m. across northeastern Illinois and northwest Indiana, according to the weather service. Southwest winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 60 mph are expected.
"If it indeed comes to pass, you can imagine that the impact on our system will be significant," ComEd spokesman Bennie Currie said early Tuesday.
Repairing power outages will be made difficult by the dangerous winds, which will make for conditions resembling a tropical storm.
STORM RANKS AMONG THE WORST
The National Weather Service reports that based on its records, this will probably be one of the most powerful storm in 70 years, CBS 2's Mary Kay Kleist said.
The Weather Service has made a list of the worst storms in the Great Lakes region, ranked by how low the barometric pressure dropped.
Still ranking at No. 1, ahead of the storm Tuesday, is the Great Ohio Blizzard of Jan. 25-27, 1978. That storm produced winds that gusted up to more than 100 mph, wind chills of -60, and left snow drifts 20 feet high in some areas, according to published reports.
Ohio was the hardest hit in that storm, but the entire Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley were affected. The storm was blamed for more than 70 deaths.
Coming in second is the storm expected Tuesday.
Ranking third is the Armistice Day Storm of Nov. 11, 1940, which brought a blizzard to much of the Midwest, and a drop from 60-degree temperatures to single-digits in just one day. Up to 26 inches of snow fell in some areas, and the storm was blamed for 144 deaths – many of them duck hunters on the Mississippi River.
Tying for third was the Anniversary Storm of Nov. 10, 1998, which involved winds exceeding 70 mph.
Coming in fourth was the Cyclone of 1913, or the White Hurricane, on Nov. 7-9, 1913. A total of 24 inches of snow fell in some areas, and the blizzard led to the death of more than 250 people and sank 19 ships.
Fifth on the list is the storm on Nov, 10, 1975, which sank the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald freighter ship in Lake Superior. All 29 crew members were killed in the wreck, which inspired a pop song by Gordon Lightfoot.
CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli, Megan Glaros and Don Schwenneker, WBBM Newsradio 780's Bart Shore, and the Sun-Times Media Wire, contributed to this report.
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