Tornadoes confirmed in Lombard, Wheaton as derecho was 'significant' even for weather experts
Even among weather experts, the powerful storm known as a derecho that struck the suburbs Monday was something they won't soon forget.
Defined by the National Weather Service as an organized and long-lived system of storms producing a family of particularly damaging downbursts, the rare phenomenon was faster and stronger than expected when it entered the Western suburbs about 3:30 p.m., meteorologist Brian Leatherwood said. And it even brought tornadoes to Lombard and the heart of Wheaton, Spring Grove, just south of Marengo and the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Wind gusts were clocked at 50 to 90 mph, downing power lines, toppling trees and blowing over a steeple at the iconic College Church in Wheaton.
Leatherwood said the derecho and its hurricane-force winds will be studied at the weather service. Some longtime meteorologists in the agency's Romeoville office could not recall a similar derecho passing through the Chicago area.
"For many of the forecasters, this was a significant event," he said Tuesday. "They're just storms that are moving. They've got the correct jet support, especially in the lower levels. Lots of moisture to feed them. In this case, we also had the heat and humidity. And because of the organization, they moved out very quickly."
Cleanup from the storm continued across the suburbs Tuesday. Nearly a half million ComEd customers lost power during the storm, and crews were at work Tuesday in an effort to have everyone back online by Saturday afternoon. About 340,373 customers were without power across the Chicago area as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to ComEd; that number dropped to under 319,000 by 6:30 p.m.
The Nationa> Weather Service of Chicago tweeted Tuesday evening that "a very brief EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 90 mph and path length of 0.3 miles touched down in Wheaton and produced damage on the campus of Wheaton College." It then tweeted that "an EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 95 mph and path length of 2.1 miles touched down on the north side of Lombard." It said both were created by the same circulation.
A tornad> also formed in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, the weather service confirmed, as the storm reached the Lake Michigan shoreline at 4:15 to 4:30 p.m. And another tornado, this one with estimated peak winds of 90 mph and a path length of 3.75 miles, touched down near Spring Grove and ended near Camp Lake, Wisconsin.
The damage was dramatic in Wheaton, as the white steeple atop College Church was blown over and left hanging off the building. A crane was deployed to remove the damaged steeple Tuesday afternoon.
Elsewhere in DuPage County, the Lombard Veterinary Hospital was closed indefinitely after the storm left significant roof damage to the building along St. Charles Road.
"All of our staff and patients are safe, and we are grateful for help these past few hours from many clients and our amazing community," a hospital statement reads.
Some homes also sustained significant damage after being struck by large, fallen trees, Lombard officials said in news release.
Leatherwood said the many tents set up at restaurants for outdoor dining, broad buildings that were not strongly built and semitrailers were at particular risk of derecho damage. Such was the case at Colonial Cafe on East Main Street in St. Charles, where two of three tents outside the eatery were toppled by the storm.
"You can do damage similar to what you would see from a tornado, tossing debris through windows, through even in some cases weak walls," Leatherwood said. "It's just the straight-line winds. And then on top of that, an occasional tornado associated with it."
ComEd reported 4,736 customers in Lombard were without power Tuesday afternoon due to 111 separate outages. Crews were working throughout the village to fix downed and broken lines.
Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Christopher Covelli said about 100 weather-related calls were handled by deputies Monday.
Most involved trees blocking roadways, downed live power lines down and property damage. A minor injury was reported near Lake Villa after a tree fell into a home, he said.
Villa Park officials said the village was whipped by 80 mph winds and lightning. In a news release, officials said residents may place downed tree limbs in the parkway by 5 p.m. Friday for disposal under the town's debris management policy.
At least 100 severe-wind reports to the National Weather Service from northern Illinois and northwest Indiana included significant damage from the storm, which also had hail. About 600 severe-wind reports were received by the weather service from Omaha, Nebraska, through northern and central Indiana.
• Daily Herald staff writers Mick Zawislak and Bob Smith contributed to this report.