Weather Service: Tornado Touched Down in Chicago, Became a Waterspout Over Lake Michigan

CHICAGO (Chicago Tribune/TNS) —
Waterspout over the Great Lakes. (weather.govfile)

Hundreds of thousands of people were still without power Tuesday after more than 100 severe weather reports were logged during Monday afternoon’s powerful storms, including a confirmed tornado on the Far North Side, according to preliminary information from the National Weather Service.

The tornado was confirmed using a combination of radar, photos and two submitted videos, said Brian Leatherwood, a meteorologist with the weather service — including one taken by Sabina Tuladhar on Birchwood Avenue in Rogers Park. Leatherwood said the tornado was embedded in already strong winds and it quickly moved out over Lake Michigan, where the funnel became a waterspout.

“That’s the only one that’s confirmed,” Leatherwood said. “It’s pretty significant, it’s not straight line, you can see rotation, you can see debris.”

Meteorologist Matt Friedlein said the tornado likely was the most recent in the city in at least two years, potentially much longer. In 2018 a tornado was reported in Berwyn in Cook County, but it wasn’t immediately clear if a touchdown in city limits was later reported.

Reached Tuesday morning, Tuladhar said via text message that she has always been fascinated by clouds and lightning. “Just saw it moving so fast, I thought, let me capture that moment. In a matter of a couple seconds debris started flying … I haven’t seen anything like that before in my life,” she said.

The derecho that blasted a swath of the Midwest spurred more than 600 such severe weather reports from Omaha, Nebraska to Northwest Indiana, knocking down trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands without power at the height of the storm system. A derecho is “an organized and long-lived system of storms producing a family of particularly damaging downbursts,” according to the weather service.

The derecho blew in from Iowa, where winds surpassed 100 mph. It swept east across Illinois and into Indiana, with winds of 40 to 70 mph, with some gusts as high as 92 mph, the weather service reported, but the Chicago area mostly dodged the direst warnings as no deaths were reported, forecasters said.

At least one semi-truck blew over in the Peru area as a result of the 60 mph-plus winds, Leatherwood said. One person was reported injured as a result, but additional details were not immediately available.

Tuesday morning, about 424,000 Commonwealth Edison customers remained without power, with about 437,000 customers restored since the storm, according to spokesperson John Schoen. He was looking into how many of the outages were in the Chicago area and said the largest number of outages reported at one time was 635,000.

A building under construction partially collapsed in the 1800 block of South Canalport Avenue in East Pilsen, according to the Chicago Fire Department. A social media post, complete with a picture of a small white car trapped under huge branches, said the fire department also responded to a report of people trapped in a vehicle, used a chainsaw to cut the branches and the occupants emerged unscathed. The agency also responded to numerous fires started by energized powerlines, it said in a tweet.

The steeple on College Church, across the street from Wheaton College, collapsed, spokesman Joseph Moore said.

In Bronzeville, the south side wall of Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3301 S. Indiana Ave., collapsed into an empty side lot, Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller said.

The church was gutted by a fire in 2006, and church members and preservationists have been trying to raise funds ever since to renovate the structure, designed by architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, ever since. Recently, it was proposed to be converted into a museum. Miller said the collapse was unfortunate but he remained hopeful the edifice could still be saved.

Throughout the Chicago area, roads were blocked by downed trees and power lines.

In the Logan Square neighborhood, tree branches plummeted onto power lines, cutting power on several blocks south of Diversey Avenue and east of Kedzie Street.

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