'Chiclone' buffets Illinois; tornado watch issued

Broken umbrellas lie in a trash can outside the Lyric Opera, after morning storms in Chicago, Tuesday. / AP photo

CHICAGO (AP) " A storm drawing comparisons to a hurricane muscled across the Midwest on Tuesday, snapping trees and power lines, delaying flights at one of nation's busiest airports and soaking commuters who slogged to work under crumpled umbrellas.

The storm " quickly nicknamed a "chiclone" and "windpocalypse" " swept an area that stretched from the Dakotas to the eastern Great Lakes. Severe thunderstorm warnings blanketed much of the Midwest and tornado watches were issued from Arkansas to Ohio. Flights were delayed at O'Hare International Airport, a major hub for American and United airlines.

Sustained winds of 35 to 40 mph and gusts up to 60 mph were expected throughout the afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologist Amy Seeley described the storm as one of the worst in decades based on a reading of the pressure level at its center, which was similar to a Category 3 hurricane " although the effects of the storm were not. The wind gusts were only as strong as a tropical storm; Category 3 hurricanes have winds from 111 to 130 mph.

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"We're expecting sustained winds on the order of 35 to 40 mph with gusts up to 60 mph throughout the afternoon," said Edward Fenelon, a weather service meteorologist in Romeoville, Ill. He said the storm's central pressure is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

"This is a very different type of event," Fenelon said. "But that does give an indication of the magnitude of the winds. This isn't something you see even every year."

Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Allsopp said the storm could be among the worst to hit Illinois in more than 70 years.

Commuters in the Chicago area faced blustery, wind-driven rain as they waited for trains to take them downtown before dawn. Some huddled underneath train overpasses to stay out of the gusts, dashing to the platform at the last minute. In the city's downtown Loop, construction workers wore heavy slickers and held onto their hard-hats, heavy metal streets signs rattled against their posts and umbrellas provided relief only for as long as they could last.

"The wind was almost blowing horizontally. The rain was slapping me in the face," said Anthony Quit, a 24-year-old jewelry store worker in Chicago. "My umbrella shot off ... It was pretty dangerous."

He said the wind was so strong that his car "was starting to veer off the road."

Another commuter described a frightening pre-dawn drive to the train station.

"It was raining really, really hard. Coming down the street I was kind of getting really nervous; even with the bright lights you couldn't see in front of you," said Delphine Thompson, 53, a telecom manager in Chicago.

The weather service said gusts that topped 50 miles per hour slammed into the Chicago suburb of Lombard early Tuesday.

High winds forced authorities to stop flights at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation said officials issued a temporary "ground stop" at O'Hare, meaning no flights are departing. Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride said more than 125 flights were canceled at O'Hare. No cancelations are being reported at Midway International Airport on Chicago's South Side.

The storm was also picking up speed on Twitter, where people were dubbing it "Chiclone" and "Windpocalypse."

In St. Louis, pre-dawn strong winds were blamed for a partial building collapse that sent bricks, mortar, roofing and some window air-conditioning units raining down onto a sidewalk. No one was injured, and inspectors were inspecting the 1920s-era building.

In Ballwin, a St. Louis suburb, a woman escaped with minor injuries when a tree fell onto her home as she slept, covering her and her husband with dust and insulation. The family managed to get out of the house and call emergency responders.

In Milwaukee, some restaurants moved sidewalk furniture indoors as the storm approached and homeowners scrambled to batten down anything that might be swept away by the storm.

Meanwhile, much of North Dakota was under a blizzard warning. The National Weather Service said up to 10 inches of snow could fall in some areas into early Wednesday.

The snow is expected across North Dakota and into northern South Dakota. Forecasters said wind gusts of more than 50 mph in many areas would make travel treacherous.

Fenelon of the National Weather Service said the winds will subside Tuesday evening but could pick up again on Wednesday.

Eleven states are under a high wind warning. Those states are: Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio and parts of Kentucky.

With a nod to the coming weekend, Jodi WhiteJones in Chicago said she hoped the storm wouldn't lead to a Halloween-related disaster.

"Everyone in Chicago is used to foul weather but with this type of wind I just hope nobody gets hurt by things falling from buildings, flying pumpkins, debris," said the 41-year-old assistant college dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Associated Press writer Tamara Starks in Chicago, David Aguilar in Detroit and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this story.

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