Hurricane-Force Storm Slams The Midwest

A massive storm that some forecasters likened to a hurricane thundered across the Midwest on Tuesday, prompting severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches from Arkansas to Ohio and snarling travel.

The system stretched from the Dakotas to the eastern Great Lakes with strong winds and heavy rain. Flights were delayed at one of the nation's busiest airports, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which is a major hub for American and United airlines.

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

The National Weather Service said the storm is one of the strongest to hit the region in more than 70 years.

Edward Fenelon, a weather service meteorologist in Romeoville, Ill., 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."

The storm was expected to rival the monster that sank the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. All 29 crew members died. On Tuesday, the NWS predicted winds on Superior topping 50 mph and seas building to as much as 27 feet.

In Milwaukee, a local newspaper reported that high winds — at first thought to be a tornado — damaged homes and uprooted large trees. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's website quoted local officials saying they expected conditions to get worse as the storm moved through the area.

In the Windy City, commuters braced against blustery, wind-driven rain as they waited for trains before dawn. Some Chicagoans huddled underneath train overpasses to stay out of the gusts, dashing to the platform at the last minute.

"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 predawn 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 mph slammed into the Chicago suburb of Lombard early Tuesday.

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

In St. Louis, strong winds overnight collapsed part of a building, raining bricks, mortar, roofing and window air-conditioning units down onto a sidewalk. No one was injured, and inspectors were examining the 1920s-era building.

In the nearby suburb of Ballwin, a tree fell onto a home, covering a woman and her husband with dust and insulation. The family managed to get out of the house and call emergency responders.

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. Snow is expected to blanket North Dakota and parts of northern South Dakota. Wind gusts forecast to be more than 50 mph in many areas could make travel treacherous.

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

This program aired on October 26, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


More from WBUR

Listen Live