But the thunderstorms that passed over the Chicago area Wednesday night caused little destruction and resulted in much less mayhem than had been feared. Scattered reports of damage – a horse barn destroyed by severe weather, possibly by a tornado; houses in Lemont and Naperville believed to have been struck by lightning – were the few signs that a powerful system had rolled through.
By 11:30 a.m. Thursday, of the more than 78,000 customers affected by the storms, only about 3,500 remained without power, according to ComEd.
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People who awoke Thursday morning to clear skies and no signs of damage might be puzzled by this, but the National Weather Service insists that the storm lived up to expectations.
“Storms develop in spotty locations,” said David Beachler, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service. “Severe weather is not widespread…severe storms are very isolated, but in those areas they can do a lot of damage.”
Hail about 1 3/4 inches in diameter – the size of a ping pong ball – fell near Oswego in Kendall County, Beachler said. And officials from the weather service were out Thursday morning to investigate damage potentially caused by tornadoes, northwest, south and west of Chicago, with funnel clouds reported during the storm in areas including near Plainfield, South Elgin and Rockford and in Lee County.
Thursday evening the National Weather Service said investigators had confirmed that two tornadoes touched down during the storms, one near Manteno in Kankakee County and one south of Shabonna in DeKalb County.
The storms produced heavy rain, as much as 1 to 2 inches an hour, leading to flash flooding in areas including Kankakee, Bradley and Schererville, Ind. Parts of Kankakee, Kendall and Grundy counties recorded more than 3 inches of rain, with much of the southern Chicago area seeing more than 2 inches of rain.
“There really was severe weather in the area last night,” Beachler said.
It’s unrealistic to think that severe isolated thunderstorms would hit uniformly across a vast metropolitan area, Beachler said. In any storm system, it’s hard to predict exactly where the worst conditions will occur.
“Very easily, (the storm damage) could have been much worse than what it was,” Beachler said. “Very easily, (the storm) could have been further north than what it was.”
Instead, the strongest portions of Wednesday’s storm bypassed some of the areas that had braced for the worst.
The city of Evanston, for example, took the unusual step of closing city facilities and sending workers home early in anticipation of the storm.
Asked to reflect on that decision, Evanston spokesman Eric Palmer said the city would do it again.
“Better safe than sorry,” Palmer said. “You can never be too cautious when it comes to people’s safety.”