A violent line of storms pounded the Chicago area late Monday, bringing torrential rains and powerful wind gusts and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power.
The storm system may have produced small tornadoes in areas south of Chicago, where there were buildings with structural damage, widespread reports of downed trees and winds as high as 86 miles per hour, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Ratzer.
Weather officials will dispatch survey teams today into those areas, which stretch from LaSalle County in Illinois to Porter County in Indiana, to determine whether any of the areas sustained damage consistent with that of a tornado, Ratzer said.
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About 225,000 homes in the area remained without power at 4 a.m. due to storm-related outages, ComEd spokeswoman Arlana Johnson said. The vast majority of the affected homes -- about 184,000 -- were in the region south of the city, Johnson said. About 21,000 homes were affected in the Chicago region, about 17,000 in the west region and about 3,000 in the north region, Johnson said.
The storms, which moved from west to east, provided a grim coda to an evening in which the Chicago area earlier had seemed to escape the worst of a dangerous weather system. Reports of severe damage in LaSalle County, southwest of Chicago, came in after 10 p.m. and tornado warnings in northwest Indiana continued past 11.
National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said his office had "numerous reports of damaging winds" from throughout the region, with gusts over 70 mph reported in several spots. Many of the most severe reports were from northern Will and southern Cook counties, he said.
Access to North Lake Shore Drive from North Michigan Avenue was blocked due to flooding and there was also severe flooding under Lake Shore Drive at North Avenue at about 11:30 p.m. At least one car appeared to be stuck in more than a foot of standing water.
A LaSalle County sheriff's official said late Monday that emergency crews were responding to damage from high winds or a possible tornado near Sheridan, Earlville and Mendota. He said no injuries were immediately reported in the county southwest of Chicago, but information was scant as officials made their way to the scene.
In Naperville, a home caught fire in the 3600 block of Schillinger Court, causing $75,000 worth of damage, the Naperville Fire Department said in a press release. The cause of the fire is storm-related and the building was deemed uninhabitable, it said. No one was injured. Two other homes were damaged by trees toppled by high winds, the department said.
Earlier in the evening, the storms came without some of the vengeance forecasters feared.
Lightning flashed in the prematurely dark downtown sky just after 7:20 p.m., and a steady rain began falling minutes later, the beginning of hours of serious weather in the city.
Chicago and many suburbs were back under a severe thunderstorm warning at 9:45 p.m. as a second line of storms moved through the area with the threat of high wind gusts and hail.
Tornado warnings then were issued for parts of Cook, Kankakee and Will counties. All the Illinois warnings had expired by 11.
Earlier in the afternoon, storms raged across the region, knocking down power lines in Wisconsin and fatally injuring one person near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Forecasters expected the first line of storms, which struck during the evening commute, to pose the most serious weather threat. As it turned out, it was the tail end of the storm system that wreaked the most havoc when it moved through hours later.
The storms snarled air traffic, slowed commuter trains and stopped baseball. Even before the first raindrops fell in the city, the White Sox postponed their evening game because of the promise of ominous weather, eventually rescheduling it for Tuesday.
The first round of bad weather prompted airlines to cancel more than 450 flights at O'Hare International Airport, said a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. Flights that weren't nixed were delayed an average of two hours.
Things weren't much better at Midway International Airport, where officials said delays averaged more than two hours and Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier, had canceled the majority of its flights.
Metra reported a series of delays, mostly minor, for rail commuters throughout the evening and into the night.
Reports of strong winds and heavy downpours streamed in from the suburbs as rain approached downtown Chicago just after 7 p.m., but in most cases it seemed to be a heavy storm and not an imminent danger.
As late as 8 p.m., forecasters said the second line of storms was unlikely to pose a severe weather threat in the area. But by 10:15, radar had detected possible rotation near southwest suburban Plainfield, and a series of tornado warnings followed as the storm tracked east through Will, Cook and Kankakee counties and into Indiana.
The extent of the damage wasn't immediately clear as first responders, racing to the scene of the storms, often weren't available to provide updates. A woman who answered the phone at the police department in Mendota said they were "slammed" and didn't have time to relay information.
ComEd reported just before 9 p.m. that 66,000 customers were without power. Utility spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said crews were out working to restore service to the impacted customers, who were in the city, suburbs and areas beyond.
Tribune reporters Melissa Harris and Adam Sege and Reuters contributed to this report.