CHICAGO â€” 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 â€” quickly nicknamed a "chiclone" and "windpocalypse" â€” 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 â€” 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.
"This is a very different type of event," said Edward Fenelon, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Ill. "But that does give an indication of the magnitude of the winds. This isn't something you see even every year."
The winds blew off roofs at a tractor plant in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and a home in Peotone, Ill.
Sheryl Uthemann, 49, of South Milwaukee, was working first shift at the Case New Holland plant in Mount Pleasant when the storm blew through about 8 a.m. and started to lift up the roof.
"It was just a regular work day and all of a sudden that noise just came and (co-workers) said 'Run! Run! Run!' You didn't have time to think," she said. "I looked up where the noise was coming from and saw pieces of the roof sucked up. I've never been more scared, ever."
Commuters in the Chicago area faced blustery, wind-driven rain as they waited for trains to take them downtown before dawn. Some huddled beneath 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 rain coats 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 Kwit, 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.