‘It almost sounded like a hurricane’: Derecho weather events in the Chicago area since 1965

·8 min read

The powerful Monday storm that toppled trees, knocked power out and may have spawned a tornado in Rogers Park was a derecho.

What is a derecho?

This type of weather event is a widespread summer storm capable of traveling thousands of miles with hurricane-force winds of up to 100 mph. A Spanish word, derecho (deh-ray’-cho) is the term used for “straight ahead,” which refers to the straight-line wind direction (as opposed to rotary, tornadic winds) of these storms. Derecho winds can appear as a concave or bowed shape on weather radar.

Derecho was first used as a weather term in 1878 by Iowa meteorologist Gustavus Detlef Hinrichs, and appeared for the first time in the Chicago Tribune in a March 30, 1890 story on tornado prediction.

Here are the details of nine derecho events since 1965.

Aug. 26-27, 1965

Thousands of downed trees and power lines littered the Chicago area following the powerful derecho, which formed late in the afternoon on Aug. 26, 1965, according to WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling.

The storm produced torrential rainfall, hail, funnel clouds and damaging winds as it swept from northwest to southeast across the area, causing approximately $7 million in damages. No fatalities were reported in Chicago, but the storm killed five people and injured 146 in its path from Iowa to Ohio.

July 4-5, 1980

The temperature reached a high of 94 degrees — surpassing the previous high for July 5 — at 4 p.m., but dropped to a chilly 64 degrees when a cold front swept in around 11 p.m., according to the July 6, 1980, edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Winds reached 82 miles per hour and left 100,000 homes in the area without power. The most violent wind report came from Northbrook, where half of a roof on a 20-car garage was lifted then dropped, damaging at least seven cars in a parking shelter for a condominium. No injuries were reported in the Chicago area due to the storm.

“I had a beautiful yard, and now it’s all ruined.”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"FHZ6U5RK2VGVZKUWOLUZIHDSPE

Ann Schranz, Chicago resident

July 2, 1992

A 36-year-old woman was pronounced dead in west suburban Woodridge after being hit by a current from a downed power line. A neighbor said she might have been trying to rescue her family’s dog when she was electrocuted after touching a metal fence. Dozens more were injured by the violent storm, which brought torrential rains, reports of funnel clouds and the loss of power for more than 210,000 Commonwealth Edison customers.

Windows were reportedly broken in the Sears Tower (known now as Willis Tower) by winds in excess of 80 miles per hour and 33 people were injured when food booths and stages were overturned at Taste of Chicago in Grant Park. About 30 teenagers aboard small sailboats participating in the Chicago Fireworks Junior Regatta ended up in Lake Michigan, but all were pulled from the water without injury.

With only half the field completing the first round, the Western Open golf tournament at Cog Hill in Lemont, was cancelled for the day and 20,000 people were safely evacuated from the grounds.

“I saw people with terror on their faces, and thank goodness I didn’t have a mirror because I was one of them.”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"37HOAP6ZU5BGLCHOB7GXCJMFJA

Peter DeYoung, Western Open tournament director

Aug. 23, 2007

Up to five inches of rain fell in the Chicago area, overwhelming the region’s Deep Tunnel System. Locks were opened to release storm water and untreated sewage into Lake Michigan. The pooling water caused a late afternoon commuting nightmare for drivers and at least 7,000 Metra riders, who were stranded as power lines and heavy tree branches blocked rail lines.

Wind gusts estimated up to 90 miles per hour caused air-traffic controllers at O’Hare International Airport to evacuate the tower — the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, that it had been shut down for an emergency.

“It started like you had just turned on a faucet in your sink. It went from nothing to heavy rain and winds in just a minute.”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"G7XCJXU6CJBTXI6BND5CDE2G3E

Sgt. John Nebl, Schaumburg police

Aug. 4, 2008

A violent squall line with hurricane-strength winds — as high as 94 miles per hour recorded at the Harrison-Dever Crib just off the lakefront in downtown Chicago — swept the area, according to WGN-TV’s Skilling. Ten thousand strokes of lightning were recorded in just one house as the storm, fueled by hot and humid air, left a trail of downed trees. Two confirmed tornadoes — each identified as EF1 twisters with winds between 86-110 mph — hit Bloomingdale and Bolingbrook.

The storm interrupted several times the Cubs game against the Astros — ’70s Night — at Wrigley Field. Tornado sirens blared and the stands were cleared as the crowd of more than 40,000 people was evacuated to the lower concourse. After one particularly jarring explosion of thunder and lightning, Houston’s Lance Berkman threw off his metal chain and then sprinted off the field.

The game finally concluded at 11:51 p.m. in a 2-0 Astros victory.

“It started out innocuously enough. At 7:39 p.m., the grounds crew rolled out the tarp and play was suspended. By 8 p.m., the Cubs were on the stadium loudspeakers, advising fans to seek shelter in the concourse or under the grandstands. Six minutes later those ominous tornado sirens sounded, and the deluge followed. Then, despite all logic to the contrary, Act Two ensued.”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"A4LRY7EVNJA6HDCYLQCWUPSPAM

Chicago Tribune story by Brian Hamilton, Aug. 5, 2008

July 11, 2011

Up to 75 mph winds ripped down power lines, tossed trees onto roads and railroad tracks and forced businesses to close for the day. During the storm’s peak, it was estimated 868,000 ComEd customers were without power — more than in any storm in at least the previous decade. Despite the winds, the storm brought little rain.

One Union Pacific North line train was stuck for hours on the tracks after tree limbs and fallen power lines blocked it. It was scheduled to arrive at Ogilvie Transportation Center at 9:05 a.m., but didn’t arrived until about 2 p.m.

Several Cook County jail inmates and a Cook County sheriff’s deputy were injured while dismantling a festival tent as part of a community service project in Palos Hills, but not seriously.

“To me, it almost sounded like a hurricane. The wind and water were blowing straight across.”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"LGXYLPNQ7RBJJHR7BSFYF5OYZM

Bob Calderon, Naperville resident

July 1, 2012

During the hot, drought-plagued summer, this late-morning storm destroyed power lines, damaged roofs and caused delays in the air and on the rails.

High winds, first noted in the DeKalb area, sped across western and southern portions of the Chicago metro area with reported wind speeds of 70-90 mph, according to Skilling.

Though no serious injuries were reported, about 60 novice kayakers — all wearing life jackets — had to be rescued from the Chicago River near Chicago Avenue due to choppy waters and high winds.

June 30, 2014

A rare double derecho swept across the Midwest from central Iowa to Ohio.

The first derecho formed around 2 p.m. in Iowa then sped across northwest Illinois into Wisconsin over the next five hours, packing winds of more than 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

The second derecho was stronger than the first, producing at least five tornadoes that touched down in northern Illinois, including one between Plainfield and Romeoville. No injuries were reported, but hundreds of trees were downed and nearly 200,000 customers lost power.

“Usually, the first one stabilizes the atmosphere and makes it less likely for thunderstorms to occur. The first derecho was less intense and the second one was violent and spawned tornadoes (in this case).”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"JNZXAIBMHJG3HJXMYMJ5MGTATA

Ricky Castro, National Weather Service meteorologist

Aug. 10, 2020

Blowing in from Iowa — where the storm produced winds in excess of 100 mph — the derecho quickly swept across Illinois and into Indiana. A tornado possibly touched down in Rogers Park and winds up to 70 mph, which left 462,000 ComEd customers without power.

Trees weren’t the only thing toppled by the storm. The steeple on Church Street, across the street from Wheaton College, collapsed. The south side wall of Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3301 S. Indiana Ave. in Bronzeville, also was destroyed. The church was gutted by a fire in 2006 and was in talks to be renovated.

The storm system was paired with humid conditions and a heat index of more than 100 degrees in the Chicago area.

“You can almost wear the air. This kind of air is like rocket fuel to storms.”","additional_properties":{"comments":1/83/8,"inline_comments":1/83/83/4,"_id":"I6BWFQ7A3FF6HDU47RVAQUXHNY

Brett Borchardt, National Weather Service meteorologist


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