Nearly 1 million homes and businesses in the Midwest were without power Tuesday after a rare storm packing winds of 100-plus mph tore through Chicago and into Michigan and Indiana, where one woman was found dead in what was left of her wind-battered mobile home.
Monday's derecho — a widespread, intense and long-lived wind storm — lasted more than 14 hours, spanned more than 770 miles and resulted in nearly 500 severe wind reports. Numerous wind gusts clocked in at over 100 mph.
The derecho began as a small thunderstorm cluster near the Nebraska-Iowa border early Monday, but as is typical of such storms, it grew in size, picked up speed and gained intensity as it moved east.
By 4 p.m., it had reached the Chicago area, bringing peak gusts that were frequently 70 mph to 90 mph, along with the risk of embedded tornadoes.
The National Weather Service in Chicago confirmed that multiple tornadoes in its coverage area had touched down.
"While much of the wind damage was straight-line wind, a few tornadoes were likely embedded within the storm complex across the region," the service tweeted.
About 343,000 customers of Chicago's ComEd were without power Tuesday, the utility said in a statement. It had restored service to 541,000 customers, ComEd said.
Monday's storm that took down trees and power lines followed a tense night of looting and clashes in downtown Chicago following a police-involved shooting, which resulted in street closures and public transportation shutdowns.
ComEd said crews in the Chicago area were prioritizing getting power back to police and fire stations, nursing homes and hospitals.
“This is our version of a hurricane,” said Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini. He said Monday's derecho will go down as one of the strongest in recent history and would likely be one of the country's worst weather events of 2020.
After ripping through Chicago, the most potent part of the storm system moved over north-central Indiana by late afternoon.
In Fort Wayne, a woman died after firefighters pulled her from debris inside her mobile home after high winds rolled it onto its side Monday night, said Adam O’Connor, deputy chief of the Fort Wayne Fire Department.
Firefighters found her inside her toppled trailer and discovered that she was clutching a 5-year-old boy believed to be her grandson, he said. The boy was not injured, but the woman died later at a hospital.
O’Connor said it took firefighters 14 minutes to remove the woman from the debris and lift her through the door of the trailer.
“They had to stabilize the trailer, crawl inside the trailer, find the two victims and bring them out,” O’Connor said. “It’s awful. I was thinking about that all last night."
Indiana had about 45,565 utility customers without power Tuesday afternoon, according to utilities. That figure was 376,427 for Illinois, 15,047 for Missouri; 19,382 for Michigan, and 363,739 for Iowa.
A total of about 820,000 customers throughout the Midwest were without power.
Officials in Iowa reported roofs torn off of homes and buildings, including at a hockey arena in Des Moines; vehicles blown off of roads and hit by trees; and people hurt by flying debris. So far, dozens of injuries, but no fatalities, have been reported in Iowa.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation that covers six counties.
Three of the state’s eight mobile coronavirus testing sites — in Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport — were temporarily closed Tuesday after suffering storm damage.
Farmers reported that some grain bins were destroyed and corn fields were flattened by the storm, and Iowa officials were assessing the total damage to its significant agriculture industry.
Patrick Marsh, science support chief at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said he's most concerned about the power outages now that the storm has passed. On top of summer heat, the coronavirus pandemic and people whose medical conditions require power, the situation "becomes dire pretty quickly," he said.