Tornadoes touch down near populous Chicago metropolitan area

‘Confirmed damaging’ tornado spotted moving through one of the most populous counties in the US amid severe weather.

Heavy rain clouds gather over the skyline of Chicago and Lake Michigan.
Storms linger over downtown Chicago as multiple tornado warnings are issued for the area on July 12 [Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo]

The National Weather Service in the United States has issued tornado warnings for areas in and around Chicago, Illinois, as strong storms sweep across the state on Wednesday.

“This storm south of Elgin moving east into parts of Cook and DuPage County has had a history of multiple tornadoes on the ground at the same time,” the agency said on Twitter. “Seek shelter if in the warned area!”

One “confirmed damaging tornado” had been spotted moving northeast through Cook County, the second most populous county in the US, where Chicago is located.

A funnel cloud near O’Hare International Airport had been “touching the ground intermittently” as it moved eastward.

The severe weather has caused hundreds of flight delays at O’Hare and a nearby facility, Midway International Airport, according to Chicago’s Department of Aviation.

The fourth busiest air terminal for passenger traffic, O’Hare had experienced approximately 381 flight cancellations by evening on Wednesday, with that number climbing. Midway reported an additional 35.

Social media users reported warning sirens going off across the Chicago area, alerting residents to seek shelter immediately.

One of the biggest cities in the US, Chicago is home to approximately 2.7 million people, with over 9.5 million across the entire metropolitan area.

In addition to the funnel clouds forming across the region, the weather service warned of damaging winds, downpours and hail through 7:45pm local time (00:45 GMT Thursday), particularly near the state border with Wisconsin and along Interstate 80.

“Localised areas of flash flooding, especially in urban areas, are also possible,” the National Weather Service said.

Though the state of Illinois is on the eastern limit of what is typically considered part of the “Tornado Alley” – an area known for significant storm activity – experts warn that climate change may be contributing to a shift in that region.

Nearly 1,200 tornadoes form in the US each year, sometimes from collisions between cold and warm air, creating a spiralling effect. But hotter, wetter weather may be pushing those violent weather events further east, towards more populated areas.

Nevertheless, Chicago is no stranger to tornado activity. The National Weather Service has documented 92 “significant tornadoes” in the metropolitan area between 1855 and 2008.

A 1967 storm, for instance, spawned at least five significant tornadoes, one of which was 183 metres (200 yards) wide. It tore across 26 kilometres (16 miles) of Oak Lawn and the south side of Chicago, killing 33 people and injuring 500 more.

Source: Al Jazeera