By DON BABWIN
Intense thunderstorms and tornadoes swept across the Midwest on Sunday, causing extensive damage in several central Illinois communities while sending people scrambling for shelter and even prompting officials at Chicago’s Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.
The community of Washington in central Illinois appeared particularly hard-hit, with one resident saying his neighborhood was wiped out in a matter of seconds.
By mid-afternoon it remained unclear how many people were hurt. In a news release, the Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with “immediate search and recovery operations in the tornado damaged area.”
And Steve Brewer, chief operating officer at Methodist Medical Center of Illinois in Peoria, said that four or five people had come to the hospital seeking treatment, but he described their injuries as minor. He said another area hospital had received about 15 patients, but did not know the severity of their injuries.
Brewer said doctors and other medical professionals were setting up a temporary emergency care center to treat the wounded before transporting them to area hospitals.
About 90 minutes after the tornado destroyed homes in Washington, the storm darkened downtown Chicago. As the rain and high winds slammed into the area, officials at Soldier Field evacuated the stands and ordered the Bears and Baltimore Ravens off the field. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m., and the game resumed after about a two-hour delay.
Earlier, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications issued a warning to fans, urging them “to take extra precautions and … appropriate measures to ensure their personal safety.” NFL games in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh also could be affected by the rough weather.
The storm also followed dire warnings by the National Weather Service of what was coming and that the storm was simply moving too fast for people to wait until they saw it to get ready.
Weather service officials confirmed that a tornado touched down just before 11 a.m. near the central Illinois community of East Peoria, about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, but authorities did not immediately have damage or injury reports. Within an hour, the weather service said that tornadoes had touched down in Washington, Metamora, Morton and other central Illinois communities, though officials could not say whether it was one tornado touching down or several.
The potential severity of the storm this late in the season also carries the risk of surprise.
According to agency officials, parts of Illinois, Indiana, southern Michigan and western Ohio were at the greatest risk of seeing tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds throughout the day Sunday. Strong winds and atmospheric instability were expected to sweep across the central Plains during the day before pushing into the mid-Atlantic states and northeast by evening. Many of the storms were expected to become supercells, with the potential to produce tornadoes, large hail and destructive winds.
Friedlein said that such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually isn’t enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms. But he said temperatures Sunday were expected to reach into the 60s and 70s, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.
He also said that the tornadoes this time a year happen more often than people might realize, pointing to a twister that hit the Rockford, Ill., area in November 2010.
Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.