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Storms, Hail Clobber Chicago Area; 100K Lose Power

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Lightning strikes near Montrose Harbor. (Pamela Jones/CBS 2)

Lightning strikes near Montrose Harbor. (Pamela Jones/CBS 2)

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UPDATED 07/01/11 10:14 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicagoans on Thursday night were likely focused on the looming extreme heat, when severe thunderstorms swooped in and caught everyone by surprise.

Skies grew dark around 8 p.m., but not because dusk had arrived. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a torrent of pouring rain began falling on the Chicago area, followed by a wild show of lightning, thunder reminiscent of bombs dropping, and hail that left some areas blanketed.

RELATED: Hail Damages Garfield Park Conservatory
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The Willis Tower and several other downtown skyscrapers were struck by lightning.

And while a severe thunderstorm often means a break from a sweltering heat wave, this time it means just the opposite. Those temperatures in the upper 90s are still coming Friday, as tens of thousands of people are forced to live without power and face the task of cleaning up.

ComEd says as of 5:15 a.m. Friday – the most recent numbers available – 32,000 customers were without power. A total of 23,000 were in the northern suburbs, 4,000 were in the southern suburbs, 80 were in the far western suburbs, and 4,700 were in the city of Chicago and the near western suburbs.

At one point, there were about 100,000 total outages.

Problems were also reported at O’Hare and Midway international airports in the wake of the storms. Flights were delayed 20 to 30 minutes Friday morning, the Sun-Times Media Wire reported.

The wicked weather also caused serious damage and major problems across the area, particularly for boaters at Montrose Harbor.

Witnesses say a sailing class was out on the water when the winds picked up on Lake Michigan. The winds were so rough that some boats capsized, and boaters had to be rescued in the fierce winds and waves.

CBS 2’s Pamela Jones was on the scene Thursday night, and experienced the wrath of the storms firsthand.

“We’re in the middle of the storm right now,” Jones said. “Pea-sized hail all the way up to golf ball sized hail is coming down. It’s hitting my skin and actually hurting me as it falls.”

The Chicago Police Department also took a hit as a result of the storms. Police tell CBS 2 that 64 squad cars were damaged while parked outside at the Harrison District station, at 3151 W. Harrison St., and 23 more were damaged at the Ogden District station, at 3315 W. Ogden Ave.

Hail damage also forced the Garfield Park Conservatory to close indefinitely. Extensive damage in every show house at the conservatory, which is enclosed in glass.

And some drivers wound up stranded in the storm when rainwater flooded a viaduct at Kedzie Avenue and the Stevenson Expressway. While some cars were able to power through, others had to wait for help to arrive.

In Waukegan, Richard Daniels, who lives on Sheridan Road, only lost power briefly Thursday night. But throughout his neighborhood, tree limbs large and small were down, not to mention power lines.

“We were just sitting watching TV, and then our living room has windows on both sides, and we’re looking at trees that are bending on both sides,” Daniels said, “and we probably did the stupid thing. We walked outside to see what was happening.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports

One uprooted tree in Bowen Park in Waukegan fell to the south, luckily missing the baseball field snack shop next to it.

Strong winds also caused a fair amount of damage. A light pole at Randolph and Columbus drives in front of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Tower was knocked over and left leaning at a 45-degree angle.

About a mile to the north in the Gold Coast neighborhood, high winds snapped a tree near the corner of Delaware and Dewitt places.

In downtown Evanston, a power line came down at Elgin Road and Benson Avenue just west of the Northwestern University campus. Crews worked overnight to repair it.

Farther north in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., the wind snapped trees like so many toothpicks and downed power lines along the lake shore.

And in Kenosha, Wis., a falling tree turned deadly. A 31-year-old man on a motorcycle was killed when a tree fell on him.

Two other people were injured when they touched live wires, and a woman was treated for a broken hip after she was hit by flying debris.

At Illinois Beach State Park near Winthrop Harbor, some structures were decimated, and trees were uprooted.

As for the storms themselves, they moved out out over Northwest Indiana in a line stretching from Michigan City south to DeMotte Friday morning. Looking across Lake Michigan in the 4 a.m. hour, Chicagoans likely saw flashes of lightning in the distance.

Hail with a diamater of 1 1/2 inches was reported in Merrillville, Ind., CBS 2 Meteorologist Megan Glaros reported. The Sun-Times Media Wire reported that on Thursday night, baseball-sized hail was reported near 26th Street and Kedzie Avenue.

As expected, conditions will be hazy, hot and humid during the day on Friday. Highs are still anticipated at 97 degrees, with heat indices making it feel as if it were 100 to 105 degrees, and the air temperature may exceed 100 degrees on some areas.

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