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Sauk Valley spared the worst of Wednesday's storms

STERLING – A fast-moving and fierce weather system hammered a large swatch of the Midwest on Wednesday, spawning multiple storms and just as many warnings and watches, and even a few tornadoes.

That National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down near the border of Henry and Whiteside counties in Hooppole. The EF1 tornado was reported around 8:44 p.m with winds up to 95 mph. The twister was on the ground for only about 3 minutes along a nearly 150-foot wide, 2-mile path, but that was long enough to damage trees and rip off part of an outbuilding’s roof.

The storm also dumped penny- to gumball-sized hail sized and about half an inch of rain in many areas, as well as 50- to 65-mph straight-line winds that were strong enough to push a parked Dixon Police squad car almost 5 feet near Bloody Gulch and Rock Island roads at about 10 p.m.

Nearly 3,300 residents lost power in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, Carroll and Bureau counties Wednesday, with nearly 450 people still without power at 7 p.m. Thursday. ComEd officials said they were working to restore power as soon as possible, but were still assessing the damage.

Throughout northern Illinois, nearly 85,000 ComEd customers were left without power after the storms. By Thursday, power was restored to 79,000 of them.

Around 3 p.m Thursday, several hundred Comcast customers in Dixon, Sterling and Rock Falls lost internet service after a utility provider working on power lines damaged Comcast’s lines somewhere between Sublette and Mendota, said Jack Segal, Comcast VP of Public Relations for the Greater Chicago Region. Service was restored about 3 hours later. 

“It doesn’t happen often but, yes, it does happen,” Segal said. “What you have to do is get in there and repair service quickly.”

Elsewhere in the Sauk Valley, dispatchers for the Rock Falls, Dixon and Sterling Police departments as well the Lee and Whiteside County sheriff’s departments said they took several reports of downed trees and power lines – leaving thousands without power – but no major damage.

Other parts of the state weren’t as lucky.

Winds strong enough to rip trees in half and blow the roofs off large sheds pummeled the Rockford region, and earlier in the day, strong winds and dry fields whipped up dust storms that are being blamed for accidents that killed two people.

The Illinois State Police said visibility was poor when a 53-year-old Chatham man was killed when he struck a semitrailer, and was rear-ended by another vehicle on Interstate 72. An hour later, a 16-year-old Mahomet boy died after crashing into the back of a semitrailer in Douglas County.

The State Police said the accidents were caused by reduced visibility due to blowing winds and dust.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Shimon said dust storms are rare in the area, but that near-perfect storm conditions existed Wednesday. Gusting winds hit speeds of 45 mph, blanketing rural interstates and roads with clouds of blinding dust.

“The timing of dry weather with strong winds and just recently planted fields with a top layer of fine, ground-up earth,” he said. “It all set the stage for a day like today.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this story

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