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Biggest Storm in 70 Years Blasts Chicago, Midwest

Strong wind and torrential rain buffeted the Midwest Tuesday as forecasters predicted the giant storm could be the most powerful to hit Illinois in over seven decades.

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The storm — quickly nicknamed a "chiclone" and "windpocalypse" — swept an area that stretched from the Dakotas to the eastern Great Lakes. Severe thunderstorm warnings blanketed much of the Midwest, and tornado warnings were issued from Arkansas to southern Illinois.

The National Weather Service said the storm is one of the strongest to hit the region in decades.

"We're expecting sustained winds on the order of 35 to 40 mph (55-65 kph) with gusts up to 60 mph (100 kph) throughout the afternoon," said Edward Fenelon, a weather service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois. He said the storm's central pressure is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

Commuters in the Chicago area faced a blustery, wind-driven rain as they waited for trains to take them downtown before dawn. Some huddled underneath train overpasses to stay out of the gusts, dashing to the platform at the last minute.

Umbrellas were virtually useless: The gusts flipped them inside out and in some cases snapped them in two, carrying the tops away like balloons in the wind. Many gave up hope of shielding themselves against the rain altogether and threw briefcases on top of their heads or simply dashed to their offices in downtown's skyscrapers.

The weather service said gusts that topped 50 miles per hour slammed into the Chicago suburb of Lombard early Tuesday. Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Allsopp said the storm could be one of the strongest to hit Illinois in more than 70 years.

The Federal Aviation Administration is asking flights headed to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that are still on the ground to delay takeoff.

High winds caused 300 flight cancellations Tuesday at the airport, a major hub for American and United airlines. The FAA is asking flights to hold on the ground before taking off for O'Hare to allow the airport to catch up.

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In Milwaukee, some restaurants moved sidewalk furniture indoors as the storm approached and homeowners scrambled to batten down anything that might be swept away by the storm.

We Energies made plans to deal with service outages across Wisconsin caused by broken tree limbs and downed power lines. ComEd was trying to restore power to about 5,600 customers in Illinois, the utility's spokesman Bennie Currie said. DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons told WWJ-AM that utility crews in Michigan are on standby and that officials expected the storms to topple electrical wires statewide.

Simons says the public utility has experienced 15 outages related to severe weather so far this year, twice the amount of 2009.

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