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DeKalb Deluge: Storm downs trees, cuts power, drenches area

DeKALB — Pat Lange came home Monday night to find the 60-foot silver maple from her front yard lying on her Ellwood Avenue house, its giant trunk having been split into three pieces by a bolt of lightning. According to Northern Illinois University meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste, the storm that swept across the state Monday was a prolific lightning producer, and in DeKalb, cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were reported at least once every three seconds. The Rockford and DeKalb areas were among the hardest-hit regions in the state as 60 mph winds, heavy rain and penny-sized hail moved through northern Illinois. According to the National Weather Service, the 80-minute deluge ending at 5:30 p.m. resulted in more than 4 inches of rain one block north of downtown DeKalb.
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ComEd spokesman Paul Callighan estimated that 19,000 local customers were affected by power outages at the height of the storm, mostly in DeKalb, Cortland and Sycamore. Electricity was fully restored by 8 a.m. Tuesday, he said. Callighan said the storm left a lot of physical damage to equipment in its path, including broken poles, fallen wires and downed trees. The Langes were still at work when their tree fell around 4:30 p.m., but neighbors across the street said they saw flashes and heard a big boom. That “big boom” exploded part of the neighbor’s driveway, leaving a small volcano of black concrete behind. Residents on Ellwood emerged from their houses and stared in awe at the destroyed tree. David Lange, 66, said he has lived in the house for 61 years, and the tree has been there since he was a kid. A lamppost struck by the tree lay horizontally across the street, and wires were loose on the ground. “The power is still on in the house, but our phones don’t work,” Pat Lange said after entering her home briefly to free their two frightened dogs. Sebenste said the storm was caused by the stalling of a cold front across the area late Monday afternoon. “As it moved right across DeKalb and Sycamore, it ran into hot, incredibly humid air for this time of year, and the front lifted that hot, humid air upward and caused showers and thunderstorms from Sycamore and DeKalb all the way back into eastern Lee County,” he said. During the next hour and a half, the line of thunderstorms moving across the area produced what is known as a training effect, Sebenste said. “The thunderstorms kept redeveloping and moving over the same area over and over again,” he said. “However, the line of storms was continuous, so there was very little break in the action.” From floating garbage cans and scattered tree limbs to water covering the wheel wells of cars, the storm’s effects could be seen everywhere. Four college-aged men came to the rescue of at least two cars stalled in deep water at the intersection of Normal Road and Kimberly Drive and pushed them through the flood, and an NIU building had to be evacuated after a small electrical fire. NIU spokesman Joe King said Neptune Central, a residence hall being used for administrative offices this summer, blew a transformer in the electrical room, igniting the fire. “It was quickly put out, but the building had no power, so it had to be evacuated,” King said. A temporary generator was brought in so as not to disrupt work flow. King said that all things considered, conditions are good on campus Tuesday. “Like the rest of the city, we got hammered with that initial burst of water, but everything is pretty well recovered this morning,” he said. Before picking up the pieces left behind from Monday’s storm, residents should know that more rain could be in store Tuesday night, as an even stronger front moves through the area, Sebenste said. “Thankfully due to stronger upper and middle winds today, they won’t last as long, but they could be more severe,” he said. “Stronger winds will enhance the severe threat after 2 p.m. until midnight, when the cold front finally comes through.” By Wednesday, highs should be only in the mid-70s with low humidity, a temperature drop of more than 15 degrees from Monday’s high. “If there is severe weather, we will need to keep an eye to the sky today and tonight for the potential for high winds, large hail and more heavy rain,” Sebenste said. Carrie Frillman can be reached at cfrillman@daily-chronicle.com.



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