Storms make path across area

Storms make path across area

A brief but fierce end-of-summer thunderstorm skipped across East Central Illinois Monday evening, downing power lines and tree limbs in its path.

And an off-duty Rantoul police officer at his second job in Philo saw what he described as a "giant dust devil" around 5:10 p.m. that he believed was a tornado.

Dan Ault said he was in his computer business at 101 E. Washington St. in downtown Philo at 5:10 p.m. when he went to the front door to watch the weather because it was getting so dark.

"I saw a big sheet of metal going up into the air," said Ault. "It was the tin roof from a building behind the bank along the tracks. It was rotating. A moment later, I saw a second piece. I ran behind my counter to call home and tell my kids to get in the basement. Then I called 911."

"About that point, my building was getting peppered with little pieces of wood and shingles. I saw the tin roofs go crashing up against the elevator office building across the street. It got kind of loud and my whole building was feeling the wind."

Ault said the storm was moving from west to east and the rotation he saw was behind the buildings on the north side of Main Street. He estimated it lasted about 10 seconds.

Greg Abbott, deputy director for Champaign County's Emergency Management Agency, said the National Weather Service in Lincoln did not report any tornadoes in Champaign County.

"Lincoln said they looked at the radar and never saw anything. It could be a 'gustnado'," Abbott said.

"A gustnado can form along the leading edge of a storm system," said Abbott, a longtime weather observer.

"All I can say is there was rotation. Things were going up in the air like a giant dust devil," said Ault, who zoomed home to join his wife and children in the basement, then, in his role as a Philo trustee, returned downtown to clean up debris. He said three cars were damaged, the corner of the roof of a storage building was pulled up, and heavy tiles on the roof of the bank were blown off.

Champaign arborist Bill Vander Weit said storm damage in the Champaign area was "not too bad, pretty scattered."

The city had 11 calls last night for limbs down, half and half city and private. The city is picking up trees and branches from public parkways.

Among the damaged trees were the usual suspects, two ornamental pears. "I call that my 2 a.m. tree."

One sugar maple was blown down at the fire station at Prospect and Broadmoor, Vander Weit said. Some Savoy residents reported roof damage from high winds. Power was out to sections of the village from about 5:10 to 6:25 p.m.

And portions of Champaign served by AmerenIP were in a "brownout" for several hours.

Traffic signals were set to flashing red on portions of Mattis Avenue during the evening traffic rush. At least one accident happened just before 6 p.m. when a car and pickup truck collided at the intersection of Mattis and Springfield Avenue while the signals were flashing.

Abbott said the storm "just sort of trekked across the county."

"The first place we got damage reports was Mahomet, then in Champaign, then we had a semi blown over on Interstate 57 at the 229 mile marker (just north of Champaign), then all across the city there are trees limbs and power lines down," Abbott said.

Another truck was reported to have rolled over on Interstate 74 eastbound at 5:12 p.m.

AmerenIP spokesman Neal Johnson said crews were working throughout IP territory to restore power from the storm, which started taking out power around 3 p.m. as it moved from west to east. Johnson said some 21,000 IP customers across Illinois, including many in Bloomington, Champaign and Danville, were without power for varying periods.

As of 9 a.m. today, 140 customers in Champaign-Urbana and Danville were still without power, according to spokeswoman Shirley Swarthout.

The storm prompted the cancellation of an open house at Champaign's Franklin Middle School. It was rescheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26.

Joyce Wilson of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency said there were reports of trees and tree limbs being blown down across the county.

There were 10-inch tree limbs reported down in the Wilbur Heights area, she said.

Winds were reported at 60 mph, she said.

News-Gazette staff writers Steve Bauer and Paul Wood contributed to this report.

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