October 6, 2006

Violent storm pummels Hyde Park

[img id="80073" align="alignleft"] Hundreds of Hyde Park residents lost power earlier this week as a severe storm and high winds tore through the city and suburbs late Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

“Damage to our system was extensive,” said J. Barry Mitchell, president of the Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) electric company that serves Chicago and Northern Illinois, in a statement released Tuesday. “The bulk of the outages occurred Monday night, when strong winds, lightning, and hail rolled through our service territory.”

The Chicago Fire Department responded to the first reports of power outages at Shoreland Hall, where power failures around 2 a.m. left six residents stuck in the southwest elevator, said Facilities Services personnel.

The roughly 80 residents of Blackstone Hall, which remained without power until Wednesday afternoon, were moved to International House for the duration of the blackout after the storm damaged the dorm’s fuse-box and caused the fire-alarm system to malfunction.

Some of the hardest-hit areas on campus suffered major damage from fallen trees. In Burnham Park across from Shoreland, six trees that stood upwards of five stories lay sprawled on the ground, obstructing parts of East 55th Street and South Shore Drive. About a dozen cars in front of the Shoreland suffered considerable damage, with driver- and passenger-side windows shattered by fallen trees and branches.

Fallen trees also littered the quads and surrounding areas on campus, with branches scattered throughout Harper Quad and along the Midway.

Students without power in their rooms flocked into hallways and house lounges, using the emergency floodlights to finish their homework and reading. Some Shoreland students without computer access handwrote their assignments.

The Medici Restaurant on East 57th Street closed early because its kitchen lost power, and Kimbark Plaza remained closed due to power outages until 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Dimmed streetlights in affected areas meant some residents had to use the lights from their cell phones to guide them as they walked their dogs.

Nathan Marsili, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said a combination of stronger winds, heavier precipitation, and cooler air contributed to the severity of the storm.

“The winds were stronger with this storm, and we saw stronger downdrafts,” said Marsili, referring to a weather phenomenon in which air cools and becomes heavier as it moves toward the ground. This “upper-level disturbance” causes airplane turbulence, Marsili said, and is responsible for the devastating effects on trees and power lines.

“We measured winds between 80 and 100 miles per hour in the hardest hit areas,” Marsili said. “But the city didn’t get the worst of it.”

In statements released on Tuesday and Wednesday, ComEd called this week’s weather “the most severe storm since July 2003,” when 320,000 Chicagoland customers lost power.

The electric company managed to restore power to the majority of its customers by late Wednesday, although it said service in the storm’s most affected areas, namely the near south suburbs and Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood, would take until Thursday to restore.

“Our crews are performing incredibly well,” said Mitchell, the ComEd president, in Tuesday’s statement. “But due to the severity of the storm and predictions of more severe weather on the way, there may be additional outages as weakened trees and branches continue to affect our power lines.”

The University hired the Wheeling, IL–based The Care of Trees for the campus clean-up process, and Chicago Park District crews have tended to affected areas along the Midway, Promontory Point, public parks, and city streets throughout Hyde Park.

Karen Deak, Compton House resident head in Shoreland, said that while the damage done to the campus landscape is extensive, she hopes to make the best of the situation.

“I was thinking of having our house do some kind of plant-a-tree service project in the spring to replace some of these trees,” Deak said. “Over the summer we’ve probably lost about 25 trees that I can think of with all of the intense storms, so if…the UCSC [University Community Service Center] organizes something like that, I know I’d personally participate.”