Graduation ceremonies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale were delayed and then moved to an outdoor stadium after the first ever “inland hurricane” struck southern Illinois Friday afternoon.
The so-called inland hurricane occurred after a storm out of the southeast began to rotate clockwise similar to a gulf hurricane. The stormed packed gale force winds and widespread destruction and even a calm “eye” in the middle. According to the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, the National Weather Service ahs vacillated between calling the storm an inland hurricane and a meso-cyclone because the definition of hurricane technically requires that the storm be formed over water. The destruction covered an area of more than 50 nautical miles and was concentrated along the Illinois 13 corridor in Jackson, Franklin and Williamson counties.
At a press conference Saturday morning, Williamson County Emergency Mnagament Director Alan Gower said that sustained winds of 70 to 100 mph were clocked during the storm which lasted about half an hour.
When the inland hurricane was done, 100,000 people int here counties were without power and 13 major electricity transmission lines were down, according to Ameren Vice President Ron Pate. Pate said more than 200 lesser utility poles were also broken in the storm. On Saturday, 1300 emergency workers had arrived in the region, including 500 housed at the university campus. They estimated power would be restored to the majority of customers by Wednesday but people with damage to their personal electric lines, meters and boxes might be without power for 7 to 10 days.
For visitors to the region attending the commencement ceremonies, the storm meant no restaurants or hotels were able to open after the storm. Some visitors who had already checked into their hotel rooms were able to stay, but without power the hotels were unable to make electronic keys for new check-ins and the rooms were unaccessible.
The few gas stations that had generators to pump fuel quickly ran out of gas and several major state highways and Interstate 57 were blocked by downed trees. Estimates are that hundreds or perhaps thousands of trees were damaged, broken or uprooted in the storm.
On Friday evening, my drive across Illinois 13 from Marion to Carbondale revealed millions of dollars in damge. At the intersection of Illinois 13 and Illinois 148, the awning over the gas pumps at the Huck Store bent on it steel supports, laying over in front of the store. The corporate hangar at the Williamson County regional Airport lost about half of its roof and portions of the north wall. At the University Mall in Carbondale, a portion of the atrium was destroyed in the winds.
Many of the uprooted trees also damaged buried gas lines, prompting the counties to issue burn bans, asking residents to refrain from burning debris until all the gas leaks could be identified. The storm resulted in one fatality after a tree pierced the roof of an elderly man in Murphysboro, knocked him down his basement stairs and resulted in head injuries. Several other broken bones were reported during the storm and chainsaw injuries and electrical burns were among the reported injuries in the first 24 hours after the storm.
Sources: The Southern Illinoisan
Williamson County EMA Press Conference (Personally attended)