South of Springfield, winds hammered several smaller towns. There were tornado and flash flood warnings.
Members of the House went back to work and then adjourned for the night. The Senate was still working late into Friday. With the budget deadline being midnight Saturday, they are hoping for no more interruptions.
The alarm came as the House was in mid-debate. Lawmakers dropped the subject of healthier food in school cafeterias and followed the orders of statehouse guards who herded them downstairs.
The tunnels beneath the 120-year-old building were packed with people for about 45 minutes. The speaker of the House, lieutenant governor and president of Southern Illinois University mingled with lobbyists, reporters and secretaries.
"It was extremely hot down there ... I was concerned about some people being overheated," said Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich was nowhere to be seen. Aides said he was in a secure location.
As the House adjourned, Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, the House presiding officer, said to members: "Think wisely about whether you leave the building now or wait till the storm passes."
The National Weather Service said there were seven reports of touchdowns, four in Sangamon County and one each in Christian, Morgan, Pike, and Shelby counties in central Illinois. The reports are preliminary and it will take time to confirm them, officials said.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson said there were no immediate reports of widespread damage or injuries. A local mall was closed as a precaution. Representatives from the Morgan, Pike and Shelby County sheriff's offices said they also had not heard of injuries or major damage. A spokeswoman from the Christian County sheriff's office declined to comment.
Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said she had not received reports of any damage or injuries.
The House returned to work briefly, then canceled the rest of the evening's session amid worries about another storm front in the area. There was no immediate word on the Senate's plans.
"The House shall be in order. There's work to be done," said the presiding officer, Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago.
E-mail email@example.com to submit your weather photos.
South suburbs hit with hail
The storms produced some large hail in parts of the Chicago area.
Some people in Manteno, Illinois, say they saw hail the size of golf balls and even tennis balls.
The hail was already melting Friday night after a 15-minute flurry caused minor damage.
"It was probably about the size of a tennis ball and I stuck my head out to take some pictures, and he had to pull me back in because it almost nailed me in the head," said resident Lindsey Novak.
"It was a hail ball, and it hurt," said Lynda Burchardt, who was hit in the head.
Manteno residents were saving the hail like souvenirs in freezers and cups.
"I was trying to find a big one. And I found one, and ranned after it and hurried up and grabbed it," said Clayton Aldridge, young Manteno resident.
The storm pelted the small community.
"Forty-five years, I've never seen hail that big, ever. It was amazing. It was just amazing. I got the pictures," said resident Julene Jarosz.
Along with the hail, there were some downed power lines and minor flooding. No injuries were reported.
Thousands without power in northern Illinois
High winds across northern Illinois also downed power lines and toppled trees Friday, leaving thousands without power.
According to ComEd, 46,000 residents and businesses in northern Illinois were without power as of 4 p.m. Friday. Lake and McHenry counties were the hardest hit.
At the height of the outage, 69,000 customers were without power.
In McHenry County, trees were down and in the town of Marengo, where a semitrailer was blown from the roadway, residents went without power.
In Lake County, the deputies who normally work the afternoon shift were called in early to deal with the downed power lines and high winds in Waukegan, which was dealing with outages across the area. The town of Volo also sustained damage from high winds, including a tree that fell into a trailer.
In Woodstock, crews were working to clear a road of two huge trees and turn the power back on.
"I hope we get it soon. There were branches everywhere. People were picking them up. But the wind has calmed down a lot," said Alicia Galvez, Woodstock Resident.
Gusts of up to 60 miles per hour have been reported near the Wisconsin border, according to the National Weather Service. A tornado watch is in effect for parts of east-central Illinois through Saturday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.