Winds cancel flights, close Willis skydeck

October 26, 2010 (CHICAGO)

One South Side resident had a near miss due to the storms.

Merriel Shadlow had just gotten home from his shift as a Chicago firefighter when he walked to the front door from his Jeep and suddenly heard a boom. He turned around and the car was crushed by a tree branch.

"It is directly over the driver's seat. If I had been in the vehicle, I would have been crushed.

Shadlow says it wasn't even a huge gust of wind that brought the branch down. But he has been worried about the tree for months and knew it would take a bad weather day for something bad to happen.

"I've called the city out on a number of occasions. All of my neighbors know that I have been making reports on this tree.

Despite Shadlow's bad luck, predictions for 60 mile per hour winds were a bit overblown and there wasn't a whole lot of damage to be had in the city.

"I got soaked coming in, to the train and when I got off the train. It stopped after that," said commuter Ron Zanko.

The high winds canceled hundreds of flights at O'Hare Airport and closed three Chicago tourist attractions- including the Willis Tower's The Ledge.

At O'Hare Airport all flights were stopped for about an hour due to the heavy winds Tuesday morning. The Chicago Department of Aviation said the delays averaged 45 minutes for flights in and out of O'Hare Airport by Tuesday night. Five hundred flights were canceled.

"They didn't send any message. They didn't inform me, 'No need to come to the airport because flight is canceled. Next flight is on this time. You can come later.' But they didn't pass any message," said Dixit Sorabh, who has been sitting at O'Hare for about 8 hours. He's trying to get to Kansas City.

Delays of about 30 minutes were also being reported at Midway where there were only minor cancellations. Whether flying out of O'Hare or Midway, passengers should definitely call ahead or check online.

Willis Tower observatory, two parks closed

The Willis Tower closed its Skydeck observatory and pulled in "The Ledge" attraction Tuesday as high winds whipped across the Midwest.

The Ledge is made up of four glass boxes that jut out from the building's 103rd floor. The boxes are retractable.

Spokeswoman Kate Murphy says the boxes are usually pulled in for maintenance and cleaning. She says they've been retracted as a precaution.

The Willis Tower is 110 stories tall, and officials say it's been built to withstand high winds.

In June, winds blew out two windows at the tower, in a 29th-floor air conditioning mechanical room and a 25th-floor unoccupied office. The Willis Tower observation deck will not reopen until the wind advisory is lifted.

Also, the Chicago Park District says two conservatories were closed Tuesday because of safety concerns due to their glass roofs.

Closed is the Lincoln Park Conservatory on the city's North Side and the Garfield Park Conservatory on the city's West Side. Garfield Park features six greenhouses. Buckingham Fountain was also lowered Tuesday.

The Hancock Observatory remained open thanks to good architecture.

"Even up to 60 miles per hour winds the sway is only between 5 and 8 inches. So up here at 1,000 feet and it is stable," said Daniel Thomas, GM, Hancock Building Observatory.

The Hancock building's elevators are always stable, too.

A massive storm has made its way across much of the Midwest. Severe thunderstorm warnings blanket much of the Midwest, and tornado watches have been issued from Arkansas to Ohio.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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