Chicago Weather: Heavy rain, high winds impact holiday travel rush

CHICAGO (WLS) -- While rain slowed holiday travelers in the Chicago area, we dodged the severe weather impacting other parts of the country on this busy travel day.

However, winds are expected to increase overnight. A Wind Advisory is in effect for the Chicago area from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 3 a.m. Thursday, and in northwest Indiana from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

WATCH: ABC7 First Alert Weather Forecast

At O'Hare, delays were moderate but manageable on Wednesday night. Many checked-in early, anticipating gridlock.

"I'm starting to see the lines expand a little bit and getting a little nervous that we might be delayed here with the weather," said Connor Hawkinson.

Earlier Wednesday, there was a sea of travelers with long lines at the height of the rush.

"It's pretty much madness. There's a ton of people here. There's not a lot of order and direction going on," said Greg Harmon.

This holiday season, O'Hare is expecting an 8 percent increase in the number of travelers compared to last year.

Warm weather and low gas prices mean more drivers are on the road as well.

The national average for a gallon of gas is poised to fall below $2 per gallon by Christmas. It's good news for Brant Pearson, who's driving to upper Michigan to see his family.

"I guess they're pretty good compared to normal. Better than $4, $5 dollars a gallon," Pearson said.

And as more people are hitting the roads for the holiday, IDOT has kicked off its effort to keep impaired drivers off the roads with roadside safety checks and safety belt enforcement zones.

"The holidays bring a lot of people to the roads. They're traveling, they're visiting family members, they're going to parties so there's an extra need for patrols out on the roadways," IDOT spokesperson Gianna Urgo said.

Heavy rain today also caused problems on Lake Shore Drive near McCormick Place. The flooding was caused, in part, by construction. But all things considered, many had expected worse.

"We really haven't had a rough day at all," said Kim Batson, a driver.

"I thought it would be a lot worse," said Helen Xu, an air traveler.


While there is no longer a threat of severe weather in the Chicago area, severe storms swept through southern and western portions of Illinois.

Damage was reported near Galesburg and there is a report of a tornado touching down near the Iowa border. Despite the damage, there are no reports of any serious injuries.

A storm system forecasters called "particularly dangerous" killed four people as it swept across the country Wednesday, and officials were searching for missing people into the night.

Tornadoes touched down in Indiana and Mississippi, where three were killed.

A tree blew over onto a house in Arkansas, killing an 18-year-old woman and trapping a 1-year-old child inside, authorities said. Rescuers pulled the toddler safely from the home.

Authorities in Mississippi did not have details of those dead after multiple tornadoes hit the state.

In Benton County, where two deaths occurred and at least two people were missing, crews were searching each house and in wooded areas to make sure residents were accounted for. Police there said several homes were blown off their foundations.

A tornado damaged or destroyed at least 20 homes in the northwest part of the state. Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett said the only confirmed casualty was a dog killed by storm debris. Planes at a small airport overturned and an unknown number of people were injured.

"I'm looking at some horrific damage right now," the mayor said. "Sheet metal is wrapped around trees; there are overturned airplanes; a building is just destroyed."

Television images showed the tornado appeared to be on the ground for more than 10 minutes. Interstate 55 was closed in both directions as the tornado approached, the Mississippi Highway Patrol said.

After an EF-1 tornado struck the south Indianapolis suburb of Greenwood, television stations showed pictures of damage including a portion of a roof blown off a veterinary office.

The biggest threat for tornadoes was in a region of 3.7 million people in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas and parts of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, according to the national Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma. The center issued a "particularly dangerous situation" alert for the first time since June 2014, when two massive EF4 twisters devastated a rural Nebraska town, killing two people.

The greatest risk for a few "intense, long-tracked tornadoes" will be through Wednesday night.
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