Ice storm brings down branches, knocks out power across parts of McHenry County

Schools closed for lack of power in Crystal Lake, Algonquin

ComEd employee check an electrical box as they work on restoring power to parts of downtown Crystal Lake on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, as county residents recover from a winter storm that knocked down trees and created power outages throughout McHenry County.

Lon Schmidt spent part of his Thursday morning pulling branches off his front lawn near downtown Crystal Lake.

As more drizzling rain came down and ice fell off overhead power lines, Schmidt piled storm debris on his curb for public works crews to pick up later.

“I will confine this mess” to one corner of his property, Schmidt said, noting he took breaks now and then to warm up inside with coffee.

His was one of hundreds of homes throughout McHenry County with downed branches, limbs or entire trees toppled following an ice storm Wednesday that left areas without power through Thursday morning.

ComEd’s online outage map showed nearly 1,800 reported outages across northern Illinois, with just over 33,089 customers affected as of 9 p.m. In McHenry County, nearly 11,400 customers – down from 27,000 Thursday morning – remained without power by 9 p.m. Thursday.

“Overall, this storm, which had freezing rain and now we’re dealing with winds, it impacted probably a total of 212,000 customers,” ComEd communications manager Tom Dominguez said. “The ice alone will sometimes bring down power lines, although we’ve installed thicker cables over the last decade. But still, if the ice gets significant, it could bring down lines. And it could do the same to trees that are hanging over lines.”

The storm knocked out power to schools, closing buildings until power could be restored. Crystal Lake School District 47, Community High School District 155 and Community School District 300 reported school buildings without power, the districts said on their websites.

In an emailed update Thursday afternoon, District 47 Superintendent Kathy Hinz that it was her goal to have students back in buildings Friday. “However, this might not be possible given continued and intermittent power outages. We do plan to have students in the buildings with power tomorrow,” she said.

Dominguez said he expected about 80% of the power outages to be restored by 11 p.m. Thursday and all power to be restored by Saturday evening. Restoring power to schools is a priority for ComEd, he said.

McHenry County Animal Control lost power during the storm Wednesday and has been running off generators since then, county Emergency Management Agency Director David Christensen said.

Other county buildings have their own generators, but the animal control facility is wired for mobile units instead of having one on-site, Christensen said.

During Wednesday’s rain and ice event, his office was busy “providing intel, what is going on here and there,” he said.

Some of that intel came from talking with ComEd, Christensen said.

“ComEd has 900 crews coming into the area to help them. They had 700 [crews] out” Wednesday throughout the region, he said.

The outages seem different with this storm, Christensen said. Instead of entire neighborhoods without power, he was hearing about “a lot of onesies and twosies” from branches on wires leading to houses instead of on the main distribution lines.

“Those are a lot harder to restore,” Christensen said of the hit-and-miss breaks.

Mario Bello went out Thursday morning to take video of her son’s house on Sherman Street in Crystal Lake to send to him. Wires laid across his side yard and driveway. He was out of town and asked her to go see why he had no power, Bello said.

Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department responded to branches down on wires but few slips and falls, Deputy Chief Craig Snyder said.

“Whatever was most elevated – the trees – got the ice. The ground stayed clear,” Snyder said.

Fire and emergency crews helped public works and the police department pinpoint streets where branches, limbs and wires were on roadways until ComEd could come and restore power, Snyder said.

The McHenry County Division of Transportation had snowplows out on the streets since Wednesday afternoon, maintenance supervisor Andrew Rose said. They were not necessarily putting down salt, but using the plows to move branches off the roads.

“The roads were awesome. The ice formed everywhere but the pavement,” Rose said.

Branches started coming down mid-afternoon on Wednesday and continued through Thursday morning, he said. Although the rain had stopped, winds had picked up and Rose said he expected even more branches to fall.

Storm events in the summer taking down trees are different from those in the winter, Rose said. In the summer, it is easier to map where winds came through and took down branches. With the ice, “it is coming down everywhere.”

Donna Ziemer was pulling branches off of her Gates Street driveway in Crystal Lake when she noticed one of her car’s luggage rack rails was bent from the wood. It would be her second insurance claim since a July storm wedged a branch underneath the car.

“The trees here are old and big,” Ziemer said. While she likes them, she said, she was frustrated at the damage. “There are a lot of old trees down in Crystal Lake.”

• Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf contributed to this report.