A tornado watch was in effect for a little more than two hours Thursday afternoon as thunderstorms dumped hail as large as 1.5 inches on parts of northwest Indiana and whipped parts of northern Illinois with wind gusts as strong as 57 mph, meteorologists said.

Storm systems largely had cleared the area by 2:43 p.m. when the last of the tornado watches was canceled, said Kevin Donofrio, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Illinois residents will contend with strong wind gusts for the rest of the evening but the worst of the extreme weather — which included a funnel cloud and almost golf ball-sized hail — had passed, he said.

“With the exception of the wind, it’s passed. The wind isn’t necessarily storm-related,” Donofrio said. “And the strongest winds will be coming in through tonight.”

In reviewing the damage reported from the storm, Donofrio said Indiana bore the brunt of the storm much more than Illinois.

“There was a funnel cloud reported with power lines down and pine trees down and some light roof damage in Lowell, in Lake County, Indiana,” Donofrio said. “They had 1.5-inch hail in Dyer, Indiana. I believe that’s almost golf ball-sized, or slightly less. Hammond, Indiana, had 1-inch hail.”

In Illinois, a barn was destroyed in Iroquois County, he said.

About 1:40 p.m. quarter-sized hail was spotted on radar and 60 mph wind gusts were recorded in Crete, a south suburban town located about 5 miles south of Chicago Heights, meteorologist Matt Friedlein wrote in one of several severe weather alerts on the National Weather Service’s website. With that severe weather alert, forecasters were warning residents to move indoors and head to an interior room on the ground floor.

Friedlein wrote: “Lightning is one of nature’s leading killers. Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.”

Friedlein and others wrote about the potential damage the large hail and strong winds could cause, noting siding could be ripped off buildings, roofs could be damaged and vehicles were at risk from the large hail.

By afternoon, the weather had begun to adversely impact flights at both O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport. At 2 p.m., O’Hare was reporting 387 canceled flights in the previous 24 hours and Midway 23. Midway had 56 departing planes reporting delays longer than 45 minutes and a total of 94 delayed departures, while O’Hare had 233 flights with delays longer than 45 minutes and a total of 336 delayed departures. Not surprisingly, the numbers jumped dramatically in the hours after the tornado watch was issued.

Meanwhile, a high wind warning was in effect from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. for much of north central Illinois, northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana with south to southwest winds.

By 3:30 p.m. the weather service had taken reports from weather spotters of a wind gust of 57 mph in Aurora and 54 mph at Naperville Central High School, Donofrio said.

Before the storms gathered steam Amy Seeley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, warned that although hail and tornadic activity were possible, the wind was guaranteed to be much stronger than average, creating a more substantial threat to many more people, downing tree limbs and electrical wires.

The weather service also noted that flooding would continue along portions of the Rock, Kishwaukee, Fox, Illinois and Des Plaines rivers.

Both Donofrio and Seeley noted at least Thursday was warm.

“It is that,” Seeley said. “It’s in the 60s, and I’ll take it.”

Friday temperatures are expected to drop, as will the chance of severe weather, but the forecast still calls for light rain and light showers in the morning. Temperatures are expected to fall to the low 40s.

“It still will be windy, but not like today …” Seeley said. “It will be colder and definitely quieter.”

Kdouglas@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @312BreakingNews

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