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Thunderstorms Cancel 750 Flights at Embattled Chicago Airports


A forecast of scattered thunderstorms prompted airlines to cancel hundreds of flights at Chicago airports already plagued with air traffic delays following the evacuation of the Aurora radar center.

The Weather Channel is forecasting occasional thunderstorms for the Chicago area beginning at 4:15 PM local time on Thursday. At the time of reporting, the city itself was not included in any severe weather warnings or watches, but according to the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), airlines cancelled more than 750 flights at Chicago airports Thursday morning ahead of the weather system.

Southwest Airlines cancelled all flights at Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) beginning at noon on Thursday, while United Airlines, which operates the most flights at O’ Hare International Airport (ORD), warned passengers to check flight status before heading to the airport. Due the the high volume of passengers calling to reschedule flights, United asked travelers to use its website to check flight status and change itineraries.

It has traditionally been cold fronts, low-pressure systems and tropical depressions that the airlines monitor when deciding whether or not to cancel flights in advance of weather events. In this case, however, issues with air traffic control also played a factor. Following the loss of the FAA’s Chicago En Route Center in Aurora, Ill., to a fire allegedly set by a contractor at the facility, air traffic at Chicago airports has been plagued with delays and cancellations.

The FAA reports that as of October 1, Chicago airports are operating at about 85 percent capacity. Factor in evening thunderstorms, though, and the stage is set for a perfect storm of problems between Mother Nature and air traffic control.

Southwest and American Airlines offered waivers and encouraged passengers to change flights in order to avoid Chicago, even prior to Thursday’s stormy weather.

The FAA says crews are working around-the-clock to bring the En Route Center back online, stating in the latest update, “Workers already have installed some of the new communications equipment, but also have to lay as much as 10 miles of new cable and restore service to hundreds of electrical circuits and switches at the facility.”

[Photo: iStock]

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