A winter weather alert is underway for a storm that could dump up to a foot of snow in the Chicago area by Thursday.
Snow began falling Tuesday afternoon and it will continue much of Wednesday and possibly Thursday near the lake.
"The first wave of precipitation is going to be a long duration event," said Eyewitness News meteorologist Mike Caplan.
A winter weather advisory went into effect at 3:28 p.m. Tuesday and has been extended through 6 p.m. Wednesday for Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and McHenry counties, as well as areas around Rockford and DeKalb. A lake effect snow watch will be in effect late Wednesday night through Thursday afternoon for Cook and Lake Counties in Illinois, and Lake County in Indiana.
Chicago area bracing to dig out of snow
It's a picturesque end to 2013. A beautiful sight, unless you're behind the wheel.
"It's horrible," said driver John Dernas. "But I guess it's Chicago weather. Typical."
Tuesday night, the inbound Kennedy was a parking lot.
William Cooley, on his way to a party, had to pull over when he ran out of washer fluid.
"It's not too pleasant out here tonight," he said. "It's very bad. I could have picked a better night."
By late afternoon lanes were hard to make out on the Edens Expressway.
Getting to the Bulls game at the United Center was an ordeal.
It was hard enough driving a regular-sized car, but Mike Armagan was preparing to drive this 30-foot-long party bus all night with music blaring and people dancing.
"They're jumping," he said. "They're having fun. The bus is bouncing."
The snow couldn't keep one man off his bike in Niles, where plows were clearing Milwaukee Avenue.
In Rosemont, the Village Ice Rink needed more than a Zamboni. Shovels and brooms pressed into service.
"We want to make sure that no one's shoes even get wet," said village spokesperson Nick Harkin. "So we have people shoveling and salting continuously all night long."
Tuesday night, some got a head start on the heavy lifting, but for others it was all a perfect end to 2013.
"Not too bad because we've got a couple jackets with us. It's great. It's comfortable," said Pablo Aburto.
The Illinois Department of Transportation says it is prepared to handle it. Salt trucks are being loaded up and have been on the road since 1 o'clock Tuesday afternoon. A total of 375 trucks have been deployed in six counties in northeastern Illinois.
"This storm will take every one of our snow plow drivers," said IDOT's Carmen Iacullo. "We do have extra trucks because trucks will breakdown during the long drawn out event and we'll be able to replace most of the trucks as they go down."
Snow not putting damper on New Year's celebrations
A snowy New Year's Eve in Chicago is not stopping people from going out. In Evanston, after a seven-year hiatus, First Night is back. A family friendly celebration of the arts, First Night is centered around Raymond Park. Tuesday evening folks made their way between six separate venues.
"I promised everybody 60 and sunny, that didn't happen," said Thom Duncan. But this is beautiful weather. As far as I'm concerned, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. It's part of the flavor of the evening."
But of course, for many New Year's Eve is all about the big ticket parties. And nobody does luxury like Trump Tower. With nearly sold out events at both Sixteen and Rebar there was just one table left, at a price.
"For $1,595 we can take one more group of ten this evening and that comes with four bottles of luminous rose," said Chris Roberts, Trump International Hotel and Tower.
For one group in Chicago for one night only on their way home to Paris, Trump was the place to be.
"It's the name," said Jessie Chapman. "It's our first time here and the epitome of luxury and fun and a great way to bring in the New Year."
And then, there is Navy Pier. Twenty-eight-hundred people bought tickets for the Pier's Grand Ballroom celebration. Twenty different bars are set up for the resolution gala and come midnight, it is these party goers who will have the best vantage point for the fireworks spectacular.
Several people were spotted Tuesday morning stocking up on groceries, snacks and booze at Jewel in the South Loop. Some were getting ready for a New Year's Eve at home or close to home.
One shopper told Eyewitness News she's getting all of her items for a big New Year's Day dinner, and she's still going out for New Year's Eve, in the snow.
"I'll be out. A little snow never bothered anybody. (And what are you going to do?) I think I'm going to go to a party with my cousins," said Katrina Rodgers, shopper.
The city has 200 salt trucks and snowplows on standby. Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation says many of those drivers are sleeping right now in preparation to be out and about all night long.
It's also going to be an extremely busy night for car services and cab drivers. They're ready to cash in and drive through the potentially wicked weather.
"I already started working but it's going to start to get busy after 6 p.m. (And then you'll keep going through the night?) Yeah, I'm going to keep going until the morning. I'll take a break and go back to work again," said Girma Hamie, cab driver.
Navy Pier will be bustling on New Year's Eve. Among the offerings is Winter Wonderfest, lakefront dinner cruises with views of the skyline, a midnight fireworks show and two large ballroom parties.
"It's going to be, from what the weather is saying, it's going to be messy out there. So we want to make sure you have enough time, and you take public transportation to our wonderful event tomorrow evening," said Dustin Mantell, Chicago Resolution Gala Organizer.
Though the wintry blast won't be nearly as bad as the New Year's blizzard of 1999-- when a whopping 22 inches of snow fell-- it is expected to arrive as many are traveling to their New Year's Eve destinations. The snow is an added concern on an already-busy day on the roads.
"However you choose to get from point A to point B, the only thing that matters is not to drink and drive," said Supt. Garry McCarthy, Chicago Police Dept.
To encourage the use of public transportation, the CTA will be offering its traditional penny rides from ten at night until four in the morning.
With the snow, it could be even harder to get a taxi.
"We'll have a few hundred SUVs on the road tomorrow at least, and those drivers know they're going to be in high demand," said Andrew McDonald, Uber.
Emergency rooms are also ready as the severity of slip-and-fall injuries are often not apparent until after sobering up.
"The alcohol can play a role. You lose your balance easier. Some people don't think it hurts as bad, so we do expect to see not only New Year's Eve injuries but New Year's Day follow up," said Lee Hinsberger, Northwestern Immediate Care.
Doctors say they also see a lot of frostbite cases on New Year's Eve with alcohol making people feel warmer than they actually are, and the lack of cabs forcing people to walk.
Bitter cold continues into new year
Wind chills as low as minus-10 are possible Tuesday night as the snow starts to fall.
New Year's Day will see highs in the lower 20s and lows between 16-20 degrees, with a 60 percent chance of precipitation, the National Weather Service said.
Though Tuesday's storm will be a fairly "run-of-the-mill" snowstorm by Chicago standards, drivers should double-check that they have emergency supplies in their vehicles.
Motorists should make sure gas tanks are full, and stock vehicles with a flashlight, gloves, other warm clothes, shovel and a candle for warmth.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.