Increasing snowfall blankets Chicagoland

January 31, 2008 9:19:27 PM PST
Snow will likely continue to fall in the Chicago area until noon Friday. The line of storms extended back to St. Louis, but some northwestern suburbs should see snow taper off in the earliest morning hours.

The Chicago area and northwest Indiana are under a winter storm warning until Friday night.

On Thursday night, the heaviest bands of snow were out to the west and northwest, but when it's all said and done, the most snow was likely to fall in the south and east. By noon Friday it was predicted that the far northern suburbs would see four inches, the city and west would see six inches, and the south and east parts of Chicagoland would accumulate up to nine inches of snow.

Chicago's salt truck drivers were going to be re-clearing many spots throughout the night because they've got to try to clear all the main thoroughfares.

Residents who have to clear their sidewalks and driveways will have one big job ahead of them Friday morning.

Shoveling while the snow is still falling means you're likely to be back out before long. But they needed to clear the entrance to one theater for Thursday night's show. The show must go on, as they say.

"We're working as a tag team right now to try to keep ahead of it, you know. It's coming down, though," said Guy Van Swearingen, Red Orchid theater, 1500 N. Wells, Chicago.

City salt and plow trucks are getting a workout. They've got all available drivers and equipment on the streets. And they're expecting to work around the clock. The snow was falling steadily with no end in sight. That's good news for kids on sleds at Cricket Hill, but bad news for commuters, like Tessa McCain, who's trying to get a jump on getting to work Friday morning, scraping her car the night before.

"I'm ready for summer. This next storm will be the one that really makes me want summer," she said.

City officials say the salt trucks are probably only going to be able to hit the main streets Thursday night. The side streets, they say, will likely have to wait until sometime later Friday.

The CTA reminded riders that public transit may be slow due to inclimate weather.

The Red Cross also reminded people to avoid hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.

South suburbs braced for the worst

Even though the bulk of the snow had yet to fall in the suburbs, 12-year-old Loren Jones was anxious to get out and shovel Thursday night.

"I just do it because I'm bored sometimes, and I like helping, unlike some people," she said.

Loren was referring to her brother, who just watched as his sister did all the hard labor.

The taxicabs were standing by for business. Finally, the flakes started to fall around 7:30.

"I'm tired of it, thinking about moving to Florida," said Felicia Jones, Homewood.

But Mike Rohror is not tired of it. He owns a small plow business.

"It's been the best in about 10 years, and Indiana is really going to get it tonight," he said.

That's bad news for those who have to drive in it. Zach Donaho is now a truck supervisor, but because two of his truckers called in sick, Donaho was forced to drive a semi for the first time in three months.

"I decided to get out of this weather and work in the office, where it's warm," he said. "Now I'm back out here in it again."

Drivers say the worst part about driving in conditions like this is that cars go too fast for the conditions. IDOT said the same thing, but reminded drivers to slow down for IDOT trucks. IDOT will have about 350 vehicles out all night because they're expecting a very messy morning commute.

In Darien, Rich Lepic is one of the city's go-to drivers. He was working a shift Thursday afternoon, and said he would probably come back for another shift Friday morning.

Dan Gombec, the director of public works, says the city is prepared.

"We have 69 miles of roadways to clear," he said. Gombec said a second crew is standing ready to take over for the first crew.

Gombec says some suburbs could be running low on salt because of the recent wave of heavy snowstorms.

Neighbors in Darien, such as Mitch Piekos, are doing their best to keep their driveways clear. Piekos says the storm is nothing to worry about, adding that it's normal for the area, and most people are used to it.

Others, such as Jeanette Yates, said they prefer to clear their driveways by hand. She said it's good exercise. Yates is 70.

"This is normal; we're used to this," said Pam Vlcek. "We're tough."

This is already one of the snowiest winters in the last three decades. And this latest storm will add significantly to this season's totals.

To give you an idea of how much salt is used in a storm like this, the town of Darien alone plans to use 200 - 300 tons of salt on its roads.

Thursday's evening commute mess

IDOT said the commute Thursday afternoon was terrible. Some people had to wait about three hours, especially if they were sitting on the Kennedy or the Edens.

As of 6 p.m., the area had received about two inches of snow on average.

On the Kennedy Expressway, traffic in both directions was moving only at a crawl at about five to 10 miles an hour, and reportedly it continued that be that slow out to the city limits and beyond. As of 6 p.m., travel times were 94 minutes inbound on the Kennedy; outbound from Ontario to O'Hare would take two hours and 39 minutes.

In the city itself, the streets and sanitation department deployed 273 salt trucks. But the heavy traffic volume in the late afternoon meant those trucks couldn't work as quickly or as effectively as needed. Hundreds of snow plow drivers tried to stay ahead of the snowfall Thursday night along the main roads and side streets. Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation was ready to put dozens of garbage trucks equipped with plows on the roads in addition to the regular snow fleet.

Commissioner Mike Picardi said he expected heavier snowfall during the evening and warned drivers that despite his department's best efforts, the snow would not be removed as fast as it fell.

"When you get snow with a rate of accumulation of an inch an hour, you will see snow accumulation on the streets. It does happen. As good as we are, you'll see accumulation throughout the night when you get that heavy rate of snow," Picardi said.

The other story was at Chicago's airports, especially at O'Hare, where by late Thursday evening, 600 flights had already been canceled at O'Hare, 10 at Midway. Delays were averaging two hours at O-Hare, 90 mintues at Midway.

Authorities advised travelers to call ahead, but also to leave home very early to arrive at the airport, too. Because of the circumstance, many of the flights were likely to be canceled while the passengers, at least those from Chicago, were in their cars headed to the airport.