North suburbs see more than foot of snow

February 6, 2008 9:40:49 PM PST
A winter storm has buried parts of the Chicago area under a foot of snow in some places.The same system spawned tornadoes and killed more than 50 people in six states.

Some schools were closed for Thursday, and the roads were very rough in areas where so much snowfall has led to a shortage of road salt. In Gurnee and other communities, they are actually adding sand to the mixture to make it last longer. North of Gurnee, the situation was far worse.

As difficult as the driving is in Chicago and the suburbs, just over the state line in Wisconsin, Interstate 90 was a parking lot. Drivers were still stranded on the road nearly nine hours after jackknifed semis blocked the highway south of Madison.

"We're starting to get a little upset. Eight hours to get traffic going is a little bit. We don't understand the reasoning. They can't even open the lane," said one motorist.

In Gurnee, two police officers were using snowmobiles instead of squad cars. The duo answered half a dozen calls for help at the height of the storm.

"We've had an extensive amount of calls for motor assists, people being stuck," said Commander Jay Patrick, Gurnee Police.

Road crews would be working through the night all over the area to try to clean up as much as possible for the morning commute. As for the drivers stranded on Interstate 90 in southern Wisconsin, they're being told they hope to get the road open and cars moving again by 3 a.m.

Suburban commuters found highways wet and messy, while side streets were slick and snowy. Motorist Chrissy Dsouza made it home all right but got stuck in the driveway.

The snow itself was wet and heavy, making it tough for man and machine.

Managers at Old Orchard and other malls raised the white flag, closing early Wednesday. And many other companies gave their employees the option of working from home.

"Only a couple of diehard folks were at the office, most other folks are at home," said Lionel Dsouza.

Despite low visibility, traffic was moving along at a good clip Wendesday evening. The roads were fairly quiet thanks likely to business closures.

However, some municipalities were running low on salt.

"We're being told that a lot of it is on barges on the river and can't get through ice blocks by Cairo, Illinois. So that's one of the main problems," said Mike Reynolds, Arlington Heights Public Works.

Arlington Heights' public works superintendent said he was grateful to get a shipment of salt just Wednesday morning - perfect timing for the winter storm.

"We're a little more at ease now that we got a little more salt. But it's been rough. Deliveries have been delayed pretty much since December," said Reynolds.

Road crews hoped folks would stay home and stay warm Wednesday evening and stay off the roads so they can get a handle on cleaning up for Thursday.

The snow that most were looking for Wednesday morning started coming down in the early afternoon. Some areas got more than a foot of snow.

The snow was keeping snow plows and truck drivers busy in what has already been a very busy season. The storm took some time to arrive, but when it did, the city was soon blanketed in heavy, wet snow.

The snow brought Beverly Simmerman outside for the second time. The first time she shoveled, it was a rainy, slushy mess.

"You can't win. I might as well stay out here for the rest of the day and keep doing my thing," Simmerman said.

The little plows tackled the side streets while the city's entire fleet of plows and trucks cleared the main roads, something the department of streets and sanitation has gone through several times this season.

"This has been a very difficult year. Fortunately, after most of these snow programs, the temperatures have gone up," said commissioner Mike Picardi.

And so has the number of potholes. The freeze and thaw cycles this winter have made the roads more like obstacle courses, but because of precipitation, the repair crews can only fix a limited number of potholes.

But for some, the snowfall is a chance to appreciate the changes in nature.

"Hard to not be inspired when you see like beautiful branches covered with snow angelically and stuff," said Samantha Rodriguez.

Underneath the snow on many roads was a layer of ice. Early rain became a sheet of ice.

Road crews in the north and northwest suburbs struggled to keep up with the snow and deal with the ice. Some municipalities are seeing dwindling salt supplies with a high demand this winter. Towns like Gurnee were waiting to be refilled.

"People just have to drive slower. No ifs, ands or buts. The roads won't be bare pavement. They will be snow packed, and people have to adjust their driving habits," said Jim Hayner, Gurnee village administrator.

Officials warned motorists to stay off the roads. Some businesses closed early, including Westfield Hawthorne Mall in Vernon Hills.

"For the safety of the customers, our employees and every store employee that it was best that we just close the mall for the day," said Tim Geiges, Westfield Hawthorne Mall.

The mall's general manager said he saw the deteriorating conditions and had to make an executive decision.

If you aren't driving, it's a beautiful day. The snow looks great. If you are driving, it's very tough," said Geiges.

Hawthorne was not the only mall that closed early. Gurnee Mills closed at 2 p.m.. Woodfield closed at 4 p.m., and Old Orchard closed early at 5 p.m.

Brian Howerton, of Schaumburg Police, said Woodfield's management wisely made the decision to close the mall due to treacherous road conditions.

"In Schaumburg, we're experiencing the same roadway conditions and problems. We here in Schaumburg have implemented our emergency traffic plan, where if you're involved in an accident, we ask if it's property damage only, that you come into the Schaumburg Police Department to make out your report," he said.

Howerton said city employees in Schaumburg were also sent home early.

"The manager's office made a decision to allow village employees to go home at four o'clock. Obviously the police department personnel that are working out in operations are still out working and the police department is open," he said.

An Illinois Dept. of Transportation spokesman said that overall the interstates were in pretty decent condition.

"They are generally wet and slushy. But as you get up further north, Lake and McHenry, they have been hit really hard and there's snow on the roads up there," said spokesman Mike Claffey. "It's going to be a very challenging commute home and as traffic builds, it's going to be very tough for the plows to get any effective work done until after the traffic dies down. So we are advising people to allow lots of extra time if you are driving home today. If there is any way you can take mass transit that would be faster."

Claffey said it seemed as though many people heeded warnings and had not driven in to work.

"This morning's commute, the weather cooperated this morning. But we are very concerned about the commute home," he said. "When you get off the interstates, we're concerned also about some of those roads, some with a lot of snow on them. The wind is creating very bad visibility in some areas. So you really need to slow down if you're driving."

Temperatures were hovering at 32 or a little above for much of the storm. Some often refer to snow at this temperature as "heart attack snow." When removing it, remember that it's got a lot of moisture content in it, making it harder to shovel.