Blizzard severely impacts traffic, strands drivers

February 1, 2011 8:55:37 PM PST
Tuesday's massive winter storm hit during the evening commute and quickly made a mess of the expressways.

Getting to Hinsdale Tuesday night was a slow go.

After leaving downtown at 3:23 p.m., we did not hit a wall of snow, but rather a wall of traffic. While blue line trains sailed past, our speedometer never made it above 25 miles per hour.

By 3:51p.m., we were only at Ashland Avenue. The only consolation: the inbound Eisenhower Expressway was even worse.

"I'm not going out for a day or two," said driver Mike Bell, confirming that he had learned his lesson about traveling in the blizzard.

The pace picked up a bit as we reached the city limit. By 5:10 p.m., we made it to Hillside -- a commute totaling more than an hour and 45 minutes.

"When you're not moving, we can't push the snow," said Hillside snow plow driver Ed Hendrey. "You gotta be rolling to get the snow off the blade."

In Oak Brook, we found wind-whipped streets and poor visibility. At times it was like driving with your eyes almost totally closed.

Many truckers along the Tri-State Tollway just gave up and called it a night.

"It's gonna be a long operation," said Carmen Iacullo of the Illinois Department of Transportation. "If the snow ends tomorrow, we'll be at it for hours after, if not days, to clean up."

Authorities recommend only essential travel until the wind dies down and the roads are cleared.

Even so, some people decided Tuesday night would be a good night to work out, play basketball, and even racquetball.

"You gotta regiment," said Eugene Disc. "You got to stick to it."

Lake Shore Drive, part of I-80 closed

Authorities began closing roads across northern Illinois and in Chicago Tuesday evening. By about 8 p.m. Tuesday, the city had closed Lake Shore Drive in both directions from Hollywood to 63rd Street.

Many motorists were stuck on Lake Shore Drive Tuesday night, unable to move because of other cars or buses that had spun out or stalled.

Chicago's Office of Emergency Management says that plows are slowly clearing the drive of snow, and will then clear stalled and abandoned cars.

After the vehicles are cleared from the road, the plows will go up and down Lake Shore Drive, clearing it of snow and salting it.

Wind gusts of as much as 30-60 mph could lead waves to freeze over on Lake Shore Drive. A lake shore flood watch is in effect from 6 p.m. until Wednesday afternoon.

The Chicago Fire Department was working on Lake Shore Drive Tuesday night, moving car loads of people into a bus on the drive with the hopes of keeping those stranded motorists warm.

At about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Illinois State Police confirmed that Interstate 80 is being closed from Morris to the west, past Ottawa, all the way to Princeton. A total of 60 miles of I-80 were going to be closed, and most was already closed by 8:30 p.m. Authorities were working to get people off the road at that time.

The Blizzard Warning remains in effect until early evening Wednesday. Chicago and the suburbs could get anywhere between 10 and 24 inches of snow. The worst of it could be right in Chicago, according to ABC7's Weather Team.

Whiteout conditions are expected Tuesday night. By 9 p.m., thunder snow was impacting Chicago's Loop, with visibility dropping below a quarter of a mile and periodic lightning and thunder. Conditions downtown deteriorated continuously as the evening went on.

In the far southwest suburbs, the Kendall County Sheriff's Depatment reported that by around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, virtually all roads in unincorporated Kendall County were impassible. Police and emergency vehicles there were unable to navigate or reach motorists stranded in ditches.

Kendall County is reportedly experiencing unprecedented extreme winter weather, and authorities advised that any travel away from shelter could be life-threatening.

CTA, Metra, Amtrak plan to continue service in blizzard

The Chicago Transit Authority was reporting significant delays on the Red and Purple lines Tuesday night due to signal problems at Howard. In a press release, the agency said it would dispatch additional sleet trains on those lines not running 24 hours a day to keep them clear of ice and snow, and that it would maintain its usual weekday schedule, but would keep 6- and 8-car trains running to keep the tracks clear as long as possible.

Metra has all of its equipment in use, so it's not adding trains, but it did juggle schedules a bit Tuesday afternoon, adding more early departures for those who want to get home before the lion arrives.

In a press release Tuesday, Amtrak said it planned to keep its regular schedule during the blizzard.

Non-essential travel strongly discouraged

Judging by how many people ABC7 saw taking public transportation Tuesday morning, a lot of drivers opted to leave their cars at home. Still, some say they are unfazed by the forecast and plan to drive Tuesday night anyway. For those folks, the message is: be prepared.

Illinois Department of Transportation salt trucks hit the road starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, a round-the-clock effort which will include specialized trucks that can remove huge piles of plowed snow from express lanes.

Despite the dire weather predictions, Mel Wright says he plans to be on the roads.

"I'm supposed to volunteer at a shelter tonight at 5:30, so that means I'll be in the thick of it trying to get there and trying to get back home to the north suburbs," said Wright.

Wright said he's not worried at all.

"We're telling people, 'You're not that good of a driver. Don't chance it out there.' That's why we see people on the side of the road or in a ditch," said Beth Mosher, AAA Chicago spokesperson.

Mosher says the white-out conditions expected Tuesday night mean a stranded driver could be left waiting.

"It could really take hours for any type of emergency responder to get to you," Mosher said. "They have to brave it through this weather and the roads as well. So have an emergency kit with you."

That kit can be purchased at any big box store-- or you can put one together yourself. Essential items include jumper cables, a blanket and extra clothes, a flashlight, and fully-charged cell phone.

AAA says, if you do get stuck, don't leave the vehicle, even if help is a short walk away.

"You really run the risk of either being hit or being stranded out there in the cold conditions," said Mosher, "and not only that, but emergency responders cannot help you if you're not with your car...If you don't have to drive, stay home, stay out of these conditions by all means. If you do drive, take it really slow, really cautious out there."

Another item you're going to want to have in your cars is a small shovel .

AAA says it plans to have hundreds of emergency response vehicles on the road Tuesday night, as will police and other agencies.

Still, if you do get stuck, be prepared to wait hours for help.