Chicago Weather: New winter storm, foot of snow expected by Sunday evening

It's the kind of snow where you'd better clear your car windows quickly and go, or they might be covered again before you finish.
January 5, 2014 4:42:54 AM PST
A winter snow storm is sweeping across the Chicago area and up to a foot of snow could fall in the next 24 hours, causing headaches and hassles at Chicago's airports, with hundreds of cancellations and delays across the board.

Dangerous Cold: Winter driving tips | Health, safety tips | Protecting your pets | What you need in your car | What you need to do at home | Chicago Warming Centers

Winter loosened its icy grip a bit Saturday as temperatures were rising to the low 30s. But the reprieve will be brief.

After some freeing drizzle, six to 10 inches of snow is expected to fall between Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening in Chicago, western and northern suburbs, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service's storm warning will stay in effect until 6 p.m. Sunday.

By Sunday night the area will plunge into a deep freeze, with the mercury dropping to minus 15 to 20 degrees, the Sun-Times is reporting.

"Sunday night the bottom falls out," said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lenning. He added that wind gusts of up to 25 mph could push wind chills to minus 45 on Sunday night.

Roads, air travel messy as snow moves through

Pictures show Las Vegas-bound Spirit Airlines flight 245, minutes after it slipped off a taxiway while getting ready to depart.

The incident is but one of many weather-related complications both Chicago airports are going through as a result of this weekend's winter weather.

O'Hare has canceled over 425 flights, and is experiencing delays of up to an hour or more, and over 30 flights were canceled at Midway, where it has been a mess for several days now.

At Midway, Southwest Airlines is still trying to get back on track after being forced to cancel 130 out of its 220 daily flights Friday. Hundreds of pieces of luggage remain unclaimed, most by people, whose flights were rerouted to other parts of the country, even while their bags were not.

"We went to Omaha," said passenger Lynn Pitrosky. "Our bags we had no idea where they were going to go. We were told they were coming here, but we didn't know when, so I walk, I here now and said, 'Oh my goodness, they could be anywhere. They are supposed to be sorted but they're not."

The roads are also far from pleasant. Both IDOT and the Illinois Tollway are already warning drivers to be ready for wintry conditions even as they send their full complement of salt trucks and plows to take care them. Side streets and arterials are in even worse shape.

"It's been enough," said Mike Annes. "When we have a little warming it's not quite as bad, but definitely be nice if we could at least clear the streets before the next storm."

Meanwhile, people are getting ready to hunker down. Business was brisk at the Home Depot in Lincoln Park and it's not just in anticipation of this latest round of snow, but of the arctic blast that is set to hit Sunday evening.

"People are very worried," said Ezra Taxel, Home Depot. "They are looking for heaters, things that are going to stand up at extra low temperatures. We have lots of people looking for window insulation, other things to insulate their houses.

"It's going to be dangerously cold," Ben Taylor said. "I don't think I'm even going to leave the house Monday. I'm just going to hunker down."

Snow falling fast, flakey

It's the kind of snow where you'd better clear your car windows quickly and go, or they might be covered again before you finish. The snow is falling fast and flakey.

It's the kind of night where staying in the house sounds like a good idea, but not entirely realistic.

"This is pretty bad. This makes it a little inconvenient to get around, but you still gotta do stuff. You gotta get out and get going," said Bill Zelkovich.

For many people that included getting out to a grocery store to stock up before the expected deep freeze takes hold tomorrow. The temperature according to the bank thermometer was a balmy 27 degrees Saturday night. Stores around the area did brisk business all day.

"I checked out at a different store and the clerk asked if I was stocking up for the end of the world. I said no, just football," said Emma Barron.

"I came out because of the upcoming cold snap, to stock the refrigerator up," said Debra Clark.

City and IDOT salt truck drivers are trying to keep the streets as clear as possible. Every available piece of snow clearing equipment is on the streets. but at the peak of the snowfall early Saturday evening they were fighting an uphill battle.

Sidewalks and stairs are also a challenge for those on foot, like mail carrier Roosevelt Myles, who is working into the evening to make sure customers get their mail.

"Very slow. The snow makes it harder for the walk. It's dangerous," he said.

While the snow creates challenges, the extreme cold presents a whole new set of potential problems, like frozen pipes. Plumber Jose Gomez expects to be busy.

"The broken pipes keep me in business," he said. "The temperature's going to drop, there's going to be a lot of work for me."

Divvy bike-sharking program back in business

If you can't fly, at least you can ride, as Chicago's bike-sharing program is back in business.

Divvy bike rentals were suspended on Thursday because of the heavy snow. The company says it will suspend operations again if conditions worsen.

Lincoln Park Zoo's popular holiday festival ZooLights will not take place on Sunday as originally planned. Instead, Saturday night will be the final night of the event for the season. The zoo's ice skating rink will remain closed all day Sunday, but the zoo does plan to open during standard daytime hours.

CPS: Schools to remain open despite bitter cold

Chicago Public Schools will be open for classes on Monday and Tuesday next week despite the cold temperatures.

CPS spokesperson Joel Hood said any students who can't make it to school will be given excused absences, but the schools will remain open to give students a warm, safe place to go.

Evanston-Skokie school District 65 announced that it is calling off classes for its students Monday.

Because of the dangerous cold weather, all schools in the state of Minnesota will be closed Monday. The governor of Wisconsin is considering the same action. The city of Milwaukee has already announced there will be no classes there.

For the latest schools closings in and around Chicago, click here.

Cold poses potential problems for commuters

Getting around on public transportation in the dangerous cold can be a harrowing experience for commuters.

Most Chicagoans know by now how to dress for the cold. But Monday's cold could be the coldest in three decades, not to mention it's the first day back to work for many from a long holiday. And that means extra pressure on the public transportation system.

"Our primary goal is not to leave people on the platforms in these extreme conditions. We do expect that Monday is going to be a tough day for all of us," said Meg Reile, Metra spokesperson.

"It's going to be scary. (You going to do anything different?) Just wear as much as I can, so put on my hat, my gloves, everything," said Matt Radke, Metra passenger.

Metra is using gas and electric heaters-- which look like small fires-- to keep the switchers from freezing, and the agency is stepping up preparations for Monday. Mechanics are preparing spare equipment and extra crews will be on duty Monday. Twenty-four hour maintainers will be working through the weekend to keep the system running smoothly, and wherever possible, they will keep shelters open 24 hours.

CTA officials are also expecting a big spike in ridership Monday. They also are stepping up preparations by checking switches for the tracks and warming buses early.

"We have general winter operations we do to handle snow, ice and sleet, but in case of these bitter cold temperatures, there are extra steps we'll take," said Tammy Chase, CTA spokesperson.

The expected extreme temperatures have some offices opening late on Monday, and others closed entirely. For some, avoiding the cold by staying inside is the best strategy.

"I'm working from home on Monday, not evening going to attempt it," said Dawn Forden, Metra commuter.

Metra warns that it slows down its trains down by 10 mph in conditions of extreme cold. Additionally, passengers tend to stay in their cars or shelters until the last minute, which can also contribute to an overall slowdown for the schedule.