Chicago Weather: Lake-effect snow, temps plunge

January 20, 2014 (CHICAGO)

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On Monday night, heavy equipment was on the move as City of Gary salt trucks loaded up for the fight ahead.

"We anticipate that we'll be able to keep up, but it will be difficult given the rate of snowfall," said Karen Freeman-Wilson, Gary Mayor.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened two weeks ago, when a slew of spinouts forced the closure of two northwest Indiana interstates, officials on Monday are advising against non-essential travel.

The Indiana Dept. of Transportation warned drivers to expect 1-2 feet of snow over 24 hours, and added snow could fall heavily overnight at up to 2-3 inches an hour. INDOT crews were expected to be out for a straight 24 hours, working on 12-hour shifts. INDOT authorities asked drivers to be aware of plows and allow them space to work. INDOT said motorists should expect difficult driving conditions, and should avoid nonessential travel.

"If you don't have to travel in a winter storm, it's always best to stay home," said Matt Deitschley, INDOT spokesman.

Gary's mayor says the city is on budget thanks in part to the state's emergency declaration from that storm earlier this month.

"It allowed us to be reimbursed for the expenditures that we had to use or make during overtime and calling contractors out," said Freeman-Wilson.

Indiana toll road authorities have put travel restrictions in place for all triple-trailers and other large cargo trucks. That goes into effect at 11 p.m. and runs at least through the morning. Indiana State Police will be out in force. They're working extended 12-hour shifts to help stranded motorists.

Cold to follow lake-effect snow

While the Chicago area braces for another round of cold weather, it won't likely rival what we were dealing with on this night 29 years ago.

January 20, 1985 remains the coldest day on record in the city of Chicago. It was 27 degrees below zero – and that was the air temperature, not the wind chill.

The average temperature since December 1 has been 21.2 degrees - 5 degrees below normal and 3 degrees above the average of Chicago's coldest winter in 1903-1904.

A narrow lake effect snow band -- dumping as much as two inches of snow per hour at times -- will move ashore in Cook County about midnight, then pivot east into northwest Indiana, the National Weather Service said.

Accumulations could vary greatly as areas near the lake could see 6 to 12 inches of snow, while western Cook County could see no snow at all, the weather service said.

A lake effect snow warning is in place for eastern Cook County from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesday. Lake County, Ind., is under the same warning from midnight until noon Tuesday.

Parts of Will County east of Interstate 57 could see 3 to 6 inches of snow, and a less serious lake effect snow advisory is in effect for those areas from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Traveling in areas affected by the lake-effect snowfall could be dangerous, as visibilities can drop to zero within minutes, forecasters say.

As if the snow isn't bad enough, temperatures will start to fall Monday as a cold front moves into the Chicago area, meteorologists said. Overnight lows will only reach zero or minus 4 degrees, which will feel like minus 5 to minus 15 with the wind chill.

Temperatures Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will mimic Monday's, with temperatures near zero and wind chills as cold as minus 20 to 25 degrees, meteorologists said.

This particular blast of cold air is not the polar vortex itself, but rather a byproduct of the system that regularly moves through Canada and into the United States, meteorologists said.

By Friday, highs in the area are expected to climb to 24 degrees, falling to 15 at night, forecasts show.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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