Winter Storm Watch issued for Chicago area starting Thursday
CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Chicago winter storm this week is forecast to dump several inches of snow on the area on Thursday and Friday ahead of the Christmas holiday, along with very strong winds and dangerous wind chills.
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the entire Chicago area and northwest Indiana.
The alert is in effect from 9 a.m. Thursday until Saturday at 6 a.m. for DeKalb, Kane, Kendall, Grundy, Livingston and McHenry counties. For the rest of the Chicago area, the alert is in effect from noon Thursday until 6 a.m. Saturday, with the alert starting at 3 p.m. for areas in northwest Indiana.
ABC7 Meteorologist Larry Mowry said the timing of the storm has moved up and it is now expected to hit earlier in the day on Thursday. That means the western suburbs could start seeing snow by 9 a.m. Thursday, with the city seeing snow by 12 p.m. and northwest Indiana by 3 p.m.
Models show much lower snow totals than predicted Monday, when models were predicting up to 19 inches of snow in some areas near the lake. Now the models are showing a range of 3 to 8 inches, with many areas seeing less than 6 inches of snow, Mowry said.
But it will be difficult to measure the exact amount of snowfall because extremely high winds, over 50 miles per hour, will be a major feature of the storm. They will lead to blizzard conditions and the threat of power outages, and extreme travel difficulties from blowing snow reducing visibility, Mowry said.
The possibility of power outages is particularly dangerous because the very high winds will compound extreme cold, producing wind chill temperatures around -20 to -30. After the storm, forecasted highs will struggle to climb out of the single digits, and night time lows are likely to be below zero.
At those temperatures, it is possible to get frostbite in as little as 10 to 20 minutes.
The forecast for this week has forced many holiday travelers to scramble to change their plans. Most airlines currently have weather waivers in place, which means you can change your flights for free if you have flexible travel plans.
Salt trucks lined up in Elk Grove Village Tuesday like they were preparing for battle; and, in a sense, they were.
"Pretty much everybody can outsource everything else but you can't outsource snow removal. This is pretty much what our guys live for," said Colby Basham of Elk Grove Village Public Works.
With plenty of lead time before the storm, they are spending some of it to load the tanks up with the beet juice that combines with salt to clear the roads.
The same could be seen in other suburbs like Oak Forest. Because it's the first snow event of the season, most every town has a full supply of salt.
"Last year was so mild we have a full salt dome and another house full of salt as well, so we are pretty well stocked to get this season going," said Vince Kilcullen, Algonquin General Services.
Gas is another story. The high cost of diesel is much more than what many towns planned on, and likely to budgets in the red.
Suburban public works directors are closely following the forecast, and took part in a call with the National Weather Service. Federal emergency management officials are urging people to be cautious and reconsider their travel plans.
In the city, folks flocked to hardware stores, supermarkets and the Mag Mile to prepare for the storm.
Many used Tuesday to stock up on provisions at bustling grocery stores, which are likely to get busier as the storm gets closer. And hardware stores like JC Licht Ace Hardware in Bridgeport said rock salt, snow melt and shovels have been selling fast. Snow throwers are especially popular, given the amount of snow expected.
And last-minute shoppers as well as some who placed holiday gift orders online flocked to the stores, unable to wait any longer. Some were getting an earlier start than their usual Christmas Eve shopping plans, while others were no longer confident in their online orders arriving in time, so were out buying backup gifts.
ComEd said it is positioning people and equipment to be able to respond quickly to potential power outages.
"We are positioning our people and equipment to respond quickly and safely to any interruptions that result from this snowstorm," said Terence Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd. "We realize that any interruption is an inconvenience to our customers, especially during the holidays. Avoiding power outages and restoring service quickly is critical. We have strengthened our system over the years to reduce the impacts a storm like this can have on our customers."
ComEd customers can text OUT to 26633 (COMED) to report an outage and receive restoration information as well as following ComEd on Twitter or on Facebook. Customers can also call 1-800 EDISON1 (1-800-334-7661), or report outages via the website at ComEd.com/report or use the ComEd app.
ComEd warns people never to approach a downed power line and not to approach ComEd crews to ask them about restoration times as they may be working on live electrical equipment.
In order for a blizzard warning to be issued, the following conditions need to prevail for three hours or longer:
-The storm needs to have sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles-per-hour or greater
-Falling and or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile
Stay tuned to ABC7 Eyewitness News and ABC7Chicago.com for the latest forecast and snowfall amounts as the winter storm approaches.