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Bone-chilling temperatures, nasty weather continues

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



After being stranded, pummeled and punished by a blizzard of historic proportions — complete with thunder and lightning — folks shoveling out from under nearly two feet of snow now face a deep freeze.

The Blizzard of ’11 officially dumped 20.2 inches of snow at O’Hare Airport Tuesday and Wednesday — much of it falling overnight at a rate of more than three inches per hour — to rank as the third worst winter storm in Chicago history. It was second only to storms in 1967 and 1999, and bested the 19.2 inches that hit the city in 1930.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Chicago area was under a wind chill advisory Wednesday night. Meteorologists predicted temperatures would plummet to 15 below zero in the suburbs — 3 below zero downtown — with 30-below wind chills. That’s cold enough for exposed skin to develop frostbite in less than 30 minutes. And it’s supposed to stay that cold until at least noon, according to the National Weather Service.

Overnight Tuesday, the massive thundersnow, hail and 67 m.p.h. wind gusts put the region on lockdown. Hundreds of motorists on Lake Shore Drive were stranded for up to nine hours. Mayor Daley’s chief of staff apologized to those stuck on Lake Shore Drive — but said rescue workers did their best given the blizzard’s severity near the lakefront.

“We know that hundreds of people were very inconvenienced, and we apologize for that,” Chief of Staff Ray Orozco said. “While we wanted to get to these people as quickly as possible, we wanted to get to them as safely as possible.”

Chicago Public Schools, which hadn’t taken a snow day in 12 years, called off classes Wednesday and will remain closed Thursday, as well — along with City Colleges, Catholic schools and most suburban school districts. In Chicago, classes are expected to resume Friday.

The Loop was nearly a ghost town Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, where a brave few were spotted walking down the middle of the street to avoid drift-covered sidewalks.

The storm crippled Metra and CTA train lines, shut down O’Hare and Midway, which officially tallied 20.9 inches of snow, and made area highways and major streets look like post-apocalyptic wastelands. Strong winds knocked down buildings and ripped off part of Wrigley Field’s grandstand roof. City side streets — and entire suburban subdivisions — were impassible due to drifting snow.

The combination of heavy snow and strong winds contributed to the destruction and made it nearly impossible for snow plows to keep many roads clear.

The Blizzard of ‘11 caused even more widespread closures and disruptions than the second-worst winter storm on record — the 1999 blizzard, which smacked Chicago with 21.6 inches of snow. The difference, meteorologist Mark Ratzer said, is that the winds accompanying the 1999 storm paled next to the powerful gusts accompanying Tuesday night’s storm — which became deadly for a few people caught out in the worst of it.

Andrew Berg, 44, of Kernan was found dead early Wednesday after he apparently walked away from his stranded car about a mile from home.

A 48-year-old Grayslake man was found dead in a stranded car in LaSalle County.

Two people from Northwest Indiana, including DeMotte teen, Matthew Tayler, died when the car they were in collided with a semi-truck during the storm.

Three men — from Downers Grove and Lyons and South Haven, Ind. — apparently died from heart attacks while shoveling snow.

A homeless man was found frozen to death in a Logan Square alley Wednesday.

And Chicago police pulled from Diversey Harbor the body of 60-year-old man, who died after apparently falling in the ice-cold water.

The storm was so violent that a handful of inmates being released from Cook County Jail near 26th and California asked to remain locked up until the blizzard passed.

“They wanted to stay an extra night. We never had that before,” said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s office. “It gives new meaning to the idea of ‘Hotel California.’”

The work to dig out from the snow, restore power to homes and restore public transit service to normal levels will be a monumental — and expensive — task. The final price tag — for overtime, fuel and materials to battle the snow — likely won’t be known until work is done.

Since Tuesday, the Chicago Fire Department responded to 4,400 emergency calls, including 200 runs on snowmobiles and the rescue of a mother and her newborn from a house on a snow-choked South Side street.

In all, Chicago’s 911 Center received 20,000 calls, including 1,300 from people seeking help after getting stranded in their cars on the street. About 80 people called to complain of inadequate heat in apartments.

On Wednesday, more than 300 ComEd crews working round the clock — some contracted from Wisconsin — were trying to restore power to 32,000 customers, 23,000 of them in Chicago.

Chicago’s full 274-truck fleet of snow plows, along with 100 garbage trucks with quick-hitch plows, were working to clear major streets Wednesday. When that work is done, crews will start plowing side streets. On Wednesday afternoon in Pullman, heavy front-loaders had started clearing a path through drifting snow on some side streets.

City crews were clearing snow from sidewalks along bridges downtown and viaducts over Chicago expressways and more than 90 bridges and underpasses across the city.

By Wednesday, CTA Brown Line train service was completely restored, but the Yellow and Pink lines remained closed due to the storm. Service is expected to resume Thursday.

On Wednesday, Metra completely shut down the Heritage Corridor, North Central, Metra Electric Blue Island Branch, Southwest and Union Pacific McHenry commuter lines. Other lines were operating on a limited Sunday schedule due to the storm and the expectation of fewer riders.

For their part, weather forecasters can say they told you so, Chicago — having accurately predicted the size and ferocity of the storm days in advance.

“It was right in line with what we were thinking,” Ratzer said.

Contributing: Dan Rozek, Mitch Dudek, Frank Main, Tina Sfondeles



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