Weather Updates

18 inches of snow at Midway, 17.1 at O'Hare as blizzard continues

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Blizzard of 2011 continued through the night and has left Chicago area blanketed with more than 15 inches of snow and a host of headaches Wednesday morning.

Snowfall totals recorded about 3 a.m. showed 15.6 inches of snow on the ground at O'Hare Airport early Wednesday, NWS meteorologist Gino Izzi said.

Midway Airport recorded 18 inches, snowfall at O'Hare set a record for the most snow recorded in Chicago on any single February day, and shattered the previous snowfall record for Feb. 1 -- a mere four inches, set back in 1967, according to the NWS.

"There's heavy lake effect snow mixing in with the blizzard snow" as the storm undergoes a transformation Wednesday morning, Izzo said. The blizzard should start to wind down early to mid-morning and ultimately leave the one to two feet of snow previously forecast for the Chicago metropolitan area, he said.

Snowfall in the city could reach the top of that range, Izzo said, approaching or even exceeding 20 inches by the time the storm is done -- bad news for agencies already struggling to keep up with the snowfall.

Public transit seemed the best bet for commuters Wednesday morning.

Most Metra rail lines will run at a Sunday schedule Wednesday, according to an alert on Metra's website. However, the Heritage Corridor, North Central Service, Metra Electric Blue Island Branch, SouthWest Service and Union Pacific McHenry Sub will not run at all, the alert said.

"We're planning to run our regular schedule," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said. "We are going to do the best we can."

CTA spokeswoman Noel Gaffney said train lines are running much more smoothly than buses as of 4:40 a.m.

“We are going to be running all train lines but we do have a power problem on the Brown Line,’’ according to Gaffney who said there is no service between Kimball and Western. A train shuttle is in place that will run from Western to Belmont, and there is service to the Loop from Belmont, Gaffney said.

Blowing and drifting snow is making bus travel “much more challenging,’’ Gaffney said.

While no buses are canceled, the trains are running “much more regularly,'' Gaffney said.

PACE spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the only cancellations they have as of 3:45 a.m. are the Niles Freebus, routes 411, 412, and 413. Some drivers even stayed overnight in the garages, so they could be ready for Wednesday¹s shifts, Wilmot said.

Roadways, however, remain difficult to navigate or even impassible, and officials throughout northeastern Illinois are urging drivers to keep off the roads Wednesday unless absolutely necessary.

"We have a lot of people stuck and not enough people out there to help," Illinois State Police Elgin District Sgt. Amy Pelletier said, urging motorists to stay off the roads.

"It's terrible," Joliet District Sgt. Chris Paluch said as crews scrambled to keep up late Tuesday. "There are too many crashes and too many vehicles in ditches. You can't even get to the cars anymore."

Conditions were so dire in north suburban Lake County and west suburban Kane County that officials there have closed all roads to traffic as of Wednesday morning.

Driving in those counties was said to be "nearly impossible," and with crews struggling to reach stranded drivers, heading out on the roads could "put your life at risk," according to the Lake County alert, issued through the NWS.

"We've had some people stranded for hours, and we're just getting to them now," said Deputy Chief Kevin Parker of the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Hundreds of abandoned vehicles have further hampered blizzard response efforts, prompting the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to close expressways state wide as crews try to catch up. In the Chicago area, I-55 is closed at Lake Shore Drive, I-57 is closed southbound at I-80 and I-290 is closed from St. Charles to I-90, all until further notice.

Meanwhile there are headaches abound on the area highways, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"There are accidents everywhere, we are getting stuck, maintenance is getting stuck, there are accidents all over the place," according to one IDOT dispatcher at 4 a.m. "We are swamped. All of the ramps are blocked and some are shut down, There are jackknifed semi everywhere, It's messed up. We'll be here till Friday," she said.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said as of 4:30 a.m. the expressways are still covered with snow.

"In general travel is not recommended," Tridgell said.

"We have stopped short of directing people off [the roads] everywhere today," Tridgell said.

Chicago Police are also reporting persistent problems, especially Lake Shore Drive on the North Side early Wednesday, which remains closed. Authorities have even enlisted the help of snowmobiles to help stranded motorists -- some who were stuck there overnight for several hours.

Rogers Park District police Capt. Mark Scheithauer said at 2:30 a.m. that some motorists were still stuck on Lake Shore Drive, trying to get home from work.

"They started to run out of gas. We tell them help in coming and the fire department has a half a dozen snowmobiles and they can send a paramedic as needed," the captain said.

"The people who are sitting in their cars and hungry have my deepest sympathy, but they were warned," of the blizzard's arrival, Scheithauer said.

Air travel will also be slow-going Wednesday. The OEMC reported early Wednesday that airlines at O'Hare and Midway International Airports have canceled numerous flights. Despite the high number of cancellations, both O'Hare and Midway have been, and continue, to remain open, the release said.

Airlines at O'Hare canceled more than 1,300 flights Tuesday. Most of the airlines at O'Hare have indicated they will have limited or no flight operations Wednesday, according to the OEMC.

At Midway, airlines canceled flight operations for Tuesday but some airlines expect to resume operations Wednesday afternoon, with the majority of flights expected to resume Wednesday evening.

But travelers are advised to check their airlines' website for flight status before going to the airports. Passengers with flights still scheduled to depart over the next few days are encouraged to arrive at the airports at least two hours before flight time.

The biggest problem overnight for many police officers in the city was getting the squad cars, even their sport-utility vehicles, getting stuck in the snow.

"Our biggest issue is squad cars being stuck. It's awful, we can't get to calls," according to South Chicago District police officer early Wednesday. "Normally we'd call for a city town truck, but it's a four-hour backlog right now," the officer said.

At least one police wagon was stuck in the police stations, "sally port," where prisoners are brought in, according to an Englewood District police captain, who said the parking lots had not been plowed sufficiently.

"We can't get out of the lots," the captains said.

Meanwhile, police in southwest suburban Joliet had their hands full with disabled cars.

"It is motorist assist after motorist assist," according to Joliet Police Lt. Jeff Allbert. Allbert urged motorists to use common sense.

"The snow was coming down and blowing like crazy, and this one guy just had to go out and buy a case of pop," Allbert said. "He goes out and he gets stuck."

One woman who was in a motorized scooter who went out for a loaf of bread to a convenience store several miles from her home became struck on the sidewalk and they had to call a tow truck to get her out of the snow, Allbert said.

Power outages have hit the city has been hit the hardest, according to ComEd spokeswoman Alicia Zatkowski, who said as of 3 a.m., a total of 95,000 customers are without power -- and 62,500 of those customers are in the city.

The north region has 12,200, the southern region is reporting 16,600 and there are 3,500 customers in the west area that remain in the dark, Zatkowski said. Zatkowski said the high winds are a special problem.

"As the winds brings down the tree limbs, the tree limbs brings down the wires," she said.

Zatkowski urged anyone who sees a downed wire to always assume it is live and to call them.

She also reported delays in crews getting the the scene of outages because of the roadway conditions.

"We do have 100 crews out there but we are being inhibited by the weather, so there are delays in the restorations. They are being hampered by the icy roads and the blizzard conditions," Zatkowski said.

The city got its first taste of the record-breaking blizzard Tuesday afternoon and evening. Whipping wind gusts clocked at 67 miles per hour along the lakefront -- coupled with drifting snow -- forced drivers to abandon their cars on Lake Shore Drive, which was closed from 67th to Hollywood.

The blizzard even knocked WBBM Newsradio 780 AM broadcast on and off the air for at least an hour, associate producer Brad Robinson said.

Meanwhile, a large section of Wrigley Field's grandstand roof blew off and landed on bricks below the North Side ballpark's iconic, neon-red marquee.

Power also went out in a maximum security division and boot camp of the Cook County Jail, which was on lockdown since before the storm hit and was being powered by backup generators. Five inmates who were released Tuesday told guards they had no where to go and asked if they could stay in jail overnight to avoid the storm.

"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 idea of 'Hotel California.'"

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