Snowstorm could dump 8 inches; more than 1,000 flights canceled
BY LEEANN SHELTON AND MICHAEL LANSU Staff Reporters March 4, 2013 6:46PM
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Updated: March 5, 2013 9:17PM
Snow blanketed the Chicago area Tuesday, a storm that could dump 8 inches and make the evening commute a “nightmare.”
By 10 a.m. the National Weather Service reported 5 inches had already fallen in Rockford, 2.1 inches in Arlington Heights and 1.5 inches in Bolingbrook and Aurora.
More than 1,000 flights have been canceled at the city’s two airports. As of 10:30 a.m., airlines had canceled more than 850 flights at O’Hare International Airport, and more than 230 had been canceled at Midway Airport, according to the city Department of Aviation.
Southwest Airlines canceled all flights for Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Meteorologists initially believed as much as 10 inches could blanket the area, but those predictions were downgraded by the time the storm hit.
With the snow starting later than predicted, commuters escaped a messy morning rush hour. The evening rush hour will be a different story.
“Especially the afternoon commute is probably going to be an utter mess,” said Jamie Enderlen, a weather service meteorologist.
“By late morning through the evening, we’re expecting some pretty heavy snowfall, up to an inch or two inches per hour,” she said. “That could cause a traffic nightmare. When it falls that quick, plows have a hard time keeping up with it.”
Areas closer to Lake Michigan could see higher snow totals because winds off the lake could create lake-effect snow.
Wind gusts up to 30 mph will cause blowing and drifting snow, bringing visibility down to a quarter-mile or less on roadways.
The weather service advised people who must drive to keep an extra flashlight, food and water in the vehicle in case of an emergency.
Road crews rolled out in force early Tuesday. Chicago’s full fleet of 284 plows hit the city’s main routes and Lake Shore Drive, and the Illinois Tollway deployed all of its 182 snowplows.
“With the brunt of the storm expected to move across the Illinois Tollway system, we ask our customers to be patient, drive safely and give our snowplows the room they need to clear the roads,” Illinois Tollway Executive Director Krist Lafleur said in a statement.
Illinois State Police are urging drivers to leave early, slow down and leave plenty of following room, officials said in a travel advisory issued Monday night.
Authorities also are encouraging motorists involved in non-injury crashes during extreme weather conditions to exchange information and file crash reports at their nearest State Police district within 10 days.
The weather service also predicted that travel at O’Hare and Midway airports will be “significantly affected.”
Tuesday’s snowstorm has the potential to be the largest of the season, and one of the largest in March since 2002 or 2003, according to the weather service.
The most snow we’ve seen so far this winter was 5.4 inches measured at O’Hare International Airport on Feb. 26-27, the weather service said. That storm blanketed north suburban Antioch with 12.1 inches of snow.
When the snow stops and it’s time to start shoveling, the DuPage County Health Department has these safety tips: warm up your muscles; pace yourself; use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength; push the snow instead of lifting it if possible, and don’t throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side.
For those yearning for spring, warmer weather is not too far off, according to the weather service. The temperature is expected to reach 41 degrees Friday and 44 degrees Saturday.