A late winter storm that’s expected to dump as much as 8 inches of snow throughout the area on Tuesday had, by mid-afternoon, blanketed the area in white stuff and led to airlines cancelling more than 1,100 flights at the city’s airports.
While the storm was expected to make the Tuesday afternoon commute a “nightmare,” according to a National Weather Service meteorologist, Illinois State Police were reporting no major weather-related accidents as of about 3:20 p.m.
A mix of rain, sleet and snow began pelting the outer edges of the Chicago region just before 6 a.m., according to the weather service. By 10:30 a.m., five inches of snow had fallen in Rockford, while suburbs closer to the city had about two inches of accumulation.
By about 3 p.m., weather service spotters had reported 5.1 inches of snow at Midway Airport, 5.1 inches in Downers Grove, 4.6 inches in Elmhurst, 5 inches in Arlington Heights, 5 inches in Evanston, 7.3 inches in Rockford, and 3.4 inches on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
The weather service has issued a winter storm warning for all Chicago area counties that will remain in effect until midnight.
As of about 1:30 p.m., more than 1,100 flights had been canceled at O’Hare and Midway airports, according to the city’s Department of Aviation.
At O’Hare, airlines have canceled about 900 flights, according to Aviation. At Midway, approximately 240 flights have been canceled. Also at Midway, Southwest Airlines canceled all flights after 10 a.m. but expects to resume flight operations about 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Meteorologists initially believed as much as 10 inches could blanket the area, but those predictions were downgraded by the time the storm hit.
It is now believed four to eight inches will pile up across a broad swath of the region, stretching from southern McHenry County to Kankakee County in the south, as well as northwest Indiana, according to the weather service.
While morning rush commuters may have escaped unscathed, afternoon and evening commuters will not be so lucky.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Enderlen said the evening rush will be an unpleasant one. “Especially the afternoon commute is probably going to be an utter mess.”
“This will be an all-day event,” Enderlen said. “We’re expecting some pretty heavy snowfall, up to an inch or two inches per hour. 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 east 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 storm has prompted cancellation of classes at hundreds of schools and colleges, the cancellation of dozens of meetings and other events, and even prompted the City of Aurora to shut down municipal offices early, with all non-essential facilities closed to the public at 3:30 p.m.
The weather service advised people who must drive to keep an extra flashlight, food and water in the vehicle in case of an emergency.
Illinois State Police are urging drivers to leave early, slow down and leave plenty of following room. Indiana State Police are advising motorists not to travel during the storm unless absolutely necessary.
Authorities say motorists involved in non-injury crashes should exchange information and file crash reports at their nearest state police district within 10 days.
As of about 3:20 p.m., no major crashes were reported on area expressways or the tollways, according to state police. A District Chicago state trooper said there were “just some spinouts” on the expressways, but no serious accidents.
Indiana State Polise report that conditions in the Lowell District, which includes Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton, Jasper, Pulaski and Starke counties are deteriorating.
Road conditions on I-65 and I-80/94 are wet and snow-covered in areas, with bridges and overpasses starting to become slick as temperatures drop. U.S., state and county roads are becoming snow-covered and slick due to the change from a rain-snow mix to all snow.
Troopers have covered a number of crashes and slide-offs since early afternoon in northwest Indiana.
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 on Feb. 26-27, the weather service said. That storm blanketed north suburban Antioch with 12.1 inches of snow.
For those yearning for spring, warmer weather is not too far off, according to the weather service. The temperature is expected to reach 41 by Friday and 44 on Saturday, promising a slushy weekend.