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Morning commuters face the snow after exiting Union station in Chicago. A wintry storm brought blizzard-like conditions to parts of the Midwest early Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, grounding hundreds of flights and causing slick roads for commuters as they returned to work after the Thanksgiving weekend. | Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

131k without power, more than 1,300 flights canceled after snowstorm

SHARE 131k without power, more than 1,300 flights canceled after snowstorm
SHARE 131k without power, more than 1,300 flights canceled after snowstorm

One of Chicago’s biggest-ever November snowstorms knocked out power to tens of thousands, stranded thousands of travelers, gave lots of students a day off from school and snarled the morning commute, whether you were driving or taking public transit.

As of 6:30 p.m. Monday, about 131,000 ComEd customers remained without power due to the storm — which dumped more than a foot in parts of McHenry County and more than half of that in Cook County, according to the National Weather Service. At its peak, the storm had affected more than 363,000 customers, according to the utility’s website.

At O’Hare International Airport, 8.4 inches of snow fell from Sunday to Monday, making it the fifth-largest November snowfall in Chicago’s history.

The surprise snowfall even factored into the race for Chicago mayor, as candidates were filing their ballot petitions on Monday, the last day they could do so.

Asked about “dibs” — the Chicago tradition of using folding chairs or other random items to “save” a parking spot after shoveling it out, most mayoral hopefuls supported it — especially Gery Chico, who said he has done it himself. Bill Daley said he wouldn’t ban the practice and Dorothy Brown was OK with it (once a reporter explained what it was).

Only Garry McCarthy opposed it: “Anything that causes conflict, I think, is a bad idea.”

John Schoen, a spokesman for ComEd said he couldn’t tell what was going on in individual counties, but that 250 out-of-state employees had come in from the East Coast to supplement the 800 crews out restoring service.

“We haven’t had mutual assistance in some time here, but it has happened before,” Schoen said.

More than 176,000 ComEd customers initially were left without power across northern Illinois, including more than 24,000 in Chicago. As of 3 p.m., the total had fallen to 142,707 customers without power.

Though many suburban districts closed for the day, Chicago Public Schools opted to stay open.

“Based on the current forecast, school will be in session as scheduled,” officials wrote on the CPS website.

But not all schools had power, including a few on the Northwest Side.

“Our power is currently out, and we are working with Comed to bring it back ASAP. Consider packing a lunch today. See you soon!” Hitch Elementary School’s principal Adam Stich wrote on Twitter Monday morning. “Please spread the word. My robocall function is unavailable right now.”

North-Grand High School also had a “total power outage,” according to its Twitter feed. The school said students were “safe and warm” thanks to backup generators.

In all, about 20 CPS schools suffered some degree of power loss, though all but one — Shields Elementary, 4250 S. Rockwell St., were able to stay open. Shields students were moved to Shields Middle School, about five blocks south.

School grounds were plowed and salted through the night, and some staff reported early to check on any issues caused by the weather.

“Thanks to strong weekend planning and collaboration with the City of Chicago and ComEd, the vast majority of schools opened today without issue,” a CPS spokesman said in an emailed statement.

At the entry way of a JC Licht True Value Hardware Store in West Loop, customers were greeted with sights of Christmas trees next to scrapers, gloves, salt and one snowblower.

Karina Hunter, an associate at the shop said the snow blower in the entryway was the last one in stock after a store record of three snowblowers sold that day.

“Lots of salt, lots of shovels, De-Icer,” another associate, Michael Knysz said. “We had not sold three snowblowers in one day yet.”

Associates at West Loop’s JC Licht True Value Hardware Store said they sold three snowblowers in one day, a first for them. They also had a busy morning with sales of scrapers, salt and De-Icer after a historic November snowfall. | Alex Arriaga

Associates at West Loop’s JC Licht True Value Hardware Store said they sold three snowblowers in one day, a first for them. They also had a busy morning with sales of scrapers, salt and De-Icer after a historic November snowfall. | Alex Arriaga

Another seasonal item didn’t bode as well this winter storm.

A truck for City Tree Delivery was out in the West Loop Monday afternoon delivering a Christmas tree, but the owner of the company said this kind of weather hurts their business.

“We had to cut deliveries in half, it’s a huge burden on our operation and a significant amount of work,” Chris Hohenstein said. “There’s a lot of prep work that would normally not be necessary.”

Hohenstein said the disruptions are just something they’ve had to deal with, sometimes limiting their delivery capacity and sometimes interrupting their supply intake of trees from Michigan and Wisconsin.

O’Hare had seen 7.4 inches by 6 a.m. Monday, while Midway saw 3.4 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The storm beat out the city’s previous fifth-largest November snowfall, which was recorded at 6.4 inches from Nov. 26 to 27 in 1940.

The largest two-day snowfall the city has seen in the month of November happened in 1895, when Chicago got a foot of snow on Nov. 25-26.

The north and northwest suburbs were hit even harder, with 9 inches reported in Lindenhurst and 8.3 inches in Des Plaines, according to the weather service. Woodstock reported 11.5 inches of snow by 5:35 a.m. Monday.

As of 3:50 p.m., 1254 flights were canceled at O’Hare with delays averaging 79 minutes, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Midway International Airport was reporting 71 cancelations with delays averaging less than 15 minutes.

CTA riders had to wade through snow and slush and then faced delays on the Red and Pink lines. Red Line service was delayed due to some Chicago Fire Department action at 95th Street; the Pink Line suspended service between the 54th/Cermak and Pulaski stations after a person was hit by a train.

The storm caused slick road conditions through Monday’s morning commute, with the Edens, Kennedy and Stevenson expressways reportedly “covered” with ice or snow about 10:30 a.m., according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Parts of I-55 and I-57 were reportedly “mostly covered” in ice or snow.

The Metra Electric District line suspended service on its Blue Island branch because of wire problems about 11:40 a.m., according to the transit agency. Trains were running again shortly before 2 p.m.

The Union Pacific Northwest line was also experiencing delays up to an hour as of 2 p.m., Metra said. Downed power lines and a downed tree were also causing delays up to 46 minutes on the Union Pacific North line.

Delays on some other Metra lines ranged from 10 to 30 minutes, while the Heritage Corridor, the SouthWest Service, the Milwaukee District North and the North Central Service lines were not reporting any delays, according to Metra. Riders were advised to check Metra’s website and listen to platform announcements for the most up-to-date delay information.

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