Blizzard conditions expected to sweep Chicago area Thursday through Christmas

Less than 6 inches of snow is forecast, but dangerously low temperatures and brutal wind gusts will make travel treacherous throughout Christmas weekend, officials warned Wednesday.

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A person walks through the snow in Uptown after a February snowfall. Chicago’s first major winter storm of the this season is expected to hit Thursday.

A person walks through snow in Uptown in February. Chicago’s first major winter storm of the season is expected to hit Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hunker down if you can, bundle up if you can’t — and keep an eye on each other either way.

That was the message from city leaders Wednesday as Chicago braces for its first major winter storm of the season, a frigid system that might not bring overwhelming amounts of snow but is predicted to generate dangerous whiteout conditions throughout the travel-heavy holiday weekend. 

Snowfall starting Thursday will be whipped around by gusts topping 50 mph in brutal subzero temperatures, potentially hearkening back to Chicago’s infamous 2011 blizzard that left dozens of motorists stranded on DuSable Lake Shore Drive, according to Rich Guidice, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. 

All the more reason to stay off the roads before Christmas, if possible, city officials said. 

“The cold and high winds can create a situation, especially on Lake Shore Drive, and that’s something that we’re paying particularly close attention to,” Guidice said during a news conference outlining the city’s safety plan. “Have patience during this storm.”

A winter storm warning from the National Weather Service goes into effect Thursday morning ahead of a steep temperature drop by the afternoon, meteorologist Mike Bardou said. 

A light drizzle is expected to turn to snow, ushering in the worst conditions just in time for the evening commute, Bardou said. Temperatures dropping by 25 degrees, into the low teens or single digits, are expected to create dangerously icy conditions.

Up to 4 inches of snow could fall by Thursday night amid serious wind gusts, sending wind chill readings as low as 25 degrees below zero, Bardou said. 

Snow is expected to keep falling Friday, with blustery conditions persisting and temperatures barely cracking zero. 

Winds are expected to ease slightly Saturday, with temperatures slowly moving into the teens Sunday. Conditions are expected to be treacherous through the weekend. 

“The combination of conditions is making for a very dangerous period, especially if you’re traveling or have to spend any time outside,” Bardou said.

Drivers should keep a full tank of gas and an emergency kit that includes blankets and a flashlight in their cars in case they get stranded. 

Guidice and other leaders also urged residents to check on their neighbors through the weekend, especially those who are older or who have disabilities.

“It’s critical for residents to be patient, take care of themselves and look out for each other,” Guidice said. “Staying connected is key to being safe.”

Ahead of the storm, the city is deploying teams to reach out to people experiencing homelessness and urge them to head to a city warming center or shelter as the cold front bears down on the city. Information on city warming centers is available by dialing 311; visiting; and using the CHI311 mobile app. Well-being checks can also be requested at 311.

Nearly 3 million travelers are expected to cycle through the city’s airports over the next week. The city’s Department of Aviation is urging passengers to check flight status with their airlines well ahead of time and to plan to arrive at O’Hare or Midway at least two hours ahead of time for domestic trips and three hours early for international trips. 

As always, officials urged drivers to give city snowplows plenty of space to work. At least 300 trucks were at the ready, and the city has more than 400,000 tons of salt on hand, according to Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard. 

The city also emphasized a few other bits of Chicago winter safety wisdom: 

  • Clear snow from fire hydrants on your block, if possible, to assist firefighters. 
  • Never use a stovetop or oven to heat your residence. 
  • Keep a trickle of water running in the faucet farthest away from your local water main to help prevent frozen pipes. 
  • If pipes do freeze, use a heating pad or blow-dryer — not an open flame — to thaw them.
  • Landlords are required to keep the heat at 68 degrees during the day and 66 overnight in rentals. Call 311 if they’re not complying with this city ordinance.

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