Winter weather warning issued; Chicago braces for high winds, plunging temperatures

The powerful Arctic front is expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow, most of that Thursday afternoon and evening. But the real danger is the wind and cold that will follow, and the risk it will pose to Chicago’s homeless.

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A powerful Arctic front is expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow, most of that on Thursday afternoon and evening, according to the National Weather Service.

John White | Sun-Times

A winter weather warning has been issued for the Chicago area Thursday when wind-whipped snow is expected to fall much of the day, temperatures will drop 20 to 30 degrees within hours, and bridges and overpasses could suddenly freeze over.

The warning went into effect at 9 a.m. in Kane, McHenry, Kendall, Grundy, Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Ogle, Lee, DeKalb, Livingston and LaSalle counties, and was due to start at noon in Cook, DuPage, Will, Kankakee, Iroquois and Ford counties.

The warning is not set to expire until 6 a.m. Saturday.

The powerful Arctic front is expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow, most of that on Thursday afternoon and evening, according to the National Weather Service.

But the real danger will be the wind and the cold, the weather service said, warning of white-out conditions with near zero visibility is some places.

“Rapidly deteriorating conditions with a period of snowfall rates over 1 inch per hour are expected mid to late afternoon,” the weather service said. ”Winds gusting as high as 50 mph are expected [and] wind chill values of 25 to 35 below zero.

“Roads will likely quickly become ice-covered as temperatures rapidly fall,” it added in the warning.

The blizzard conditions and subzero cold could hearken 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, he and other 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 on Wednesday. “Have patience during this storm.”

Mike Bardou, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the worst conditions were expected just in time for the evening commute.

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 was 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 chicago.gov/fss; 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 of 8:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 450 flights had been canceled at O’Hare International Airport and about 240 at Midway Airport.

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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