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Winter weather a blast for visitors

Shawn Alicea happily foraged for berries and twigs in Millennium Park on Monday to stick in three melon-sized balls of snow clomped on top of each other.

The Floridian was mesmerized by the wintry blast that struck Chicago, leading to more than 1,000 flight cancellations, power outages for nearly 88,000 ComEd customers and severely slowing traffic on area roadways.

“We’re trying to build a snowman over there and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” said Alicea, 22, who was visiting from Miami, Florida, with his girlfriend, Claudia Porrua, and her family. “They make it look so easy in the movies.”

Bundled in six layers and trying to ignore wet socks, the University of Florida student explained their glee.

“All of us have never seen snow in our lives so it’s always one of those dream things you want to do,” he said.

The wet, slushy variety didn’t dampen their fervor.

“We woke up today like little kids looking out the window with all this snow. It’s a beautiful thing,” Alicea said.

Claudia Porrua’s father, Ernesto Porrua — who originally hailed from Cuba — wore sneakers in the slush.

“In Miami, you have Nikes and flip-flops,” he said.

After standing back to admire their shin-high snowman, Alicea admitted he was about to retreat to the comfort of his hotel room to watch a movie.

“I feel like I’m getting smacked in the face with ice cubes all day,” Alicea said.

A mix of sleet, freezing rain, light snow and high winds spread across the area beginning early Monday. The National Weather Service extended its winter storm warning several hours, until 6 p.m. for Cook County.

High winds and icy conditions greeted commuters Monday morning.

High winds and icy conditions greeted commuters Monday morning. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A flood advisory, which specifically cautioned areas near the Des Plaines River, remains in effect until 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. A lakeshore flood warning was also in effect until midnight Tuesday.

About 1.9 inches of snow was recorded at O’Hare International Airport as of 6 p.m. Monday, according to the weather service.

More than 1,600 flights were canceled at O’Hare and Midway airports as a wintry mix of sleet, freezing rain, light snow and high winds hit the area. Cook County was under a winter storm warning for much of the day.

The storm also disrupted ComEd service to nearly 88,000 customers. As of about 9 p.m. Monday, about 20,000 customers were still without electricity across the Chicago area, with the largest concentration of outages occurring in the south and western regions, including Lee, LaSalle, and Livingston counties. The utility issued a statement early Tuesday saying majority of the affected customers should expect their service restored by Tuesday evening.

The city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation deployed more than 280 snow plows and salt spreaders Monday. The department said it will continue to monitor the weather and adjust resources as needed.

The State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield was activated Monday to ensure that state personnel and equipment are ready if needed to help local emergency responders deal with flooding and winter weather, according to a statement from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office.

“Road conditions are hazardous in many areas of the state, so if you can postpone travel plans today that would be best,” IEMA Director James Joseph said in the statement.

The Illinois State Police Chicago District invoked its emergency snow plan. Motorists involved in minor crashes are encouraged to exchange information and file a report in the next 14 days.

Contributing: Jordan Owen