Heavy snow falling in Chicago area could slow evening commute - FOX 32 News Chicago

Heavy snow falling in Chicago area could slow evening commute

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View from the top. (FOX 32 viewer Jen Bednarek) View from the top. (FOX 32 viewer Jen Bednarek)
White-out conditions in St. Charles, Ill. at 12:08 p.m. on Monday. (Tommeh via @digitalman21) White-out conditions in St. Charles, Ill. at 12:08 p.m. on Monday. (Tommeh via @digitalman21)
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

With snow falling at 2 to 3 inches per hour in the Chicago area Monday afternoon, commuters should expect slick roads and limited visibility as they make their way home. And there may hear a bit of thunder — a winter phenomenon dubbed "thundersnow."

"Rush hour is going to be a mess," National Weather Service Meteorologist David Beachler said. "Because this came down so fast and furiously, the roads are going to stay snow-covered."

Forecasters were predicting up to 8 inches of new snowfall before it all ends Monday night. Visibilities below two miles will continue to make travel extremely difficult throughout the evening.

By 1:30 p.m., 1.3 inches of snow were reported at O'Hare International Airport, meteorologists said. South suburban Oak Forest was hit was 3.7 inches of snow by about 3:30 p.m. and 4.7 inches were reported in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates.

The city's full fleet of 287 snow plows and salt spreaders were deployed Monday morning to start clearing main streets, according to the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation. The plows will clear neighborhood streets after the snowfall stops, the department said.

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FOX 32's Larry Yellen reported live for FOX 32 News at Noon along the Eisenhower Expressway at Fulton, where the impending snowfall spelled trouble for the evening rush hour. More than 1,100 Illinois Department of Transportation trucks are clearing the state's roadways, and report that roads and bridges are especially slick.

"In addition to the snow and ice, the wind has picked up in some areas causing blowing and drifting snow, making it difficult for motorists to see when driving," the Illinois Transportation Secretary said in a release.

The Illinois Tollway said it also deployed its full fleet of 182 snow plows to clean up the entire tollway system.

"Facing such difficult conditions, the Tollway is urging its customers to avoid driving, if possible," Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

Even thunder will be possible during times of the heaviest snowfall Monday afternoon.

As of about 4 p.m., airlines at O'Hare canceled more than 770 flights due to heavy snowfall in the Chicago area, and passengers were experiencing delays averaging about 30 minutes, according to the city's Department of Aviation. At Midway International Airport, 270 flights were canceled and delays were varying.

At DuPage Airport in West Chicago, a small business jet skidded off the runway while trying to take off, likely because the pilot got disoriented in whiteout conditions, fire officials said. None of the seven people aboard were hurt.

Snowfall is expected to taper off between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., Beachler said. But a winter storm warning across all of northern Illinois and northwest Indiana will be in effect until 9 p.m., according to the weather service.

After Monday's snow and the predicted temperature rise to the 30s and 40s midweek, flooding could become a problem. Snow already on the ground contains 1 to 4 inches of water with the highest totals near the Wisconsin state line. The weather service expects Monday's snowfall to contain half an inch of water, which could turn into sloppy flooding by the end of this week.

The snow Monday comes after 62.1 inches have already fallen in Chicago this winter, Chicago's third snowiest to date. Over 80 inches fell by mid-February during the record snowiest winter in 1978-79.

For the season as whole, this winter is Chicago's seventh snowiest, but on Monday it could surpass the sixth snowiest, with 64.1 inches of snowfall, and fifth snowiest, with 66.4 inches of snowfall.

Some Chicagoans don't want to see any more of this snow, but it's one man's job to watch it, record it and analyze it. Burbank, Ill. is home to an official National Weather Service co-op station.

Veteran weather observer Frank Wachowski reports official conditions for Midway Airport, using government-sanctioned measuring devices located all over his snow covered yard and house.

Temperature highs, lows, amount of sunshine, humidity - Wachowski records it all.

Snow totals can vary all over the Chicago area, but the measurements are always done professionally and precisely. Even seasoned observer Wachowski told FOX 32 News this has been a remarkable winter.

"It's nice to document what fell each hour, to record what kind of snow," the climatologist said. "They are interested in that kind of data. Normal for today is 22.7. We have 67.5 inches of snow at Midway. That's quite a bit of snow."

In addition to taking measurements, Wachowski is the keeper of Chicago's weather data. In his opinion, we are far from finished with cold and snow.

For those residents sick of the snow, dry weather and the rising mercury on Tuesday and Wednesday will provide an "ideal melting situation," according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Jamie Enderlen.

Temperatures will rise above freezing, with highs in the upper 30s Tuesday and Wednesday, and dip back down to freezing over night with lows in the upper 20s, so melting will happen at a manageable pace, Enderlen said.

Tuesday's forecasted high is 38 degrees, followed by 37 degrees on Wednesday, a relative heat wave in the middle of one of Chicago's coldest winters on record. We may be trading our shovels for buckets before the week is through.

The warmth could bring new problems, though, with a rapid snow melt possibly leading to flooding. The current snow pack on the ground in most of northern Illinois is equal to between 1 and 4 inches of water if it melts completely, according to the weather service.

Ice dams that have grown along the edges of roofs all over Chicagoland may prove to be dangerous as the ice melts. The weight of the buildup may cause outdoor water drainage systems to break off homes, leak through roofs and through ceilings into homes, flood basements and overwhelm sump pumps. It's important to clear the snow off immediately after it falls, instead of letting it melt away.

Perma-Seal founder Roy Spencer also explained to FOX 32 News that just because some residents have been spared from flood damage in their basements in the past, they may be impacted this week.

Spencer said the foundation is frozen so far down this year because of January's deep freeze, the rain water won't absorb as well as it usually does. The freeze also "works against the foundation, opening up minor cracks to the point where they'll start leaking. So people always had a dry basement may not have them when this thaw hits."

Rivers will start to rise when the snow melt and runoffs stream into them. There is also a risk for an ice jam, which starts when ice breaks into blocks that collide with each other. Ice jamming can lead to significant rises in water levels and flooding, according to the weather service.

The weather service hasn't issued a flood warning yet, but meteorologists are monitoring updates from the river forecast center.

City workers have cleared catch basins, openings on the sides of streets that drain excess water, to prevent flooding and give water a place to filter. If litter settles in a catch basin, water can't reach the sewer. Department of Water Management spokesman Tom LaPorte suggests that Chicago residents help drainage by raking litter out of basins near their homes so that water can flow into sewers.

"Rainblockers," which keep water in the streets and gradually send it to sewers, are also part of catch basins on many Chicago streets, LaPorte said. During a rainy season, rainblockers help water enter sewers, but trash clogging the blockers delays drainage. If water is in the street for a few hours, the rainblocker is probably working properly, LaPorte said. If the street is flooded with water for more than a few hours though, LaPorte suggests calling 311.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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