Storm moves on; outages, flight delays, clogged interstate remain

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4:39 PM: The good news: The storm has moved out of the Chicago region, headed east. The bad news: Local temperatures are about to plunge.

"Tonight, with clearing skies and snow pack, temperatures are going to drop pretty fast," said Tim Halbach, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "Lows are expected in the mid-teens in the downtown area, and as low as 10 degrees in the suburbs."

By now, the weather service has had a chance to measure the snowfall from the first big storm of the season. In some northwest suburbs and parts of LaSalle and Winnebago counties, up to 12 inches was reported. The city of Chicago escaped heavy snowfall, due to sleet and mixed precipitation overnight. Midway reported 3.3 inches of snow; O'Hare, about 6.2 inches.


4:37 PM: ComEd has continued to chip away at the number of residents still without power in the area. As of late this afternoon the number of outages numbered about 6,000, down from 29,000 this morning, according to utility spokesman Tom Stevens.

The majority of those without power — about 5,250 — are in the south suburbs, including Joliet and Streator, according to Stevens. He said ComEd has 400 crews working in 16-hour shifts to restore power. Power to the Joliet area is expected by noon Saturday, though it could be as late as 10 p.m. for residents in the Streator area.

About 500 customers are without power in Chicago, Stevens said, with the bulk of those on the North Side. Power should be back on by 8 p.m. tonight.

Another 250 customers without power are in the north suburbs; they're expected to have power returned by 9 p.m., according to Stevens.


4:28 PM: Air travel update. The city's Department of Aviation reports that O'Hare International Airport is currently reporting 1- to 2-hour delays for all inbound and outbound flights. These delays are expected to decrease as the evening continues. All of O'Hare's six runways will be active by 5:00 p.m.

Midway Airport reports 85 cancellations and 1- to 3-hour delays for all remaining inbound and outbound flights.

Earlier today, more than 400 flights were canceled at O'Hare, a proactive step in anticipation of the storm.

American Airlines canceled 206 departures from O'Hare, and by the end of the day will operate a total of only 37 departures from O'Hare, according to spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan.

She did not have numbers for American Eagle.

O'Hare is expected to be busy on Saturday as the airlines play catch-up to get passengers to their destinations.

As for American's decision to preemptively cancel its entire departure schedule from O'Hare between 6 a.m. and noon, Fagan said: "It was the right thing to do. It was a pretty wicked forecast in terms of snow, ice and windy conditions, and they were calling for 6 to 12 inches of snow right before we were to launch aircraft Friday morning.'' Jon Hilkevitch


4:17 PM: Transportation officials were predicting a smooth evening rush hour for the Chicago area this afternoon and tonight, but farther south a major highway was shut down after several semi-trailer trucks ran off the road.

"There's an undetermined number of semi trucks that have gone off the road," said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey.

He said Interstate Highway 80 (I-80) was closed in both directions in LaSalle County and recommended travelers use alternate routes such as Reagan Memorial Tollway (Interstate Highway 88) or Interstate Highway 55.

"It is an absolute mess down there," he said.

Chicago-area roads are in good condition, he said. "We've been plowing 9,300 lane miles all day long," he said.

"We're hoping the evening rush hour will be smooth," he said, but added that motorists should be on the lookout for black ice.

"It's going to be a very slippery, treacherous night tonight with melting snow turning to ice," he said.

CTA and Metra officials also said they expected minimal delays tonight.

"We're set up to run as close to normal as possible," Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

She said officials have fully-fueled trains, checked train signals and switches, after one of the biggest reported problems was snow being blown onto switches in the northern service area.

She said there were no delays as of 4 p.m.

As the storm tapers off, the CTA continues to monitor forecasted weather developments and make needed adjustments for customers preparing for their evening rush hour commute home.

Crews are working to clear platforms and facilities across all train lines and are encouraging business owners and residents near neighborhood bus stops to help keep them clear. Nonetheless, the agency is reminding commuters to allow extra travel time and dress appropriately.


2:19 PM: Metra trains experienced weather-related delays ranging from eight to 40 minutes this morning, the commuter rail line said.

Some delays were due to switching and signaling problems, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

Weather related delays ranged from 10 to 35 minutes on the Milwaukee District North Line; 8 minutes on the Milwaukee District West Line; 20 to 40 minutes on the Rock Island District; 10 to 20 minutes on the Union Pacific Northwest Line; and 20 to 35 minutes on the North Central Service.

The Union Pacific North experienced delays of approximately 20 to 30 minutes with the exception of train #326, which ran 1 hour and 15 minutes late.

Trains on the South Shore line, operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, were unaffected by the weather, spokesman John Parsons said. Richard Wronski


2:15 PM: O'Hare was reporting average delays of four hours for all inbound and outbound flights on United Airlines as of 1:30 p.m., according to Wendy Abrams, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Aviation.

American Airlines was reporting delays of 30 to 60 minutes to cities including Newark, New York, Boston and Philadelphia due to weather on the East Coast, Abrams said.

She said the delays are expected to decrease as the afternoon continues. Five of O'Hare's six runways are active.

Midway Airport reported 85 cancellations and one to three hour delays for all remaining inbound and outbound flights, Abrams said.

She reminded travelers to contact their airlines to check on the status of flights.


1:41 PM: Rolling Meadows police were busy from midnight to about 10 a.m. responding to calls from 32 motorists who needed assistance getting cars out of snow, said police Sgt. Tony Gaspari.

"Our community service officers and police officers have been busy, but there have been no traffic crashes," he said. "It's amazing."

In Palatine, cars were getting stuck in the middle of the roads and poor conditions led police to shut down a stretch of Euclid Avenue between Quentin and Plum Grove Roads from 7 to about 9 a.m., police said.

Motorists were directed to take alternate routes until the snow and ice was cleared. Carolyn Rusin


1:37 PM: Savvy shoppers took advantage of today's rough weather to hit the stores, which were unusually uncrowded for this time of year.

At Ikea in Schaumburg it was so quiet the air could be heard moving through the heating vents.

Nicole Wascoe Bauman, 35, of Columbia, Mo., drove two hours through the storm from her sister's house in Chicago before ending up at Ikea after dropping her husband off at a conference in Rosemont.

"We're originally from Minnesota, so this is nothing," she said, as she and her sister Tracy Wascoe, 32, snapped up bedding, plates, egg cups, florescent green plastic gloves and some wacky knick knacks.

"It's lovely. It's great. No one's here," she said.

Nearby Woodfield Mall wasn't deserted, but it wasn't crowded.

"I was the only person at Abercrombie and Fitch, and that never happens," said Michelle Praisi, 45, of Mt. Prospect.

Praisi said she and two friends decided to do some Christmas shopping while everyone else took shelter from the storm.

"We thought it would be perfect, that no one would be here," she said.

"It's great," said her friend, Lori Frasco, 46, also of Mt. Prospect. "I just wish I had more money." Mary Fergus


1:26 PM: At O'Hare International Airport , sitting alone on an empty baggage carousel, 22-year-old Loyola University student Kailyn Kahre had given up on flying to Texas. Her flight was canceled, ending her hopes of getting to Ft. Hood for a welcome home party for her brother Kevin, a soldier with the 1st Infantry Division who had been fighting in Iraq this year.

"I'm kind of bummed out," the Evansville, Ind. resident said. "My parents and his fiancé are already there."

Airline officials had told Kahre it would take up to three hours to retrieve her baggage from the airplane, which remained sitting on the tarmac. Charles Sheehan

12:45 PM: Travelers at O'Hare were bearing the brunt of the storm today, with many waiting in long, snaking lines across terminals this afternoon. Meanwhile, downstairs where incoming baggage is usually claimed, a woman, virtually alone, could be seen mopping up the empty space.

Among the stranded travelers was businessman Mohamed Bassiouny, 24, visiting Chicago from Cairo, Egypt for the annual meeting of the Radiologists Society of North America.

"It's my first time seeing snow," Bassiouny said. "I hate it, I don't want to see it again."

So Bassiouny waited, standing next to his half-dozen bags on a luggage cart, with no idea of when he would catch his flight to Orlando and then back home to the Egypt. Charles Sheehan


12:17 PM: Metra commuter rail lines experienced "minor delays" this morning, but overall service went well despite the weather, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

Metra reported delays of 10 to 15 minutes for many trains, but riders told of some trains arriving Downtown Chicago up to half an hour late.

Delays were blamed on switching and signaling problems.

Crews on Metra's southern lines, the Rock Island and Metra Electric, reported higher than usual ridership, Pardonnet said, attributing the increase to south suburbanites opting to leave their cars at home.

Ridership was lighter than expected on early trains, but grew by midmorning.

"People were digging out and it took longer for them to get to the stations," Pardonnet said.

Metra anticipated longer lines at ticket windows, due to Friday being the first of the month, the day commuters purchase monthly passes. Rich Wronski


12:07 PM: ComEd continues to work to bring electricity to customers, reducing the number of people without power by more than half as snowfall wanes and the storm slows.

As of 11 a.m., ComEd said that 14,000 customers were without power system wide, a significant drop from the 29,500 reported around 9 a.m. this morning.

The southern region has been the hardest hit, with some 7500 residents lacking power due to significant amounts of snow, sleet, ice and high winds in areas including Tinley Park, Orland, Dwight, Pontiac and Streetor.

The Chicago region was the next hardest hit, with some 5,000 customers suffering power outages scattered across the South and Southwest Side.

In the north region, 1500 customers were affected in in and around Niles, Glenview and Skokie. James Janega


12:05 PM: In South Barrington, a police squad car assisting a motorist got stuck in the snow at Illinois Highway 72 and West Mundhank Road. There were no injuries, but a tow truck got stuck as it attempted to pull the squad car out of a ditch.

"We had a tow truck that pulled out a tow truck that was pulling out a squad car. It was a comedy of errors," said Mary Lampugnano, secretary for the South Barrington police chief. "There are lots of cars in the ditch. All of our guys have been out all day." Carolyn Rusin


12:02 PM: Tonight's Aaron Neville concert at the Hemmens Cultural Center has been cancelled due to weather conditions, according to a press release from the City of Elgin.

A rescheduled concert date will be announced Monday, officials said.

In the meantime, Aaron Neville ticket holders can purchase tickets to Saturday's Windham Hill Winter Solstice performance at half- price, according to the release. Call 847-931-5900 to order.

For more information, visit the Hemmens Web site. Rich Wronski


11:53 AM: The snow on westbound Interstate Highway 290 in the western and northwest suburbs had been cleared by shortly after 10 a.m., but numerous cars abandoned along the shoulder and median testified to the still-treacherous driving conditions.

Things were no better on the side streets of Schaumburg. A tractor trailer attempting to turn left from Woodfield Road onto East Frontage Road didn't make it and blocked the road until it could be towed out of a snowdrift. Elsewhere, criss-crossing plows left tall ridges of slush in their wake, forcing drivers to smash or spin through the goo. John Keilman


11:37 AM: Call the baby 'Stormy.' Heavy snowfall complicated things this morning for an expectant mother on Chicago's West Side. Firefighters and paramedics were called to a home in the 5000 block of West Huron Street around 10 a.m. when she went into labor, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor said.

They brought the woman downstairs to a waiting ambulance, but after assessing the fast-approaching delivery and the conditions of the roads, they decided they wouldn't get to a hospital in time. So they delivered the baby, right there in the back of the ambulance, MacGregor said.

Mother and infant (the gender wasn't immediately available) are doing fine. Dan Blake


11:34 AM: Power outages on the Northwest Side meant an unexpected snow day for thousands of Chicago students at about 10 schools.

Northside College Prep was the only Chicago Public School that officially closed for the day, a call made by the principal who told officials his back-up generator also was running low.

Darkened elementary schools remained open, but offered parents the option of taking their children home for the day. At Sauganash Elementary, where classrooms were without lights or heat because of a transformer problem, only about 20 children remained at school as of mid-morning. The principal at Edison Gifted told parents they could take their children home without being marked absent.

At Wildwood, the youngest children gathered in the gym, where the music teacher played tunes on the piano to keep the students entertained. The modular classrooms for grades 1 to 3 were too dark for lessons, but classrooms in the main building remained open, one parent said.

Parent John Bump said he took his 2nd grade twins to Wildwood only because the principal said their absence would be unexcused. But he didn't see the point of requiring attendance on a day largely lost for learning. "All the parents were a little mystified," Bump said. Tracy Dell'Angela


11:10 AM: Evanston schools were open this morning, but school buses ran 10 to 15 minutes late because of snow and downed trees blocking intersections, officials said.

As of 11 a.m., the city's Parks, Forestry and Recreation department had responded to reports of 13 trees that had fallen during the storm.

"It's snow and the wind knocking down trees," said department secretary Britany Scurry, who said the situation could get worse.

"We're expecting winds of up to 50 mph today. That's something we're waiting on," she said.

Evanston-Skokie School District 65 safely transported about 1,500 students to school this morning, said Jode Dietsch, office secretary. Lisa Black


11:02 AM: The singing cut through the slushy misery like a knife. It rose from a fire engine loudspeaker and rang in the snow-deadened air between buildings at South Water Street and Michigan Avenue. The music was the blues, but the lyrics were closer to a Christmas carol. It was a firefighter, singing about the snow and meeting people for the holidays.

... and baby I'll come running,in my big red fire truck!"

With that, the stoplight turned green and Engine 13 roared up South Water Street to its firehouse, and the morning commute that ended in Chicago's Loop returned to a gray, colorless mess.

Jaywalking was a necessity downtown, with street corners tar pits of slush. Cars rushing late to the office sprayed it up onto sidewalks, ignoring pedestrians. Sidewalk foot traffic dropped off, the barristas noticed at Intelligentsia Coffee, 53 E. Randolph St. Nobody wanted to brave the wet, clinging snow above ground.

"Am I the only one who's excited by this?" asked barrista Christina Sepa, 24, who thought there was something magical in the snow. She leaned over the counter to watch it fall outside.

"You look sparkly!" she told a customer who came in, his dark coat snow-encrusted, his glasses fogged. "I want to have a snowball fight," she confided to a co-worker.

James Janega


10:55 AM: Airlines at O'Hare International Airport, anticipating storm-related troubles, have preemptively canceled more than 450 flights through noon today, said Wendy Abrams, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Aviation.

She said United Airlines and American Airlines, which together account for some 80 percent of all flights at O'Hare, will be increasing arrivals and departures this afternoon after the storm has moved on.

Midway Airport has reported 80 flight cancellations, and travelers should expect one- to three-hour delays on all inbound and outbound flights, Abrams said.

She urged all travelers passing through Chicago's airports this afternoon and evening to check on the status of their flights before going to Midway or O'Hare.


10:41 AM: Storm talks trash. All Elgin residential trash and recycling collections scheduled for today was postponed because of hazardous weather and road conditions.

Residents expecting pickup should have their trash and recycling receptacles out at the curb by 6:00 a.m. Saturday to ensure collection, the city announced in a news release.

To help the city's snow removal efforts, residents should avoid placing trash and recycling receptacles in the street, the release said. Rich Wronski


10:33 AM: The number of ComEd customers without power due to the storm has actually dropped over the last hour, spokesman Tom Stevens said.

As of 10 a.m., about 24,500 customers were affected across the region, with neighborhoods on Chicago's North Side and some north and southwest suburbs hardest hit, he said. Crews are working around the clock to get power restored, Steven said.

"This isn't one of the biggest outages we've experienced, but anytime a customer is without power it's a life-altering situation for them," Stevens said. "We're also concerned considering the temperatures are what they are."


10:30 AM: Pace suburban buses were running approximately 20 to 30 minutes late as of 10 a.m., but times varied by area. As conditions worsened, even longer delays were being experienced, particularly to the north and far west areas, Pace spokeswoman Judi Kulm said.

Also, traffic attempting to exit the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) onto the I-290 westbound ramp, just north of Roosevelt Road, was at a standstill. The ramp is often a driving hassle due to the need for trucks to slow down to negotiate the sharply curved, one-lane ramp.

But this morning, with icy pavement, the ramp was backed up more than a mile, even as far south as Ogden Avenue. Richard Wronski


10:21 AM: The storm will move on in the next few hours, with snowfall expected to taper off by noon, according to the National Weather Service.

"It's going to be winding down here in the next hour or two," said the weather service's Nathan Marsili. "The intensity is starting to decrease a little bit to the west of Chicago already."

Marsili said the storm is moving east, which means it will shortly clear Chicago. But he warned that temperatures will drop to the mid 20's later in the day and into the teens after midnight.

Some of the hardest hit local areas, according to Marsili, appear to be the northern and western suburbs. Lake and northern Cook counties have received about 8 inches of snow, he said. Accumulations were 12 to 14 inches in Rockford and parts of LaSalle County, he added.

Chicago is getting off relatively easy with about 5 inches, he said. Azam Ahmed

10:11 AM: At least a dozen cars and trucks were stalled or in ditch along the Northwest Tollway (Interstate Highway 90) between Rockford and the Des Plaines Oasis. Driving conditions were poor, and traffic was moving about 30 m.p.h.

"I just wasn't thinking and was going too fast," Steven Howard, 35, explained as he sat in his Ford Taurus after it slid into a ditch near Marengo. "My life flashed before my eyes as the car slid out of control. I should have stayed in bed today."

Howard said he called for a tow truck and was told it would take 2 hours or more.

A short distance away, Margaret Clark, 28, parked her Ford Escort under a bridge and decided to wait out the storm.

"I called my boss and told him there's no way I could make it to work today. So as soon as the snow let's up, I'm going home," Clark said.

An Illinois State Police squad car was parked on the side of the westbound lanes of the tollway bridge over the Fox River to slow traffic. Yet between 8 and 8:15 a.m., two cars could be seen sliding out of control as they headed over the bridge. Ray Quintanilla


9:56 AM: During the last half hour, Metra Union Pacific North line trains from the northern suburbs were running on odd schedules, with express trains flying past stations at times when local trains would normally be stopping to board passengers. Damp, cold commuters gaped at the trains whipping past, the sounds strangely muffled by the snow. Peter Kendall

9:40 AM: Land of Shovelin'. Much of Illinois has been hammered by today's storm, with National Weather Service officials saying Kane, McHenry and LaSalle counties are among the hardest hit.

And big employers across central Illinois have declared a snow day, giving thousands of workers the day off. The businesses include State Farm's headquarters in Bloomingtonand Caterpillar's corporate office in Peoria.

Caterpillar spokesman Rusty Dunn says the company doesn't wantany employees taking chances trying to get to work.

Illinois State University in Normal is also closed due toweather conditions. Spokesman Jay Groves says the shutdown is thefirst in his 22 years at ISU.


9:33 AM: About 7 inches of snow out here in Naperville, but it's very wet and heavy, so cars are getting stuck on unplowed sidestreets. Snowblowers laboring and sputting to a halt. Middle-aged men are huffing and puffing with shovels. Kids sleepling in because the schools are closed. Bill Rood

9:31 AM: Lake Shore Drive is largely clear of snow and running without delays, though most cars were going more slowly than usual. In addition to a wet roadway, the drive also has its winter speed limit of 40 m.p.h. in effect. Liam Ford

9:28 AM: The number of ComEd customers without power is rising as the storm system continues to move north and east through the area. As of 9 a.m., about 29,500 customers are without power in Northern Illinois region, with about 8,500 outages in the Chicago region. That includes an outage on the North Side of the city near the area of Addison Street and California Avenue, ComEd spokesman Tom Stevens said.

Among the suburbs most heavily affected by outages are Park Ridge, Stone Park, Niles and Skokie. Near white-out conditions are causing outages across the southwest suburbs, Stevens said.

"We have 400 crews working around the clock" to restore power in the affected areas, he said.

9:19 AM: Many school districts in the suburbs have canceled classes, but the Chicago Public Schools isn't following suit and has students in class. WGN-AM 720 has school closing updates here.

9:10 AM: In addition to slogging through the snow and ice this morning, some unlucky CTA commuters were also dealing with delays after equipment malfunctioned in the Red Line subway near the Chicago station, CTA officials said.

Starting at 8:28 a.m., Red Line trains were operating on the elevated tracks northbound out of downtown for about 20 minutes. A bus shuttle was in place between the Fullerton and Clark/ Lake stations until around 9:15 a.m.

"There are some delays but trains were still moving on the elevated structure," spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said.

9:02 AM: A Fed Ex Cargo plane arriving to O'Hare around 6:30 a.m. slid off one of the airport's runway, leaving its left tire and nose gear stuck in the mud, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

The runway, 9 Right 27 Left, was closed while crews worked to remove the plane — expected to take at least an hour, she said.

No injuries were reported but Abrams said the National Transportation Safety Board has been notified of the incident.

"It won't have a major effect on air traffic, since the majority of flights in and out of O'Hare are closed today," she said.


8:43 AM: Lesson in irony? The Illinois Education Association has faxed out an announcement that it's canceling something called the Winter Advocacy Conference today due to … the weather. So, a pro-winter convention is being nixed because of winter? Not quite. Closer inspection reveals that the "advocacy" in Winter Advocacy Conference pertains to union bargaining. It's an annual event the IEA holds to brush up on labor matters.


8:33 AM: Metra reports that, as of 8:15 a.m., all trains with the exception of a few on the Union Pacific North Line are running about 5 to 15 minutes behind schedule. Union Pacific North Line trains are experiencing lengthier delays.

8:28 AM: All appears normal in Edgewater. Buses and CTA trains running, streets clear, but alleys still slushy and in need of plowing. Snow in the area is slushy and heavy. Looks as if the storm didn't live up to the hype, at least here along the lakefront. Just very light flurries falling at the moment. Jonathan Labe

8:17 AM: A Northwest Airlines cargo jet was struck by lightning at O'Hare International Airport while taxiing for departure about 5:40 a.m., Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

She said no one was injured, and crews checked the runway for debris but found none.

As of 8 a.m., there had been 27 flights canceled at Midway Airport, and inbound and outbound flights were being delayed an average of 15 to 20 minutes, Abrams said. Delays at O'Hare were less significant since most flights scheduled to depart before noon had been canceled in advance of the storm, she said. Three runways were open at O'Hare this morning to handle any traffic that had not been canceled.

Abrams said airlines would reassess the situation after noon.

8:10 AM: When people in some sections of Elmhurst finally dig out, they'll have two obstacles to contend with: Several inches of snow and curbside garbage cans that were set out last night or early this morning only to be toppled by plows clearing snow-clogged streets. Ted Gregory

8:03 AM: The problems reported earlier on Lake Shore Drive appear over. Traffic is moving slightly slower than normal, but there are no backups between Fullerton and the curve at Oak. Laura Moran

Several downtown buildings, including 77 W. Wacker Drive, have signs cautioning folks about falling ice. Dan Blake

7:41 AM: Walking in the wind. The wind is brutal for anyone trying to cross the street at Irving Park and Pine Grove. It's extremely difficult to walk. Mary Dedinsky

7:03 AM: Another Metra train slowed. Union Pacific North Line District train No. 310 scheduled to arrive Chicago at 8:02 a.m. is presently operating approximately 20 to 25 minutes late due to a train ahead with a mechanical problem. The CTA is reporting no significant travel delays.

6:54 AM: 12,500 ComEd customers lose power: About 12,500 Commonwealth Edison customers across the metropolitan area were without power as of 6:30 a.m., said utility spokesman Tom Stevens. "Right now, it seems ice is the main culprit," he said. There are about 4,500 customers without service in the city, with concentrations on the Near North Side and in the area of Addison Street and California Avenue on the Northwest Side. Several northern suburbs, including Skokie, Niles and Glenview, were also experiencing service interruptions. To the south and west, Steger and Itasca were hit.

6:44 AM: On errant snow plows. Northwest suburban Arlington Heights had about 3 inches of accumulation by about 5:30 a.m. The snow was starting to increase in intensity, wind gusts were strengthening and there were occasional flashes of lightning in the sky. The worst that happened at my house overnight was a snow plow came down my residential street, knocked over a recycling bin and scattered broken glass across my driveway. I had to use a shovel and snow blower to clear a path for my car. David Ibata

6:31 AM: 2 Metra train delays. Union Pacific District train No.304 scheduled to arrive Chicago at 7:15 a.m. is operating approximately 18 to 20 minutes late due to weather related switch problems. Milwaukee West Line District train No. 2202 scheduled to arrive Chicago at 6:13 a.m. is operating approximately 15 to 20 minutes late due to switch problems and severe weather.

6:24 AM: Every cloud has a silver lining. The good news: This snow seems just about perfect for a snowball fight. Charlie Meyerson

6:12 AM: Metra OK, LSD problems. Metra was reporting no significant schedule delays. Southbound traffic on Lake Shore Drive was reported completely stopped at the North/LaSalle exit, with emergency vehicles present.

5:00 AM: City expects 3 to 6 inches. Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Mike Picardi said his latest estimates are for 3 to 6 inches of snow to fall downtown over the next several hours, with possibly higher accumulations on the North and Northwest Sides of the city.

Despite the reduced forecast for snow, drivers should still use "extreme caution," he said at a press briefing at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, 1411 W. Madison St.

"We may not have seen the total accumulation that everybody was predicting, but we have seen a lot of freezing precipitation, which is just as dangerous," he said.

"When people don't see accumulation, they drive a little faster—and that's the worst thing you can do."

The city's full fleet of 270 snow-fighting trucks began salting at 10:30 p.m. Thursday and were still out this morning.

Picardi said road conditions were holding up in large part because of the precipitation was coming down intermittently.

"It hits in waves, and each time it does our plows are able to knock it down, spread salt, and then we go back on the route and do it again, he said.

Only 56 vehicles were towed overnight from designated snow streets, which is "way lower" than expected, he said. "Obviously, the word got out, and that worked out real well for us."

4:01 AM: Snow totals downgraded for the city. National Weather Service meteorologist Nathan Marsili said that because the system has produced a lot of sleet and rain in its early stages, forecasters have downgraded the snow totals for Chicago to about 6 to 7 inches downtown and slightly higher amounts on the North and Northwest Sides.

The hardest-hit areas will likely be the north and northwest suburbs, which could see as much as a foot of snow before it tapers off around noon, Marsili said.

Some areas near Rockford had already reported about 2 inches of snow, but most areas closer to Chicago were seeing sleet, he said.

Forecasters have also pushed back the timing of the ice-snow changeover to near daybreak. After that commuters should expect potentially whiteout conditions.

"It looks like right now the heaviest snow will come down between 7 and 9 a.m.," Marsili said.

Snow will diminish to flurries by around noon, but north to northwest winds of 20 to 30 m.p.h. with gusts to 35m.p.h. will cause blowing and drifting, especially in open rural areas.

3:44 AM: Flooding near the Indiana border. Chicago-area state police are reporting flooding on I-80-94 near the Indiana border that has several lanes shut down. Police are busy all over Chicago's expressways dealing with icy conditions and cars in ditches, but no serious-injury accidents.

"Right now it's icy, with more snow up in the area of (Illinois Highway) 53" in the northwest suburbs, a state trooper said. "But the heavy stuff is coming."

3:29 AM: Icy conditions causing more problems than snow -- for now. The icy conditions have led to numerous spinout accidents along Interstate 80 in the Joliet area, Illinois State Police Sgt. Martez Malone said.

"It's very, very icy out there," Malone said. "The salt trucks are out, and it's slowing down a little now but a little earlier there were a lot of spinouts, cars in ditches."

Police were still trying to clear an accident between a semi-trailer truck and a car on westbound I-80 just east of Interstate 55, Malone said. He said the semi partially rolled over onto a guardrail, but there were no serious injuries. The crash had several westbound lanes shut down, he said.

3:14 AM: Snow cranking up just in time for the morning rush. After hours of alternating between a stinging sleet and just plain rain in downtown Chicago, the snow machine appears to be cranking up. The radar shows the blue snow line inching toward Indiana and some pretty ominous returns approaching from the southwest.

The National Weather Service's latest update now says snow will be heaviest from 4 a.m. through about 9 a.m., which is not good news for those thinking about braving the morning rush. Could be a colossal mess, with snow coming down at a clip of 2 inches per hour, accompanied by lightning and thunder.

Latest estimates from the NWS:

"The highest snowfall amounts of 10 to 13 inches are expected in acorridor from La Salle to DeKalb and Belvidere.

5 to 10 inches is expected on top of a layer of sleet along the I-55 corridor fromPontiac to Joliet to Chicago. Heavy ice accumulations followed by3 to 6 inches of snow is expected east of I-57 into far NorthwestIndiana."

November 30, 2006 6:36 PM: Airlines cancel flights as storm looms. The major airlines serving O'Hare International Airport decided today to severely rein in their Friday flight schedules rather than take a chance on the weather and potentially inconvenience thousands of customers.

Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, the largest carrier at Midway Airport, planned to operate its regular schedule Friday in Chicago.

November 30, 2006 6:31 PM: CTA prepares. CTA officials said a main focus during the storm will be on keeping snow, ice and sleet from building up on track switches or the electrified third rail, which provides power to trains.

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