Midwesterners riding a weather roller coaster

Times Staff Writer

A winter storm blanketed the middle of the country on Friday, leaving residents to dig their cars and front walkways out from beneath mountains of powder, while roads from the Great Lakes to Texas turned dangerously icy.

Hundreds of schools were closed in southeast and southern Michigan, where as much as 5 inches of snow covered the ground. Commuters in St. Louis -- which got at least 8 inches -- struggled to navigate through miles of snarled traffic and fender-benders. And along the Texas Panhandle, the storm was blamed for a 40-vehicle pileup that left one dead and closed Interstate 40 for several hours on Thursday.

It wasn’t so much the amount of snow that bothered Midwesterners, but the fact that their part of the country has been on a weather roller coaster in recent days.


Here in the Windy City a couple weeks ago, a bitter wind chill made single-digit temperatures feel far colder -- leading residents to barricade themselves indoors while worrying about their pipes freezing.

Then one day last week, a 48-degree high at O’Hare International Airport had folks thinking about spring. But by that night, the temperature had plummeted into the single digits again.

“We saw a 60-degree single-day drop in St. Louis last week too,” said James Auten, a meteorologist with National Weather Service’s central Illinois office.

“Usually we’ll get cold and stay cold in the winter. But that hasn’t happened this year. Instead, we’re seeing an uncommon case of a lot of weather systems coming through back to back.”

More than 9 inches of snow delayed flights Friday at Chicago Midway Airport, while 7-plus inches at O’Hare International Airport forced the cancellation of at least 600 flights and left travelers stranded.

There were between 9 and 12 inches of snow on the ground across the greater Chicago area, weather service officials said.


The temperatures also proved problematic for at least one company that supplies salt to keep roadways clear: Morton Salt Co.’s barges couldn’t get past ice in the Illinois River just south of Peoria.

“Our phones have been ringing constantly. Our stockpiles are getting a little low,” said Joe Wojtonik, a spokesman for Morton Salt. “We’re hoping that Mother Nature likes us, and gives us a break in the weather.”

For Tom and Kelly Sargent, who live in a North Side Chicago condominium complex with no off-street parking, the storm was fraying their already shovel-weary nerves.

On Thursday evening, as thick flakes covered their street in their Andersonville neighborhood, he brushed several inches of snow out of his pick-up truck and off his wife’s SUV. About midnight, during a lull in the storm, he headed outside again -- in the hope of avoiding the wet, chilly task in the morning.

No such luck. By 7 a.m., he was back on the street, ice-scraper in his gloved hand.

“Honey, we’ve got to move,” his wife said as she tugged a pink knit cap over her ears. “We’ve got to get a garage.”