Midwest winter storm: Snow, sleet making travel hazardous

Chicago's midday full weather forecast. (WGN - Chicago)

A winter weather advisory is in effect until tonight as sleet, freezing rain and snow hit the Chicago area, making travel hazardous and grounding hundreds of flights.

The National Weather Service expects the heaviest snow to fall this afternoon. Winds gusting at 35 to 40 mph will reduce visibility and glaze roads, the weather service warned in the advisory.

"Snowfall rates in excess of an inch per hour could occur at times," it said, predicting 3 to 6 inches by Wednesday morning. "This will likely be a heavy wet snow sometimes referred to as heart attack snow."

Mike Bardou, a weather service meteorologist, said "the early part of the rush hour will be most affected."

The advisory expires at 9 p.m. in Cook, Will and DuPage counties, and at midnight in DeKalb, Kane, Lake, McHenry and several other counties in north central Illinois.

As of about 4:30 p.m., the weather service had reported these snowfall accumulations: 5.5 inches in northwest suburban Bull Valley, 5 inches in north suburban Lake Bluff, 4.9 inches in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village, 4 inches in northwest suburban South Elgin and Schaumburg, 3.3 inches in west suburban Winfield, 1.8 inches in north suburban Morton Grove, and 1.5 inches at Midway International Airport and southwest suburban Romeoville.

About 600 flights have been canceled at O'Hare International Airport and about 170 at Midway, according to FlightStats, which gathers data from airports and airlines. There were about 734 flights delayed at O'Hare and 118 at Midway.

On the roads, spinouts have been reported on interstates 90, 94 and 55, according to the Illinois State Police.

The Illinois State Police Chicago District has instituted its emergency snow plan. In an accident where there are no injuries and the cars are driveable, the drivers should exchange information at a safe place and file accident reports with the state police within 10 days.

Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department has deployed its entire fleet of 284 plows. Drivers will plow the main roads, such as Lake Shore Drive, through the evening rush hour. As the snow begins to taper off, the plows will clear residential roads, said department spokeswoman Anne Sheahan.

Extra plows are being deployed to the 2nd congressional district to help residents get to their polling places for today's primary election, Sheahan said.

Road conditions were treacherous throughout the southwest suburbs, especially along Interstates 55 and 80 in Will County, police and fire officials said.

Several vehicles have slipped into ditches along I-55 near Plainfield, especially near U.S. Route 30, said Jon Stratton, a deputy chief with the Plainfield Fire Protection District.  "On I-55, there are vehicles everywhere in the ditch," Stratton said. "Visibility is going down and roads are getting all snow covered, so it's going to be an interesting day."

The most serious accident in the area so far today occurred when an SUV slid under a semi's trailer on the Route 30 overpass over I-55, Stratton said.

Firefighters extricated the woman who was driving the SUV, and she was taken by ambulance to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Stratton said. The woman was conscious and stable when removed from the SUV, he said.

A school bus carrying about 35 elementary students collided with a plow truck in Plainfield around 4 p.m., but no injuries were reported, officials said.

In fact, the students from Plainfield's Central Elementary School seemed to be more excited by the firefighters and police officers who responded than startled by the crash, said Stratton.

"They were all happy to see us, waving out the windows," he said.

The crash occurred near the intersection of Mill Street and Plainfield Naperville Road, Stratton said. The bus suffered minor damage to its front-end but appeared to be drivable, Stratton said. The plow truck, a pickup, was operated by a private company or contractor, he said.

A school official came to the scene after the collision to help check on the students, Stratton said.

Stratton also said road conditions have gradually improved in the Plainfield area as the afternoon has gone on. Most primary roads are in good shape, he said, but many secondary roads are still snow-covered.

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