Home Local Chicago weather: Strong winds, reduced visibility and ‘brutal’ cold will affect travel ahead of Christmas. ‘If you don’t have to travel during this storm, please don’t.’

Chicago weather: Strong winds, reduced visibility and ‘brutal’ cold will affect travel ahead of Christmas. ‘If you don’t have to travel during this storm, please don’t.’

by staff

City and county officials warned residents about the snowstorm and blizzard-like conditions that will hit the area late Thursday through Saturday morning and likely affect travel. The city will experience below-freezing temperatures, low visibility and extreme wind chills ahead of the holidays.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Rich Guidice, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, called on Chicagoans to take care of themselves and each other as the harsh weather rolls into the city.

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“We encourage you to check on your neighbors, family members, pets and friends, particularly those who are elderly or have disabilities,” he said. “Staying connected is key to being safe.”

At a separate news conference held by county officials Wednesday morning, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also cautioned against unnecessary travel.

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“First and foremost, if you don’t have to travel during this storm, please don’t. I recognize that many people have last-minute shopping to do in advance of the holiday weekend, but the easiest way to avoid the dangers of a storm is to stay home if you possibly can,” she said. Preckwinkle urged people to work from home in the coming days, if possible.

“We’re very concerned about travel outside of the city with near-blizzard conditions expected, especially as folks travel regionally for the holiday,” said Mike Bardou, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service of Chicago, at the city news conference.

Andrew Velasquez, first deputy aviation commissioner at the Chicago Department of Aviation, added that O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport expect to see almost 3 million travelers in the next 12 days.

“Chicago’s airports are prepared to do our part to reduce delays in spite of the storm. That said, travelers must stay alert to changing conditions,” Velasquez said. “We encourage travelers to check flight status with their airline before leaving for the airport.”

There had been no mass cancellation of flights into and out of O’Hare and Midway as of Wednesday afternoon.

Flight cancellations, Velasquez said, are decisions made by airlines in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration. He added that airlines are also responsible for taking care of passengers that are stranded in an airport as a result of the severe weather.

Amtrak trains in and out of Chicago will operate Thursday, Saturday and Sunday with modified schedules, but they will operate normally on Friday, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Tribune on Wednesday morning.

The modified schedules are as follows: there will be three round trips from Chicago to St. Louis instead of the usual five; four round trips to Milwaukee instead of the usual seven; and two round trips to Detroit, instead of the usual three.

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“All of these are precautionary, all of these are because of the forecast of severe weather,” Magliari said.

National Weather Service of Chicago meteorologist Kevin Doom told the Tribune that, while Chicago-area residents can expect less snow than previously warned, officials’ worries surrounding cold winds, low visibility and icy roads remain the same.

Wind chills will reach temperatures around 25 to 30 degrees below zero across the entire Chicagoland by late Thursday night into Friday morning. Winds of up to 45 and 50 mph will blow the fine, fluffy snow, thus reducing visibility considerably, creating near-whiteout conditions at times.

“So that’s our biggest concern, especially with it being Thursday and Friday before Christmas on Sunday — it’s going to be the busiest travel days of the year,” Doom said. “So it’s going to be very hazardous for travel. And we really just don’t want people to get fooled by the lower snow totals that we’re now expecting.”

Meteorologists are now expecting anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of snow across Chicagoland, down from the 4 to 6 inches that were expected earlier.

“The cold that’s going to be moving in, it’s going to be very, very brutal. First, we have a very stout cold front that’s going to be moving in Thursday afternoon,” Doom said. “That’s going to bring our temperatures from just above freezing down to the single digits within a matter of hours. It’s going to be very sharp drop in temperatures, and that can result in what we refer to as a flash freeze.”

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In anticipation of the expected single-digit temperatures, Preckwinkle said many suburban municipalities will be opening warming centers.

“If you do not have adequate heat in your home, we ask you to seek one of these shelters,” Preckwinkle said. County officials said those centers are also available for those who might lose power in the storm.

The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services opens six warming centers across the city when temperatures reach 32 degrees or below, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The Garfield Community Service Center at 10 S. Kedzie Ave. is open 24 hours to connect families and residents to emergency shelter. City residents may also call 311 to be connected to available services.

Snowfall is initially likely to melt on roads into water and then freeze into ice as temperatures drop, creating dangerous conditions for driving, particularly late Thursday, Doom said.

“Our crews are going to be working diligently to monitor conditions and keep the roadways as clear as possible,” said county transportation Superintendent Sis Killen, but even after snow is cleared, sections of roadway could be covered quickly again thanks to blowing snow.

Mobilization of plows will begin Thursday. Killen asked drivers not to crowd or attempt to pass them.

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“Our dedicated drivers will be working around the clock … until (county-maintained) roads are completely clear,” Killen said.

County and city officials encouraged people to take the time Wednesday to fill prescriptions and gas tanks, and prepare emergency kits for their cars. Drivers should have at least a half a tank of gas, a shovel, windshield scraper, small broom, road salt, tow chain, jumper cables, emergency flares, a flashlight, hats, gloves, blankets, a first aid kit and necessary medications, they said.

At home, officials urged people to “refrain from using” stovetops or ovens as a heating source. Without proper ventilation, they could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include a bad headache and nausea. If you experience those symptoms, officials said to leave the home and seek medical attention.

To opt in for emergency alerts, county residents can text ALERTCOOK to 888777.

adperez@chicagotribune.com

aquig@chicagotribune.com

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