It’s still early, but winter is already giving us its best shot. A couple of them.
After the coldest start to the season in nearly 20 years, an arctic clipper is expected to dump as much as 4 inches of snow on the Chicago area just in time for the morning rush Wednesday.
Then the temperatures will start to fall, fast and hard. By Wednesday evening, temperatures will be in the single digits. By midnight, it will range from 5 to 10 below zero in some places with wind chills of minus 15 to 25. Wind chills will remain below zero until sometime Friday.
And that’s when another system is expected to hit us with more snow for the weekend. The following week? “We’ll continue on the cold side of average,” said Kevin Birk, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Then it will be Christmas week, which extended forecasts say will be cloudy and around 30 with a chance of flurries.
Birk cautioned that the wicked start to winter doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay that way. “You can’t rule out a warm pattern in January,” he said.
Since Dec. 5, temperatures have been 14 to 16 degrees below average. Early Tuesday, it registered minus-6 degrees at O’Hare International Airport. That’s the earlier subzero temperature in Chicago since minus-4 was recorded at O’Hare on Dec. 9, 1995. It was also the coldest temperature in the first 10 days of December since minus-8 degrees on Dec. 10, 1978.
Temperatures as low as minus-13 were recorded in Aurora and Rochelle. DuPage Airport reported minus-10.
Lows are only expected to dip to 10-above Tuesday night and Wednesday, but snow will begin to fall with 3-4 inches expected during the morning commute. “It could be a mess waking up Wednesday morning,” said Ben Deubelbeiss, a meteorologist with the weather service.
The weather service has issued a winter weather advisory from midnight tonight through 10 a.m. Wednesday. The snow is expected to intensify between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., “with snowfall rates of up to a half-inch per hour possible,” the weather service said.
The high may reach 21 before plummeting into the single digits in the evening and below zero overnight. Thursday’s high will range from 15 to 19 degrees.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will send out trucks around midnight to begin spreading salt and again at 3 a.m., according to IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller. There will be a total of 370 trucks on the road by about 4 a.m., well before the time rush hour, she said.
“It will essentially take us to our full compliment by rush hour,” said Miller.
If need be, the department could have as many as 1,860 trucks will be available statewide. trucks out statewide.
She said the concern is the single-digit temperatures with the snowfall. Crews will be adding calcium chloride to the sodium chloride salt they use. The calcium chloride aids the ability of the salt to stick to the ground when the temperature drops below 15 degrees, Miller said.
“We’ll be focusing our efforts on the expressways because we want to make sure the commute isn’t impacted,” she said.
IDOT crews will also hit state highways, Miller said.
The state has about 453,000 tons of salt on hand, she said. The average salt price in the state is about $52.56 per ton. Last year, the agency spread 540,000 tons of salt between December and April. In the Chicago area, which includes the six counties in the northeast part of the state, IDOT spread 159,000 tons of salt.
“There are no issues at all because of budgetary constraints,” Miller said. “We are anticipating a typical Illinois winter, similar to last year.”
Illinois Tollway officials will also be out on the roads with 182 snowplows in response to the expected snowfall. Officials also plan to have 200 staff and supervisors per shift to ensure the roads are clear, officials said in a statement.
To help with snow removal efforts, the Tollway has cancelled all temporary lane closures from 10 p.m. tonight until 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Officials said the tollway began the winter season with 82,000 tons of salt, 41,000 gallons of liquid calcium chloride and 6,500 tons of roadway abrasives.
During the last year’s winter season, the tollway used 56,400 tons of salt, 26,000 gallons of liquid calcium chloride and 3,800 tons of roadway abrasives. The average salt usage per year over the last four years is 63,000 tons.
Officials said it takes crews 2,052 lane miles to de-ice and plow one pass of the Illinois Tollway system during a snow and ice storm – the equivalent of driving from Chicago to Los Angeles.
In a typical 12-hour shift, snow crews can make up to eight complete passes of the 2,052-lane mile system for a total coverage of more than 16,000 miles, officials said.
In a 24-hour storm operation, this would equate to more than 32,000 miles of coverage – the equivalent of driving coast to coast across the United States 10 times, according to the statement.