Winter storm: ‘The whole area’s going to be hit pretty hard’

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By Patrick Svitek, Mitch Smith and Adam Sege Tribune reporters

According to the latest forecasts, snow might not start piling up in Chicago until midday, but make no mistake: The heavy stuff is on its way.

Forecasters are predicting 4 to 8 inches will fall on the Chicago area by tonight, with 10 inches possible in some areas, according to the National Weather Service. An inch or more per hour is expected at the height of the storm this afternoon and evening.

Light snow has already started to fall in parts of the city, bringing with it the potential for a slick drive to work. Snow is now expected to begin accumulating at the tail end of the morning rush hour, said Ben Deubelbeiss, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville.

“It’ll probably start to get bad around 10,” he said.

After that, the snowfall will be intense at times, with snow falling at rates of up to an inch and a half per hour. At rates that high, it can be very difficult for snowplows to keep up.

In preparation for the storm, the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation dispatched its fleet of more than 280 trucks early this morning to begin salting and clearing the city’s main streets. Heavy winds expected later in the day, however, could complicate the already difficult task facing snow removal crews.

Crews also removed median barriers on Lake Shore Drive, just north of Oak Street, following storm preparation protocol.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the region that will remain in effect through midnight.

Tuesday’s snow totals could be just enough to turn around an otherwise dry winter. The weather service tallied only 3 1/2 inches at O’Hare International Airport through the end of January.

Amy Seeley, another meteorologist in Romeoville, said it’s unlikely the maximum amount would fall at O’Hare, where the weather service takes official measurements. But if it did, the 10 inches would bump this winter’s snowfall a tenth of an inch above the season-to-date average. “It would put us right there,” Seeley said, noting she’s still expecting closer to 7 or 8 inches at O’Hare.

The storm could also be the biggest single-day snowfall in March in more than a decade and produce nearly double the month’s usual 5.6 inches, according to the weather service. A 10-inch snowfall would be the area’s largest since 2011.

The potential totals have weather watchers scratching their heads after all but declaring this winter a lost cause for normal snowfall.

“To even have a chance to catch up to the seasonal average, it would be one of the more impressive feats in the snowfall department around here,” Castro said.

Chicago and Illinois’ snow movers aren’t sweating the late-winter powder. Sheahan said her department still has most of its 285,000 tons of salt on hand. The state still has plenty of salt left over from last winter and is in “pretty good shape” heading into the storm, said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Winds could gust up to 20 mph on Tuesday, but the thermometer isn’t expected to drop much below freezing. An overnight low of 28 on Wednesday is the coldest temperature in the weather service’s seven-day forecast.

Blizzard and winter storm warnings were in effect for parts of Montana, the Dakotas and the upper Midwest, National Weather Service forecaster Bruce Sullivan said.

The storm was expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of snow from North Dakota to northern Iowa and Illinois. Heavier amounts of up to a foot of snow are possible in the upper Midwest and some areas could see freezing rain, leading to hazardous travel conditions, forecasters said. Temperatures in the 20s and 30s were expected.

The storm was forecast to move east, reaching the Ohio Valley, the mid-Atlantic states and the Washington area on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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