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Chicagoans Urged To Prepare For Winter Storm, With Blizzard Expected Thursday: ‘If Possible … Change Travel Plans’

There could be whiteout, zero-visibility conditions Thursday and Friday, which will make travel difficult — and maybe impossible, according to the National Weather Service.

People walk near Foster Avenue Beach in the Edgewater neighborhood as more snow pounded Chicago on Feb. 15, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The National Weather Service is warning people to prepare as Chicago could face a blizzard — or, at least, a strong winter storm — at the end of the week.

The weather agency has put out a winter storm watch that will be in effect Thursday evening to late Friday. It warns a winter storm will hit, with blizzard conditions possible as wind gusts could get as fast as 55 mph.

There could be whiteout, zero-visibility conditions at times as there will be falling snow that will get blown by the wind, which will make travel difficult — and maybe impossible, according to the National Weather Service. Power outages will also be possible due to strong winds.

The storm will be accompanied by “bitterly cold” wind chills that will make it feel as cold as 30 below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

“Prepare for possible blizzard conditions,” according to the winter storm watch. “Continue to monitor the latest forecasts for updates on this situation.”

The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications is monitoring the storm and planning how city crews will respond, according to a news release.

The severe winter storms are still far enough away in the week that uncertainties exist about when they’ll hit and how bad things could be. But meteorologists are predicting Chicago could see lots of snow, dangerous winds and conditions that could make travel unsafe — with flights expected to be canceled — before and during the holiday weekend.

The storm is expected to start sometime Thursday in the Chicago area, Kevin Birk, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Monday. And the worst of the storm is expected to hit Thursday night into Friday morning, with potential blizzard-like conditions with heavy snow and “very strong” winds, he said.

“This system looks like it could be a pretty good, a pretty strong storm system for the area,” Birk said.

Rick DiMaio, an adjunct professor of aviation meteorology at Lewis University and professor of climate change at Loyola University, said Monday he expects the snow to start midday Thursday and continue into Friday afternoon.

The first half of Friday, “the roads in most of the Chicagoland area will probably be undriveable, and that’s because it’ll still be snowing and the winds are going to be blowing at about 40-50 mph,” DiMaio said.

There could be more than 6 inches of snow with that storm, but that could change depending on what route the storm takes as it nears Chicago, Birk said.

AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said the snow combined with the strong winds will be dangerous, impairing people’s visibility and creating potentially dangerous cold. Kines said he also expects Chicago to get 6 or more inches of snow.

“Certainly there will be enough to shovel and plow, and probably more than that,” Kines said. “I think the big issue with this will be the wind that will accompany the snow, especially on Friday.”

DiMaio said there could be two periods of snow: It could snow 6-10 inches starting Thursday into that night, and there could be another 6-10 inches during the day Friday.

“It’s gonna be a two-day event that, unfortunately, coming right before Christmas is not the most opportune time …,” DiMaio said. At another point, he said, “Probably one of the coldest, windiest, snowiest nights we’ve seen around here since the blizzard of of Feb. 2, 2011.”

Regardless of where the storm tracks, Chicagoans should expect for their holiday travel plans to be impacted, the meteorologists said. Flights will “most definitely” be canceled, and people should try to travel earlier in the week or stay at home, Kines said.

There will be travel impacts, “not only by car, but by air, as well. Probably beginning on Thursday and continuing at least through Friday if not into Saturday, as well,” Kines said.

DiMaio said he thinks O’Hare Airport could shut down Thursday night depending on how hard the snowfall is, as crews could struggle to clear the runways.

“This is gonna be one of those events where you can easily have 2,000 flights canceled over the course of those two days,” DiMaio said.

The main danger is the “very strong winds and blizzard-like conditions,” Birk said.

DiMaio said he expects the wind will make it challenging to keep the streets clear of snow.

And people should also be wary of the “extremely cold windchills” that will come with the storm and make the weekend feel even chillier than it is, Birk said.

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A Blizzard Could Hit Chicago This Week — And It Could Feel Like 30 Degrees Below Zero On Christmas

Thursday is expected to hit 31 degrees during the day, while Friday will dip to a high of just 19 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Christmas Eve on Saturday will only warm up to about 10 degrees, and that could fall to below zero overnight, especially outside the city, Birk said. The wind could make it feel 20 to 30 degrees below zero at times.

Christmas day on Sunday is expected to see similar weather: It could feel at or just below zero in the morning, with a high of just 10 degrees expected during the day. It could feel like it’s 25 or 30 degrees below zero at points, Birk said.

“If possible, change travel, or at least consider changing travel plans,” Birk said. “Stay home, stay inside where it’s warm. That would be your best bet.”

Kines said people should take steps to protect themselves from frostbite, hypothermia and other cold-related medical issues.

“If you happen to, for whatever reason, be outside Friday, you definitely have to protect yourself from getting frostbite, hypothermia, anything related to the cold like that,” Kines said. “No. 1, stay indoors.

“If you have to be out, dress in layers. Wear a hat, a scarf, keep your body covered up. Don’t try going out there without gloves or mittens on or keeping your face unprotected, that kind of stuff. That leaves you susceptible to frostbite, and we don’t want that happening.”

Frostbite And Hypothermia

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns to watch for these signs of frostbite:

  • Redness or pain in the skin can be a sign frostbite is beginning.
  • Numbness.
  • White or grayish-yellow skin.
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.

People experiencing symptoms of frostbite should immediately seek medical care, according to the CDC. If immediate medical care is not available, the person with signs of frostbite should be brought into a warm room as soon as possible, according to the agency.

People with signs of frostbite in their feet or toes should not walk, and people should not massage the frostbitten area or rub snow on it, as these actions can cause more damage, according to the CDC.

People should put the skin affected by frostbite in warm but not hot water; if warm water isn’t available, warm the skin with bodyheat, like by putting frostbitten fingers in an armpit, according to the CDC. More information about frostbite is available online.

Hypothermia symptoms:

  • Shivering.
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired.
  • Confusion.
  • Fumbling hands.
  • Memory loss.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Bright, cold skin and very low energy in babies.

People showing signs of hypothermia should have their temperature taken; if it is below 95 degrees, they should seek immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

If immediate medical care is not available, the people should get into a warm room or shelter, remove any wet clothing and warm the center of their body — their chest, neck, head and groin — with an electric blanket, according to the CDC.

People experiencing hypothermia who are conscious can also drink warm drinks, but they should not have alcohol, according to the CDC.

Once the person has warmed up, they should stay dry and keep their body wrapped in a warm blanket, and they should get medical care as soon as possible, according to the CDC.

More information about hypothermia is available online.

Chicago Warming Centers

People who need a safe space to warm up can go to a city warming center, which open when temperatures are at 32 degrees or below. They’re open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

The locations:

  • Englewood Center, 1140 W. 79th St.
  • North Area Center, 845 W. Wilson Ave.
  • Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave.: This center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to connect people to emergency shelter.
  • South Chicago Center, 8650 S. Commercial Ave.
  • King Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
  • Trina Davila Center, 4312 W. North Ave.

You can call 311 to find the warming center nearest to you. Older people can also go to one of the city’s 21 sen

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