Winter storm: Lingering snow could mean messy commute

Tom updates Tuesday's storm. (WGN - Chicago)

The storm that struck in midmorning had socked the Chicago area with the season's biggest snowfall by Tuesday evening and was expected to drop another inch or two as it lingers through Wednesday, forecasters said.

That means the morning rush hour could be a bit messy, though it shouldn't be nearly as bad as Tuesday evening's commute was for motorists like Bob Reed, of Geneva. Speaking from a cellphone as he crawled west on Interstate 90, Reed blamed sloppy drivers more than sloppy roads.

"When it snows like this, it's like there are no traffic laws at all," Reed said. "Normally we have very aggressive drivers, but now we've got people going the wrong way down one-way streets, people jumping out of line to pass you."

The northern suburbs were hit hardest, with Gurnee in Lake County reporting 10 inches of accumulation and Beach Park, also in Lake County, reporting 9.5 inches.

By 10 p.m., 4.2 inches had fallen at O'Hare International Airport, according to the National Weather Service. That brought the official total for the season to 17.8 inches, and February's total to 14.3 inches.

Many city and suburban schools closed early and canceled sports games and practices. By 9 p.m., more than 500 departing flights had been canceled at O'Hare and Midway airports, with about the same number of arrivals also canceled, according to FlightStats, which gathers data from airports and airlines.

Cars and buses slid into ditches and crashed into each other on slick roads. The Illinois Tollway and Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation dispatched their full fleets of snowplows and salt trucks.

Snow fell at about 2 inches an hour in some northern suburbs. Any snow Wednesday or the rest of the week won't be nearly that intense, said meteorologist Casey Sullivan of the National Weather Service. Leaving early for the morning commute, however, won't be a bad idea, he said.

In a winter of sparse snowfall, some welcomed the storm with enthusiasm — particularly those who stand to profit from it. James Koch, the owner of Jimbo's Plowing Service in Tinley Park, said the snow was a gift in a winter that's been a bust for plow truck drivers.

Koch bought a new truck and plow after the record snowfall during the 2011 Groundhog Day blizzard. Since then he has failed to realize the returns he expected on his investment, he said.

"It ain't like what it used to be," Koch said. "Chicago always had a good snowfall, and now we're not getting snow until January. If you don't get a big snow in December in this business, you're basically playing catch-up all year."

The snow also gave fresh life to plans for winter recreation. Gloria Morison, of Highland Park, was at a brunch Tuesday morning when she saw the first flakes fall. She said she immediately started making plans to try out a new pair of cross country skis, thinking she could go down her street before the plows came to get to the Green Bay Trail.

Chicago Transit Authority buses had a hard time navigating some roads Tuesday. A few buses got stuck near North Stockton Drive and West Dickens Avenue, police said.

"Obviously, we're advising operators to drive with caution," CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said.

With snow forecast to fall periodically Wednesday and Thursday, drivers should continue to heed that advice, said Sullivan of the weather service. Even after the storm passes there could be more in store, with unrelated lake-effect snow possible Friday, he said.

"We'll see."

Tribune reporters Ryan Haggerty and Naomi Nix contributed.

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