With experts urging travelers to consider alternative plans leading up to the Christmas holidays, such as trusting a potential winter storm growing, how much snow should you expect and when in the Chicago area?
Forecasters say a major winter storm is possible across much of the Midwest starting Thursday, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty, even as new details emerge in the run-up to the event.
Here’s an overview of what we know so far and what you can expect:
Thursday morning and afternoon
According to the latest forecasts, the snow is expected to start on Thursday morning, but it will not be the most intense.
Marking a change Tuesday morning, the winter storm watch was moved for some counties as early as Thursday morning. These counties include: McHenry, DeKalb, Kane, LaSalle, Kendall and Grundy.
Things will deteriorate “rapidly” by Thursday afternoon as the snow spreads and gets heavier.
A winter storm watch for Lake, DuPage, Kankakee, Cook and Will counties in Illinois and Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties in northwest Indiana has also been moved starting Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
According to forecasters, the timing of the intensity was initially later, but new models show a “slightly quicker arrival of deteriorating conditions on Thursday afternoon”.
The alert warns that “falling and drifting snow may result in whiteout conditions with zero visibility at times, making travel extremely difficult, if not impossible.”
“Power outages will also be possible as a result of strong, damaging wind gusts of up to 55 mph,” it said.
Icy roads can add to the dangerous conditions as temperatures drop quickly.
The intense winter storm is expected to be widespread at this time. This marks the time when it could generate blizzard conditions and is expected to have a “severe” impact on travel.
Heavy impacts from the snowstorm are expected throughout the day on Friday.
Expect heavy snow, strong and damaging winds, difficult or near-impossible travel conditions, and dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills.
Wind chill readings are expected to drop near -30 as early as Friday morning.
Friday afternoon and evening
A winter storm watch is scheduled to last until late Friday evening as the storm and potentially “blizzard-like” conditions are strong.
Forecasts are unclear on how much snow may fall as snow, but the snow is expected to begin to taper off overnight.
Early forecasts so far show the Chicago area could see between 5 and 9 inches of snow, with higher totals possible, especially in northwest Indiana. Some locations may also see lower totals.
Christmas Eve and Christmas
Snow begins to lighten early Saturday morning, but hazardous travel conditions are expected to continue through the weekend as the dangerous cold continues.
Wind chills of -20 to -30 degrees are expected with highs in the single digits and lows in the teens. Lake-effect snow showers are also possible in parts of northwest Indiana, according to the NBC 5 Storm Team.
Difficult and impossible travel conditions may remain, especially in the early hours of Saturday, as drifts and drifting snow remain an issue.
What you need to know if you’re flying this week
According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, approximately 2.9 million passengers are expected to pass through O’Hare and Midway International Airports between December 21 and January 2. However, flight delays and cancellations caused by the winter storm may leave travelers stranded and scrambling to find new tickets.
“If you go to the airport and the flight keeps getting delayed and then canceled, all those seats that were going to be taken a few days later are gone,” said travel influencer John DiScala, who runs the travel website Johnny Jet
“I would be proactive,” Diskala said. “Get busy now; save yourself a miserable experience. Stay warm. Stay at home or at your hotel, then travel.”
As of Monday evening, several major carriers offered changes to certain routes without charge. Here’s a breakdown:
- American Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between December 21 and December 23
- Southwest Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between December 21 and December 23
- United Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between December 22nd and December 25th
“If [airlines] they’re offering you a travel waiver where they’ll change your ticket for free, no charge, and let you out a few days later after the storm, get on now while there’s still space, if there’s still space,” DiScala said.
What you need to know if you’re driving this week
Driving may not bring much relief, especially since canceled flights may put more motorists on the road.
AAA expects 113 million Americans — 5.8 million in Illinois alone — to travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, but with several inches of snow, bone-chilling cold and strong winds expected, Midwest roads could be hit hard.
According to the National Weather Service, Thursday night into Friday is expected to be the worst day to hit the road, with possible blizzard conditions making travel “difficult to impossible.”
During the 11-day holiday period, AAA expects to rescue 899,000 stranded drivers. Make sure you have an emergency kit in your car, including jumper cables, a first aid kit, a portable phone charger, an ice scraper, extra warm clothes along with water and snacks, AAA recommends.
And while the snow isn’t expected to last through the weekend, dangerously cold temperatures are expected to remain, thanks to bitterly cold temperatures and even lower wind chill readings. According to the NWS, cold temperatures could lead to ice on rivers, with an increased threat of flooding caused by river ice jams.
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