Getting through the Blizzard of 2011
You’ve been hearing it for days now – blizzard expected with blinding snow totaling 1 to 2 feet with drifts from 3 to 4 feet, some even higher. But what is really going to happen? And what should we do?
“Expect snow with this storm to become heavy at times with snow RATES of 1 to 2 inches per hour – you won’t be able to see across the street at times with snow blowing sideways during the height of the storm. “ says Meteorologist in Charge Edward Fenelon of the Chicago National Weather Service office. Fenelon goes on to describe what else to expect:
Scattered thunderstorms are expected with this snow storm, and with that snow rates may briefly increase to 3 maybe even 4 inches per hour. If and when that happens snow will be even more blinding and disorientating to anyone trying to get around outside.
While a brief burst of snow bringing 2 to 3 inches during the evening rush hour time period Tuesday, the worst of the conditions are expected between 9 pm Tuesday and 5 am Wednesday when blizzard conditions will be experienced with winds gusting over 40 mph and intense snowfall.
Travel may become impossible Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning due to white out conditions. Unless it’s an emergency, travel should be postponed – about half of all deaths in a blizzard are due to traffic accidents or people becoming stranded with their vehicle. Snow may become so blinding that snowplow operators have to be pulled off highways for their own safety, especially in open areas.
While the exact outcome of this storm is far from a certainty, the probability of snow exceeding 8 inches is almost 90 percent; the probability of snow exceeding 12 inches is 75 percent. The probability of wind gusts exceeding 35 mph during this storm are over 90 percent.
With an expected snowfall from 1 to 2 feet, this storm will likely rival Chicago’s greatest snowstorms of all time, those of January 1967, January 1979, and January 1999.
While the impacts of this event are highly dependent on many factors, we can look to the recent East Coast blizzards impacting the large eastern seaboard cities of the past few years, along with Chicago’s own historical record storms, to gain a better picture of what can happen during blizzards accompanied with 1 to 2 feet of snow, and drifts of 3, even 4 and maybe 5 feet. In these storms, buses and even some emergency service vehicles got stuck in snow drifts. Commuter trains became frozen onto platforms. Major airports were shut down. Many above ground transit lines were not functioning. Plows themselves became stuck and many residents had to abandon their cars in the middle of roads, causing roadblocks for plows. While this even happened in Chicago in 1967, this was not so much the case in Chicago’s 1999 storm because of better advance weather prediction, and people heeded the weather warning and stayed home.
Due to the volume of snow, shoveling may be extremely difficult and strenuous on the body, especially for the elderly and those with heart conditions. Be sure to take frequent breaks when shoveling.
Snow will diminish to lighter lake effect snow showers Wednesday afternoon and winds will subside by Wednesday evening. Arctic air plunging into the area Wednesday night will cause temperatures Thursday morning to be in the single digits below zero except around zero in the city of Chicago, with wind chills in the teens below zero in the city and as low as minus 15 to minus 25 across the rest of northern Illinois.
Edward Fenelon, Meteorologist in Charge, National Weather Service, Chicago, IL
For the latest storm information, please see weather.gov/Chicago or weather.gov/Rockford
Media can call the NWS Chicago office at 815-834-0600 ext 763.