Officials expect between 8 and 10 inches of snow to cover the Chicago area by early Sunday evening, right before dangerously low temperatures set in for the beginning of the work week.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning Saturday that is in effect until 6 p.m. Sunday, calling for moderate to heavy snow that will make for hazardous travel conditions.
The snow began between 3 and 4 p.m. Saturday in the downtown area. By midnight, three inches had fallen at O'Hare International Airport, and most locations across the region were reporting totals in the three- and four-inch range, according to the National Weather Service.
The highest reported snowfall as of midnight came from the village of Somonauk, in LaSalle County, where 5.2 inches had fallen.
The snow is expected to continue through late afternoon or early evening in the city and suburbs, bringing totals to 8 inches or higher, meteorologist Mark Ratzer of the Weather Service said early this morning.
The snow was already causing problems Saturday afternoon. About 5:45 p.m., a Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 headed for Las Vegas with 141 passengers on board slid off a taxiway while taxiing, according to Spirit Airlines spokeswoman Misty Pinson. While passengers had to leave the plane via a stair truck, no one was injured, according to the Chicago Fire Department. The airline was preparing another aircraft to send the passengers on their way after providing them with meal vouchers.
Snowfalls of up to 2 inches had already been recorded in some areas, including near Union in McHenry County, while by about 6 p.m., both O'Hare and Midway airports had seen just shy of an inch of snow. By about 6 p.m., the city of Chicago had all 280 snow plows and salt spreaders in its regular snowfighting fleet deployed on main streets, according to the Department of Streets and Sanitation.
The winter storm warning also includes DuPage, LaSalle, Kendall, Grundy, Kane and Will counties, said officials.
At times Sunday, winds are expected to reach 15 to 30 mph, causing snow drift that will decrease visibility and possibly resulting in delays at O'Hare International and Midway airports, officials said this morning. Today, O'Hare has already cancelled 180 flights, according to a 7:45 a.m. telephone recording from the City of Chicago Department of Aviation; a dozen flights were cancelled at Midway.
WGN/TV meteorologist Tom Skilling said snow accumulations will continue into Sunday when gusty winds blow in from the north and northeast with colder air. By Sunday night temperatures will drastically drop to about minus 20 degrees.
While there is no snow predicted for Monday, the wind chills are expected to drop to a life-threatening range of 40 to 50 below zero, officials said. The predicted high for Monday, according to Skilling's forecast, is minus 10.
Tuesday is expected to warm up, but temperatures will remain below zero. It won't be until Wednesday that temperatures are expected rise above zero, with predicted temperatures in the high teens to lower 20s.