Chicagoans rose to the first business day of the new year to find streets, sidewalks and cars covered in snow from a bout of harsh weather that had halted flights and even shut down Chicago's bike-share program.
As of noon, as much as 18 inches of snow were reported in some northern suburbs since New Year's Eve. The steady pelting of lake-effect snow could move totals to two feet before the snow ends overnight.
The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation deployed an additional 86 snow removal vehicles to help clear streets after more than six inches of snow fell in some parts of the city since Tuesday afternoon, officials said today.
The 26 small four-wheel drive vehicles and 60 snow plows hitched to garbage trucks bring the city’s total snow removal fleet to 373 vehicles, said Charles Williams, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, at a morning press conference.
But as long as snow continues to fall, the department will focus on clearing Lake Shore Drive and main arterial streets, not residential side streets, Williams said.
“Ensuring main streets are passable is essential for the safety of motorists and necessary for the efficiency of traffic flow,” Williams said. “I want to urge residents to continue to be patient when they’re driving during inclement weather, and be cautious around our equipment.”
Williams warned residents not to employ the dibs system of claiming shoveled-out parking spaces by placing household items on the street.
“What that’s doing is littering the street, quite frankly, and we do discourage that,” Williams said. “I’m not necessarily writing tickets, we’re just going to remove items that are in the way.”
Williams said the department is using a beet juice and brine mixture to salt the streets. The mixture discolors the salt, which is why streets and sidewalks have had a blue hue in recent days.
“It helps the salt work better in these colder temperatures,” Williams said of the special mixture.
The snow forced delays and flight cancellations at area airports. At O’Hare, delays were averaging 45 minutes for all flights in and out of the airport, and about 300 flights had been proactively canceled. At Midway, delays averaged 15 minutes. Less than 10 flights had been canceled.
The Chicago Department of Aviation had deployed 300 pieces of snow equipment and six snow melters to O’Hare and 25 pieces of snow equipment and one snow melter to Midway, said Gary Schenkel, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communication.
The harsh weather also put a halt to Divvy, the city’s bike-share program, which closed down at noon on Thursday. Divvy stations will still accept rented bike for returns, but users will not be able to rent bikes until the program reopens.
Officials at the press conference urged residents to help each other with shoveling and to check in on the elderly or disabled.
“This is a time when it is especially important for all of us to look out for one another,” said Suzet McKinney, a deputy commissioner with the Chicago Department of Public Health. The weather poses “significant health risks to residents,” McKinney said, and people should avoid taking unnecessary trips outside.
Felicia Davis, acting commissioner of the Department of Buildings, said renters should call 311 if their homes are not heated to 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees at night. Davis said the department had conducted thousands of inspections of rental units and more than 350 buildings were found to be without adequate heat.
For the homeless or those without heat, the Department of Family and Support Services has six community centers throughout the city that double as warming centers during regular business hours. The Garfield Community Services Center at 10 S. Kedzie is open 24 hours, said spokesman John Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer asked residents to call 311 if they are unable to check in on older or frail relatives.
“If you are not able to check in on them, the city can do it,” Pfeiffer said.
Schenkel reminded residents and business owners to shovel in front of homes and storefronts, and around fire hydrants.
“Times like these can bring out the best in people as they help one another to deal with the weather,” Schenkel said. “And in that spirit, anyone that can lend a helping hand to our neighbors throughout the city will be appreciated.”
The snow should end overnight, but then the deep freeze begins. The highs Monday and Tuesday are not expected to get above zero and overnight lows could reach 20 below, with wind chills minus-30 or worse.
"We do have a brutally cold arctic air mass on the way," National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Fenelon said. "We will go below zero sometime early AM Monday and stay below until after daybreak Wednesday.
"High on Tuesday may be around minus two. . .If it would stay below zero, you'd be looking at 48 hours plus of sub-zero (temperatures)," he said.
The record lows for Monday and Tuesday are minus-16 set in 1912 and minus-11 set in 1942.
The last time the high did not reach above zero was Jan. 15, 2009, when it was minus-1 and the low was minus-18.
The last time the high was below zero was two or more straight days was more than 30 years ago, over Christmas of 1983. The high on Dec. 23 was minus-6, then minus-11 on Christmas Eve and minus-5 on Christmas. The lows for those three days ranged from minus-17 to minus-25.