The first winter storm of the season is moving in fast and has hit the north and western suburbs with a fury as downed power lines were reported in McHenry County.
Around 5 p.m., ComEd officials said more than 24,000 people were without power, most of those in the western Illinois region, like Rockford , Freeport and Dixon. At 5:35 p.m., less than an inch of snow was on the ground in Elburn.
A spokeswoman with ComEd said a few customers from Woodstock were powerless, but there weren’t any “significant” outages in that area.
Snow first hit Chicago around 5:30 p.m., when O’Hare airport reported seeing flurries, according to the National Weather Service. The snow will continue on throughout the evening, meteorologists said.
Also, 30 to 40 mph winds have been reported with gusts as high as nearly 60 mph, said Ed Fenelon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“That trend is going to be continuing and some of the stronger winds will work their way“ to Chicago, Fenelon said. “That probably really trumps the snow as far as what kind of impact you can have.”
Hundreds of flights were canceled at O'Hare and Midway airports on the eve of the busiest travel day of the holiday season. Southwest Airlines scratched all of its flights scheduled after 4:30 p.m. today at Midway. People are being warned to stay off highways because high winds could whip up near blizzard conditions.
Delays at O’Hare are averaging 30 to 40 minutes, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. At Midway, airlines reported a few delays of 50 minutes at 8:30 p.m.
At 6 p.m., a few crashes had been reported on roadways including I-290 at St. Charles Road and the inbound Edens Expressway at Tower Road.
Three to 7 inches of snow is expected in the far northwest suburbs, 2 to 4 inches in Chicago and 1 to 3 inches in the south and southwest suburbs from Thursday to Friday.
The weather service says the winds will be the real problem. "We may not get a whole lot of snow but the potential for snowing, drifting and poor visibility is very high," weather service meteorologist Mark Ratzer said.
In its storm warning, the weather service said the greatest chance of near white-out conditions is near the shoreline in Lake and Porter counties in Indiana. The storm warning is in effect for those areas until 3 a.m. Friday.
In western Illinois and Wisconsin, a blizzard warning is in effect with as much as a foot of snow forecast. Snow could fall 1 to 2 inches an hour around Rockford, the weather service said.
To the south, a high wind advisory has been issued for Kankakee County.
The storm ends a record stretch of 290 days without snow in the Chicago area. This will also be the latest the city has seen its first measurable snowfall.
"It's going to be a shock to the system," said weather service meteorologist Ed Fenelon. "It's coming in with a bang."ComEd said it was bracing for power outages due to the weather. The company said it was preparing additional crews and equipment and asking for help from other utilities to respond quickly to outages.
ComEd Vice President Terence Donnelly said the storm was “expected to be especially damaging” to the company's power system because of the combination of wind, snow and ice.
The Illinois Toll Highway Authority urged motorists to stay off the highways.
"This weather event is expected to impact most of the tollway system – from Rockford to Chicago – resulting in rapidly deteriorating driving conditions across the entire region,” tollway executive director Kristi Lafleur. “We urge everyone to stay off the roads this afternoon and evening, if possible, but if you must drive, slow down and allow plenty of extra time for the commute home.”
Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider also said that “motorists should think twice before venturing onto roadways” Thursday night and urged drivers and their passengers “to buckle up, slow down and allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination. And, please don’t crowd the snow plows.”
IDOT was mobilizing more than 550 snow plows responsible for roads in northern Illinois while the Illinois Tollway was preparing its full fleet of 182 snow plows to try and clear the 286-mile network of toll roads in 12 counties in northern Illinois.
If conditions become extreme, the Illinois State Police is urging drivers involved in minor accidents where no one is injured to exchange insurance and driver information.
The agencies also provide multiple ways to receive updates electronically. Non-tollroad information can be found at www.gettingaroundillinois.com. Real time conditions on tollroads are available at www.illinoistollway.com. Drivers also can sign up for Tollway Tweets at the website or at www.twitter.com.