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updated: 1/31/2011 1:04 PM

Storm could be one for the record books

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  • Planes at O'Hare were buried in the blizzard of 1979 when 16.5 inches of snow fell in one day on Jan. 13. We're expected to get 20 inches starting Tuesday night.

      Planes at O'Hare were buried in the blizzard of 1979 when 16.5 inches of snow fell in one day on Jan. 13. We're expected to get 20 inches starting Tuesday night.
    Daily Herald File Photo


Chicago meteorologists plan to bring cots and a change of clothes to work this week as a massive blizzard is expected to dump up to 20 inches of snow starting Tuesday.

A blizzard watch will be in effect starting Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon for all of northeastern Illinois, according to the National Weather Service.

Current forecasts predict about 20 inches of snow for portions of southern Cook, DuPage, Kane and Will Counties and 18 inches for most of northeastern Illinois.

"I wouldn't want to be trying to get anywhere," said Bill Nelson, Observation Program Leader for the National Weather Service. "We are planning on bringing in a couple of cots in case we get stuck."

Light snow is expected to begin falling Monday night, but the heavy snowfall will begin falling midday Tuesday and through Wednesday afternoon.

Meteorologists predict the blizzard will produce whiteout conditions as 40 to 45 mph winds combine with snow falling at a pace of 2 to 4 inches per hour during portions of the storm, Nelson said.

The biggest storm to ever hit Chicago totaled 23 inches in 1967, but meteorologists predict the upcoming blizzard might break records.

"If everything pans out like we think right now, it will be right there at the top," Nelson said.

The storm is expected to die down early Wednesday afternoon, but lake effect snow might persist into Wednesday night on the Illinois side of the lake before shifting into northwestern Indiana.

The weather service said the heavy snowfall combined with high winds could create whiteout conditions, particularly on Tuesday night into Wednesday, making driving extremely dangerous in some areas. Snow drifts of 5 feet to 10 feet are possible. The service said winds on Tuesday could reach up to 60 mph in open areas and near Lake Michigan.

Once the storm has moved through, bitterly cold temperatures are expected to grip much of the region.

Meteorologists warn of "nearly impossible" travel conditions during the peak of the storm Tuesday afternoon and night and airlines have taken precautionary measures as forecasts come in.

Multiple airlines are relaxing their rebooking policies by offering travel waivers for passengers scheduled to fly to from or through O'Hare International Airport between Tuesday and Thursday. United Airlines is offering travel vouchers for Chicago travelers.

Only two Chicago snowstorms have ever topped 20 inches, with the last occurring in 1999 when 21.6 inches fell between Jan. 1 and 3.

"As they say, stay tuned," Nelson said.


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