The worst may be over with this latest winter snowstorm, but the likelihood of injuries from shoveling the wet slush is still high, says Troy Foster, attending emergency room physician at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
"The first and probably most common are back injuries whenever you are shoveling snow, especially when you are not a frequent exerciser," he said.
5 tips for reducing icy mishapsFive tips to consider when de-icing treacherous icy areas:
• Salt has its limits. Rock salt is effective, but it can lose effectiveness as temperatures go down, especially below 20 degrees. The best indicator is the temperature of the pavement, not the air.
• Below 20 degrees, consider other products, like products that contain calcium chloride, magnesium chloride or other blended materials. Make sure the product contains more than trace elements.
• Spread de-icer evenly. Lay a base amount across the icy area and allow the product time to work. Don't throw the material past the surface you are trying to clear -- de-icing materials can harm trees, plants and grass.
• Watch your back. Use a small container to carry the rock salt or invest in a quality spreader to ensure the salt is applied evenly and effectively.
• Store carefully. Moisture can cause de-icers to lose their effectiveness and clump or freeze, so store them in airtight containers -- out of reach of young children and pets.
• Source: The Snow & Ice Management Association, the national nonprofit representing the snow removal industry.
Back strains, aggravating existing herniated discs, and shoulder pulls are frequent post-shoveling complaints handled by emergency rooms doctors. However, this winter has been unusual in terms of snow shoveling-related injuries.
"We've actually done pretty well and I think that's due to there's just not that much snow this year," Foster said. "Maybe people are being a little bit smarter this year."
Still, Foster warns the heavy snow presents a different kind of challenge. He urged people to try pushing the snow to clear sidewalks and driveways rather than lifting a loaded shovel.
"Just make sure that you are using your legs and not your back to move the snow," Foster said. "There are now the more ergonomic type shovels that have a bend in them. Don't try to lift a huge amount at a time."
Slips and falls, ankle sprains and wrist fractures also are common with the elderly, though there haven't been as many complaints with the slushier snow, he added.
"Make sure you are wearing boots with good traction," he said. "If you start having any shortness of breath, start feeling chest pain, palpitations, you need to stop. Not just slow down. Go inside and call your doctor and if it's that persistent, you need to call 911."
Foster said he is glad one particular snow shoveling injury hasn't surfaced much this year.
"Men often use the snowblowers, and (when) their snowblowers stick, for some reason they want to use their hand to unstick it to remove the snow," Foster said. "They end up mangling their hands. We see that so often. I see at least one or more every year. Men should never be sticking their hands into a machine, especially if the machine is running."
Foster said that he's never seen a female patient with a similar injury, but he's seen plenty of men lose fingers and hands to snowblowers. As he was talking, Foster noticed a report on the emergency room patient board that a 49-year-old man lost the tip of his finger to a snowblower Tuesday.
"It's just amazing how men continue to do this," Foster said.
Snow showers and flurries are expected to continue into the evening and will become more scattered by late night into Thursday morning, a National Weather Service spokesman said Wednesday.
Wind gusts of 20 to 25 miles per hour are anticipated tonight, which is much less breezy than Tuesday's 35 miles per hour winds.
"We're still under the influence of the same weather system that impacted a large part of the U.S.," said Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "We're kind of on the back side of the system. The center of it is in southeast Michigan right now, wrapping moisture around it on the west side and that's why we're getting some of the snow showers as we are."
Not much snow is expected to accumulate with most areas receiving a ½ inch to 1 inch accumulation.
At O'Hare International Airport, airlines are experiencing delays averaging 45 minutes to the East Coast due to weather conditions there. More than 80 flights have been canceled for the day compared to 510 flights canceled Tuesday. Midway reported only minor delays and cancellations compared to the 170 flights canceled Tuesday. Passengers should check their airlines' websites for flight information.
The highest snow accumulation has been reported in Lake and McHenry counties, which received more than 8 inches of snow. Beach Park received the biggest amount, reporting 11.7 inches of snow.
Snowfall rates were heavier in the northern region likely due to the lake effect and tapered off moving south into northern Cook County, Friedlein said.
Hoffman Estates received 7.3 inches of snow, across Schaumburg it was 6 inches to 7 inches, and O'Hare received 5.4 inches of snowfall.
Snow advisories were called off about 4 a.m. today. Snow showers are expected to relent by early Thursday afternoon.
Numerous schools in heavier snow areas either closed for Wednesday or will be opening late as they dig out from Tuesday's storm. A list of those schools is located online at the Emergency Closing Center.