Blizzard is over, but subzero temperatures are coming
The third-worst snowstorm in Chicago history has passed through, but a wind chill watch will go into effect tonight as cold front is expected to drop temperatures below zero.
The snowfall totals range from 18 to 22 inches depending on where you are, and while arterial roads are getting back on their feet, in outlying areas the snowmobile remains the only reliable form of transportation.
Road travel has been completely banned in most counties, like Lake and Kane, which both have been declared disaster areas. Roads were impassable this morning, and some drivers still were trapped in their cars.
The wind chill watch will go into effect at 9 tonight as forecasters are warning of wind chills between 20 degrees below zero and 40 below zero. The actual temperatures in some areas may reach between 5 below in downtown Chicago and 20 below in outlying areas.
The storm may have produced three deaths so far: a man found dead in a car on Route 45 in Grayslake around 11 p.m. Tuesday; a person who fell into Lake Michigan overnight; and an 84-year-old Lake County man who suffered a heart attack while shoveling today.
Lake County Deputy Chief Kevin Parker said the Grayslake death may be attributable to carbon monoxide poisoning, but the Lake County coroner's office will investigate and said it could be natural causes. Coroner Richard Keller said an autopsy will be done Thursday.
Many cars remain stranded throughout the Chicago area, but nearly all passengers have been brought to safety.
A ComEd driver is OK after being stranded in his vehicle in Lake County near the Wisconsin border from 8 p.m. Tuesday until forest preserve snowmobiles were able to reach him at noon today, according to the Lake County sheriff's office.
As the day moves on, lake effect snow will take over until about 3 p.m. However, visibility will remain low due to gusting winds and light snow.
Overnight, the wind remained steadily between 30 and 40 mph, but gusts were measured as high as 70 mph, meteorologists said.
About noon Wednesday, 51,000 ComEd customers were without power, officials said, with 35,000 of those customers in Chicago, ComEd officials said.
All flights have been canceled at O'Hare and Midway airports until early Thursday morning, officials said. The airports remain open to help stranded passengers.
Metra has suspended service on five rail lines and is running the remaining lines on Sunday schedules. For details, visit metrarail.com.
Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, Lake County and Kane County were so bad that rescuers were using snowmobiles to get to stranded motorists, despite whiteout conditions that reduced visibility to 100 feet.
Officials from the Lake County and Kane County sheriff's offices recruited the snowmobilers to reach stranded people and get them to warming stations.
Lt. Patrick Gengler of the Kane County sheriff's office said three snowmobile clubs were assisting Tuesday night, and they stayed at it until they couldn't see anymore. He said he anticipates more snowmobiles going out today to resume the searches.
"Aside from drivers stuck, we also have police officers and snowplow drivers stuck in the snow," he said. "We are still working to try and get to everyone."
He said anyone who believes he or she can get out and go to work will eventually become part of the problem.
"If you get stuck, you will sit there for quite a while," he said. "We are still trying to get the people who have been stuck overnight. So people who get stuck now will be sitting for awhile."
Some local governments have declared a state of emergency, giving city officials the power to "do what is necessary" to ensure safety.
"We may need to barricade streets and prohibit cars and pedestrian traffic in certain areas," said Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall.
Intense snowfall rates exceeding up to 4 inches per hour were recorded overnight, making travel nearly impossible, according to the National Weather Service.
Officials urged drivers to stay off the roads at all costs. About half of all deaths in a blizzard are due to traffic accidents or people becoming stranded with their vehicle, according to the National Weather Service.
In response to the storm, Gov. Pat Quinn has declared the state a weather disaster area.