It's now a winter storm warning: Heavy, blowing snow to arrive midday Saturday
The Chicago area's heaviest snowfall since mid-February is expected to start late Saturday morning or early afternoon and will last through early Sunday, when it gives way to frigid temperatures for a couple of days.
The National Weather Service elevated its winter storm watch to a warning, with 5 to 9 inches of snow expected in the region.
The weather service in tweets said the steadiest snow will fall from 2 to 8 p.m., though "it likely will persist" through midnight along the Lake Michigan shore. Snow could fall at the rate of one inch per hour during those hours.
Timing Forecast: Here is an estimated look at when snow will arrive on Saturday. The steadiest snow is expected between 2 and 8 PM CST, but lasting through midnight along the Lake Michigan shore. Temperatures will gradually fall throughout the day. #ilwx #inwx pic.twitter.com/KyeJPc0ZnJ— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) December 31, 2021
Northeasterly wind gusts of more than 40 mph also are expected. "Widespread blowing snow after sunset Saturday could significantly reduce visibility," the service's warning notice says. The warning expires at 6 a.m. Sunday.
The weather service said the snow will begin heavy and wet, then turn light and fluffy as temperatures gradually drop.
It said the threat for icing on roads is low. "The wintry mix should change to snow quickly along and southeast of I-57."
The region's going 287 days without any measurable snow got headlines before the first real snow on Tuesday, but it's been about a month longer since accumulation of the magnitude expected Saturday has been seen.
The forecast amount is not unusual for this time of year, said Zachary Yack, of the National Weather Service, and the good news is the snow will hold off nearly 12 hours from the moment the start of the new year is celebrated.
But the snow will affect travel during the second half of the day, and drivers should take it seriously, he said.
"People should try to travel earlier in the day and try not to be out in the thick of the storm," Yack said.
Here';s the latest five day forecast. pic.twitter.com/JnhVBqlcF3— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) December 31, 2021
The below-zero wind chills expected early Sunday and early Monday could also make snow removal more difficult depending on the amount of moisture in what accumulates, he said.
A wind chill of minus 15 could begin the day Sunday, and an even lower minus 20 could usher in Monday, Yack said.
He advised clearing all snow and ice from vehicles before traveling. Areas left untouched could freeze into chunks of ice that can fall off and possibly damage other vehicles on the road.
High temperatures on Monday are expected to reach the mid- to upper 20s, but more relief is anticipated on Tuesday when the high is expected to be in the mid-30s.
No snowfall beyond Saturday's is in the seven-day forecast, Yack said.
Snowfall Forecast: A swath of 4 to 8 inches of snow is expected to fall across most of northern Illinois and northwestern Indiana with higher amounts across the Chicago metropolitan area. Gusty winds will also lead to blowing snow, especially after sunset Saturday. #ilwx #inwx pic.twitter.com/GOlLjQJwup— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) December 31, 2021
Thursday was a busy day at Buikema's Ace Hardware in Naperville for the sale of various snow-related products, especially snowblowers, General Manager Tim Chapman said.
Sales usually spike right before the first major storm of the season, and Thursday's customers were more likely inspired by Saturday's forecast than what they woke up to Thursday morning, he said.
"If it's just a couple of inches, they don't worry too much about that," Chapman said.
With most of his customers being longtime residents of the area, this is the time when many realize they need to replace their old snowblowers rather than shop for their very first.
There are also many people switching over to battery-powered machines, more for their becoming green-minded rather than out of reaction to gasoline prices, Chapman said.
While snowblowers are among the products caught in the supply-chain shortage, he said his own store is well-stocked because it placed its orders months in advance.
Not only do professional snow removers already have two lesser accumulations behind them this week, but many municipalities like Schaumburg have been ready and waiting since October.
"You never know when it's going to hit," village spokesperson Allison Albrecht said.
While she knows most residents are old hands at getting through such storms, Albrecht said being prepared ahead of time and tuning into the National Weather Service for updates can benefit them.
If there's one item of property maintenance that the village would ask of its residents, she said, it's to make sure that fire hydrants are kept visible and accessible.
"Time is of the essence in a fire," Albrecht said.