Welcome to the calm before the storm. The blanket of snow covering Chicago this morning is nothing compared to the 1 to 2 feet expected during the next 36 hours. And that's not to mention powerful winds exceeding 50 mph, whiteout conditions and lakeshore flooding.
The pending blizzard headed northbound will cover about 2,100 miles of the U.S. That's one-third of the country, with Chicago sitting smack dab in the middle. Forecasters predict this being the city's third-biggest snowstorm, trumped only by 21.6 inches in 1999 and the current recordholder of 23 inches in 1967.
A Blizzard Watch goes into effect at 3 p.m. today and ends by 3 p.m. Wednesday. During that time, we could see 1 to 3 inches of snow per hour mixed with thunder and lighting. Heavy winds could produce flooding along Lakeshore Drive.
Schools began announcing early Tuesday closings this morning, and many schools are expected to be closed all day Wednesday.
The city's not wasting any time, dispatching its full fleet of plows armed with a new shipment of salt starting this afternoon and stretching into Wednesday morning.
CTA officials say they're prepared to provide early rush-hour train and bus service Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, and downtown hotels are offering heavily discounted rates for those who don't want to make the commute home.