Icy Conditions Ground 180 Flights, Leave Roadways Slick

Freezing rain mixed with sleet will gradually turn to rain Sunday night

Sunday, Jan 27, 2013  |  Updated 7:56 PM CDT
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The storm blowing through Chicago brought snow, freezing rain, rain and ice to different parts of the Chicago area. Many Chicagoans were prepared for the storm when it arrived. Emily Florez reports for NBC News at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

The storm blowing through Chicago brought snow, freezing rain, rain and ice to different parts of the Chicago area. Many Chicagoans were prepared for the storm when it arrived. Emily Florez reports for NBC News at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

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If you don’t have to venture out Sunday afternoon, don’t. That was the advice from the National Weather Service as freezing rain began to descend on the Chicago metropolitan area early this afternoon.

Already, the winter weather has forced airlines at O’Hare International Airport to cancel 180 flights. Other inbound and outbound flights are delayed an average of 45 minutes as of Sunday evening, though Midway Airport is reporting only minor delays, according to the city’s Department of Aviation.

Snow will quickly change to sleet and freezing rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Birk.

Ice accumulations of up to a couple tenths of an inch are expected before temperatures rise above freezing.

The bad weather began to reach the western suburbs early this afternoon and is headed east into northwest Indiana as of Sunday evening.

“If you have to travel, be very cautious,” Birk said, even when it comes to walking outside or driving because untreated services will be slippery. Sideways and sidewalks could turn to sheets of ice making walking difficult and potentially dangerous, the Weather Service noted.

The freezing rain is expected to turn to all rain in the early evening hours into the night.

The icy blast is affecting even public transportation, as the bad weather forced “major delays” on the CTA Green Line Sunday afternoon, the transit agency said.

The shuttle bus service is currently set up between the 63rd/Cottage station, a Red Line connection and the 63rd/Ashland station, according to the CTA’s website. Another bus is taking passengers between the 35th Street station on the Green Line and the 35th Street station on the Red Line.

Passengers should allow extra travel time as crews work to restore full service.

Chicago’s full fleet of 284 plows/salt trucks was on the streets Sunday afternoon.

By about 1:45 p.m., the city Department of Streets and Sanitation Snow Command had deployed its full feet of 284 plows onto Chicago’s main routes and Lake Shore Drive, according to Streets and San. The trucks will work to first salt the city’s main streets, and then focus efforts on residential streets.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said it has its full complement of 360 trucks at the ready. Half were uploaded with salt as early as Friday, said spokesman Mike Claffey.

“We’ll be out there hitting the roads hard,” he said. “The good news is it’s a Sunday, so there’s a lot less traffic out there.”

As of Sunday afternoon, the Illinois Tollway has mobilized its full fleet as well -- 182 snowplows to service 286 miles of roadway in northern Illinois.

“Our full fleet has been out salting the roads since early this afternoon and, while our system is currently clear and wet, drivers should use extreme caution, especially on ramps, bridges and other elevated areas,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur in a release.

Another plus — warm weather is on the way. The forecast for Monday is a high of 47 degrees and for Sunday night is 34.

“We don’t expect it to stick around and start problems into Monday,” Claffey said of the freezing rain. “We do see a warming trend overnight that will certainly help. It would be worse if we had an ice storm followed by deep freeze.”

For those who must drive today, he advised, “you really absolutely must slow down and allow more braking distance.”

Said Lafleur, “If you have to be out, drive slowly and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.”

The ice isn’t expected to create widespread damage of trees and power lines, although there could be some isolated incidents, Birk said.

ComEd has been monitoring the situation and said the weather event could have some impact on its equipment.

“We’ve increased staffing at our operations center ... for dispatching crews and beefed up the number of crews we will have available today to assist with any restoration as needed,” said ComEd spokeswoman Arlana Johnson.

A freezing rain advisory is in effect until 9 p.m.

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