More Than 500 Chicago Flight Cancelations at O'Hare Leave Some Sleeping at Airport

Many at O'Hare and Midway International Airports are hoping for a Christmas miracle after more than 700 flights combined out of the Chicago airports were canceled Thursday thanks to a powerful winter storm, leading some to spend the night on the airport floor.

"Me and my girlfriend have been here since 8 p.m. yesterday," one traveler said, after being at O'Hare for more than 10 hours. "It's what, the 23rd now? We're flying out at 1 p.m. today, the 23rd."

According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, approximately 2.9 million travelers are expected to pass through O'Hare and Midway International Airports between Dec. 21 and Jan. 2.

Illinois Winter Storm Live Updates: Brutal Cold, Blowing Winds Snarl Roads, Delay Trains, Flights

"We have 500 staff members who are ready to work 24/7, and 350 pieces of snow removing equipment," said Karen Pride, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Aviation said. "Lots of salt and lots of de-icer for the roadways. The airlines are prepared to de-ice their aircraft."

However, according a tweet from O'Hare airport Thursday afternoon, more than 500 flights had been proactively canceled.

"In anticipation of winter weather arriving to the Chicagoland area," O'Hare Airport on Thursday afternoon tweeted, "airlines at O'Hare have proactively canceled nearly 540 flights."

Unfortunately, some didn't receive notifications about their flight status until after they packed and arrived at the airport.

"I didn't get the email until I arrived at the airport," one O'Hare traveler told NBC 5 Thursday, "So I was just standing here, wondering what I should do next."

FlyChicago, a site that tracks realt-time cancelations out of O'Hare and Midway, reports as of Friday at 5:30 a.m., more than 500 flights out of both airports have been canceled, with 261 cancelations at O'Hare and 253 at Midway.

According to CNBC, the severe weather system is affecting holiday flights across the country. At least 5,000 U.S. flights from Wednesday through Friday have been canceled, according to tracking site FlightAware. That period includes what airlines expected to be the busiest travel times before Christmas Day.

More than 16,000 U.S. flights were delayed.

"If you go to the airport and the flight keeps getting delayed and then canceled, all those seats that were going to be taken for a few days later are going to be gone," said travel influencer John DiScala, who runs the travel website Johnny Jet.

"If [airlines] are offering you a travel waiver where they will change your ticket for free, no charge, and put you on a couple of days later after the storm, get on it now while there are still seats available, if there are still seats available" DiScala said.

Several major carriers are offering waivers, as weather continues to impact travel from the Midwest to the Northeast. Note that passengers may need to re-book by a certain date in order to have change fees waived. Here's a breakdown:

  • American Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 23
  • Southwest Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 26.
  • United Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between Dec 22 and Dec. 25
  • Delta Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 25
  • Jet BlueNo change fee for scheduled flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 23
  • Frontier Airlines: No change fee for scheduled flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 24

Airline passengers and motorists aren't the only travelers and commuters impacted by the brutal winter storm, however. Chicago area Metra trains as well as Chicago Transit Authority buses and trains are experiencing freezing switches, delays, train tracking problems and even crew shortages, the agencies report.

Latest Storm Forecast

While snow in the Chicago area has mostly tapered off, Friday is expected to be the most "brutal day" of the storm, NBC 5 Meteorologist Pete Sack says, with considerable blowing snow and dangerous, bitter wind chills that could lead to frostbite conditions, which can form in as little as 10 to 20 minutes.

Live Weather Radar: Track the Storm as it Sweeps Across Chicago, Indiana

"If you must venture outdoors, cover up from head to toe in multiple layers," the National Weather Service said in a tweet early Friday. "Stay indoors if you can."

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, snow totals in the Chicago remained low, with Streator in LaSalle County recording the highest accumulation at 2.5 inches.

Further west, however, in Northeast Indiana, black ice and drifting, blowing snow has led to numerous accidents on the roadways. In Porter County, a blizzard warning remains in effect until 6 a.m. Saturday, calling for wind gusts up to 55 miles-per-hour, six to 11 inches of snow and potential white-out conditions.

"It's just not safe," said Indiana Police Sergeant Glen Fifield, of driving conditions. "It's literally a life and death decision if you're deciding to travel."

According to the Indiana Sate Police, blowing snow and black ice leading to has become one of the main concerns for drivers.

As NBC 5's Storm Chaser travels on the Bishop Ford highway heads towards in Indiana, NBC 5 reporter Sandra Torres details that conditions have gotten "much worse" as they approach the border, observing with slick roads and sliding vehicles.

Wind Chill Temperatures and Weekend Forecast

Another threat still exists across Chicago is in the form of the bone-chilling cold, with air temperatures already plunging below zero in most locations. Wind chills overnight dropped to 30-to-40 degrees below zero.

There won’t be much in the way of relief after daybreak, with winds continuing and air temperatures struggling to reach zero degrees. While temperatures are expected to remain at zero, wind chills are expected to remain frigid, ranging from 25-to-35 degrees below zero across the region.

Winds should slowly start to subside late Friday and into Saturday, but wind chills will likely remain below zero for most of the weekend.

That’s because air temperatures will struggle to break 10 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday and Sunday, making for one of the chilliest Christmases on record in the Chicago area.

Fortunately there is some relief in the forecast, with warmer temperatures expected to arrive by next week. Highs should get back above freezing by Wednesday, and could get even warmer than that as New Year’s Day approaches.

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