A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 a.m. Wednesday for Lake and McHenry counties, according to the National Weather Service. Snow was falling at a rate of 1 inch/hour in Lake County Tuesday evening- and total accumulation could crack double digits and maybe exceed a foot by daybreak.
High winds are whipping up the snow, leading to whiteout conditions with near zero visibility in some areas.
Residents in the area are urged to stay inside, and be careful shoveling the heavy, wet snow. Traveling is considered very hazardous.
Meanwhile, a winter weather advisory was extended until 6 a.m. Wednesday for Cook, Kane, DuPage, DeKalb, Boone and Winnebago counties. As much as 4 to 7 inches could fall in parts of the area, and winds are as high as 35 mph.
"This is not ending anytime soon," ABC7 Meteorologist Mike Caplan said. "An ugly afternoon rush, and it's not even going to be done tomorrow."
The heaviest snow was expected between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. and in McHenry and Lake counties. Light snow could continue overnight. That could lead to an additional accumulation of 1 to 2 inches.
At O'Hare Airport, the official measure as of 6 p.m. was 3.8 inches of snow. That makes it the biggest snow of this season.
School programs, sports canceled
Some area schools canceled classes and extracurricular activities for Tuesday afternoon. Chicago Public Schools canceled all sporting events for Tuesday afternoon, including the six regionals basketball games the district was hosting.
Slick roads, spinouts across Chicago, suburbs
High winds of up to 30 mph are making travel hazardous with low visibility.
"Can't see the car in front of you. Lots of fun," Dino Alexakos, who was filling up his gas tank at the Des Plaines Oasis, said of driving on the highway.
"It's scary. The wife's in the car having little panic attacks. But I say, 'I've got it.' I've been doing this for 23 years. I'm OK," Shane Brown, driver, said. He thinks visibility was at half a mile or less.
Roads are slick and icy as temperatures hover slightly above freezing. Several spinouts have been reported across the area. As much as three to six inches could fall across the Chicago area.
Snow plows and salt trucks have been mobilized across the city and suburbs. The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation has its full fleet of 280 snow plows and trucks out on the main arteries.
"The advantage we have now is that the surface temperatures are still pretty warm. It's breaking down," said Commissioner Charles Williams, Chicago Department of Sanitation. "The rush hour will be slow, but our trucks are out there." Track the city's plows at chicagoshovels.org
Streets and San said that a new crew will come on at 10 p.m. and work overnight. They're replacing those drivers who have been out throughout the afternoon.
"We sent home a full group of drivers this morning, told them to rest up, because we know we're going to need them tonight," Mike Claffey, Illinois Department of Transportation, said.
The Illinois Tollway also mobilized its full fleet of 182 snowplows Tuesday morning to get a start on the storm. Crews will work around the clock to clear the roads for the evening commute and Wednesday morning's rush hour.
To deal with the weather, the Tollway has canceled all temporary lane closures until Thursday, February 28 at 7 a.m.
Drivers are urged to allow extra time on the roadways and to be careful shoveling snow.
"About a third of all heart attacks during times of physical or emotional stress. And if you're not used to doing physical activity shoveling snow is a very intense physical activity and you should be cautious," Rush University Medical Center's Dr. Clifford Kavinsky said.
Hundreds of flights canceled
More than 330 flights were canceled Tuesday at O'Hare International Airport, while 170 flights were canceled at Midway Airport. Other flights are delayed 30 to 60 minutes.
The Chicago Department of Aviation is encouraging airline passengers with flights scheduled for Tuesday to check the status of their flights before heading to Chicago's airports. ABC7 Flight Tracker.