UPDATED 01/31/11 6:38 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – If you remember the infamous blizzard of 1999, beware – we may be in for a snowstorm just as bad–and one that has the potential to be one of the biggest in Chicago history.
The National Weather Service on Monday issued a Blizzard Warning that will take effect on Tuesday afternoon, and is calling the storm “life threatening,” Newsradio 780′s Steve Miller reports.
“We’re saying it’s going to be life-threatening for people who have to be out and traveling during this,” said Samuel Shea, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “If a vehicle were to slide off a road and get stuck in a ditch somewhere, who knows how long it would take to get a tow truck out there or get a plow driver out there.”
A blizzard warning will be in effect for the entire Chicago area, starting at 2 p.m Tuesday and continuing through 3 p.m. Wednesday.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Steve Miller Reports
Snow will begin after noon Monday, amounting to about 1 to 4 inches. But during the day on Tuesday, a low-pressure system will develop over Texas, as a high-pressure system hovers over northern Minnesota, placing Chicago in the cross-hairs.
As Tuesday evening approaches, the snow will fall at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour or more, as Gulf moisture fuels the system. Northeast winds will gust to about 45 mph, bringing whiteout conditions and blowing and drifting snow.
CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist says the storm is still tracking to begin dumping its heaviest snow between 5 p.m. Tuesday and 5 p.m. Wednesday. The worst snow and wind is expected between 2 and 5 a.m. Wednesday.
But just how much snow will fall? Glaros says we don’t know for sure yet.
The only estimate right now is that the snowfall will amount to more than a foot, although some models say 18 inches or more. National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Castro told the Sun-Times Media Wire that 16 to 22 inches could fall in the Chicago area.
But whatever the case, this may be telling – some National Weather Service meteorologists say they are bringing cots and a change of clothes to work.
Mayor Richard M. Daley said the city is doing everything it can to make sure the fight against the snowstorm goes as smoothly and safely as possible. The key, Daley says, is communication.
“We always have snow. I mean, it doesn’t matter, you know, we know the snow is coming, and we had another meeting Saturday of different departments; now they’re meeting at 11 o’clock – not only the City of Chicago, but the Park District, the CTA, Metra, Amtrak, the City Colleges, the Board of Education; we have all our agencies as well,” Daley said.
Daley also says the city is getting the private sector and hospitals on board.
Transportation agencies are also preparing for the storm in advance, and they say it could be life-threatening.
Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell says the agency is prepared and “will be even more prepared in a few hours.”
Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride says the department is monitoring the weather and will bring in additional staff and snow removal equipment as it’s needed to the city’s airports.
As always, the aviation department is ready with cots should the airlines request them for any stranded passengers.
Several airlines – United, Southwest and U.S. Airways among them, have travel waiver policies listed on their Web sites. Travelers can change their plans over the next couple days without penalty, if they are to fly in or out of Chicago.
Some businesses are trying to ease the misery as the blizzard approaches.
The Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel, at 151 E. Wacker Dr. downtown, has lowered parking rates for Chicago commuters from Monday through Wednesday. A storm rate of $79 including overnight parking is available through Wednesday, the hotel said.
The hotel is also offering “survival” toiletries such as razors, shaving cream and toothbrushes, as well as dining options and amenities to ensure that “guests won’t have to step outside until the next day.”
Meanwhile in Springfield, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) has canceled the state House session for the week due to the blizzard. The session will resume next week.
The state Senate has also canceled its session for the week.
The last time Chicago had a snowstorm of the magnitude now forecast was in January of 1999, a blizzard which has gone down in notoriety.
The Blizzard of 1999 dumped 21.6 inches of snow on the Chicago area. In the aftermath, schools were closed for two days.
However, the grand-daddy of them all was the blizzard of 1967. That storm, which hit hardest during rush hour, literally shut down the city, leaving thousands of cars, buses and people stranded in its wake. This week’s storm also may hit hardest near the Tuesday rush, but folks now have the advantage of advance warning. In 1967, the nearly two feet of snow that fell caught nearly everybody by surprise.
Here are the 10 worst snowstorms in Chicago history, according to the National Weather Service:
1. 23.0 inches Jan 26-27, 1967
2. 21.6 inches Jan 1-3, 1999
3. 19.2 inches Mar 25-26, 1930
4. 18.8 inches Jan 13-14, 1979
5. 16.2 inches Mar 7-8, 1931
6. 15.0 inches Dec 17-20, 1929
7. 14.9 inches Jan 30, 1939
8. 14.9 inches Jan 6-7, 1918
9. 14.3 inches Mar 25-26, 1970
10. 14.0 inches Jan 18-20, 1886
Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this story.
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