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UPDATED 01/11/12 5:22 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Enjoy the last day of spring in January Wednesday, because within 24 hours, a snowstorm will be clobbering the Chicago area – and it could make for a dangerous commute.
CBS 2 Meteorologist Megan Glaros reports the high on Wednesday is 50 degrees, with sunny skies and the pleasant conditions to which we’ve all grown accustomed.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
But while the snowstorm coming Thursday morning might just be a moderate nuisance in an average January, it might feel like last year’s blizzard given how easy we’ve had it so far.
The Illinois Department of Transportation said its crews are ready to handle whatever Mother Nature dishes out. It seemed unusual to watch IDOT crews stock up on salt and make other preparations under sunny skies, in 50 degree weather.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said, despite the unseasonable weather, some of the agency’s 438 Chicago-area trucks were already on the roads.
“We are expanding some of our pre-treating applications. We’ve also deployed a truck operator to man his territory during the night so if there are some areas where there is icing we can immediately respond to that,” he said.
Tridgell said IDOT has spent only 15 percent of its budget for snow removal so far, but said there is plenty of time to “catch up.”
While he admitted it sounded odd having to issue such warnings in mid-January, he is reminding motorists to slow down, to leave plenty of room in the event of a skid or icy stopping areas and to be especially careful around plows because they may be moving far slower, and are far wider, than most other traffic.
Glaros warns the commute will likely be treacherous, given the chance for blowing and drifting snow. The afternoon rush on Thursday will be the worst, but problems could also arise during the morning rush on both Thursday and Friday.
On Wednesday morning, a cold front was sweeping over Minnesota and the Dakotas, working its way southeast. It will eventually clash with a low-pressure system that is now producing rain in downstate Illinois and Indiana, resulting in a powerful storm system that is will to bring the first significant snowfall of the year.
A winter storm watch will go into effect Thursday morning, and will continue through Friday morning, for all Chicago area counties in Illinois and Northwest Indiana, as well as the west coast of Michigan.
The chance of accumulating snow is 100 percent.
WBBM Newsradio AccuWeather Meteorologist Elliot Abrams says on his blog that we shouldn’t expect anything drastic when we wake up Thursday morning, but that doesn’t mean this is all hype.
As the wind cranks up through the course of the day, snow will fall almost horizontally. There is a serious risk of reduced visibility by Thursday afternoon.
When night falls, the sky will have a tint of orange or red from the streetlights illuminating the ocean of falling snow, Abrams says.
A total of 3 to 6 inches of snow are expected to fall in most of the Chicago area by Friday morning. Some areas to the south such as Will and Kankakee counties and Northwest Indiana will likely see just 1 to 3 inches.
Most of the area will get somewhere between 2 and 6 inches, Glaros says.
But some areas may see as much as 8 inches, particularly in the far northern suburbs.
The high for Thursday is more in line with what one would expect for January – 29 degrees – as winds gust into the 30s. The low drops to 14 Thursday night and only hits 22 on Friday, and for the coming week, the warmest it will get is 34 degrees – just two degrees above freezing – on Sunday.