With last winter's blizzard still fresh in their minds, Chicago officials detoured all CTA buses off Lake Shore Drive as a snowstorm hunkered down over the area, crippling the evening commute and grounding more than 800 flights.
The storm began tapering off as of 6:15 p.m., but travel times on expressways remained tortuously long, with some commutes more than four hours long.
Radar showed the storm leaving the area as of about 9 p.m. and snow was expected to completely exit northern Illinois by midnight.
As of 9 p.m., the storm left southwest suburban Joliet buried in 9.1 inches of snow, with 5.4 inches recorded at O’Hare Airport, according to the National Weather Service. The total at Midway Airport was 7.3 inches.
West suburban Downers Grove received 6.8 inches and northwest suburban McHenry had gotten 7.8 inches, according to the NWS.
Snowfall in south suburban Beecher was measured at 8 inches as of 8:45 p.m., while north suburban Winnetka had gotten 6 inches of the white stuff as of about 9:20 p.m., according to the NWS.
After midnight, northeast winds off Lake Michigan could stir up lake effect snow in Indiana and Lake and Cook counties in Illinois, but any additional accumulation is not expected to surpass another inch or two in very localized areas, according to the weather service.
The decision to reroute buses off the drive brought back memories of the blizzard nearly a year ago, when the road was shut down and as many as 1,500 vehicles were stranded overnight after a bus spun out near the Belmont exit.
At 3:30 p.m. today, with snow falling about an inch an hour, the city announced it was rerouting all 15 bus routes off Lake Shore Drive after drivers reported that they were “encountering problems using the entrance and exit ramps," said CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.
As of about 6:30 p.m. buses that operate north of Roosevelt Road on Lake Shore Drive were back on their normal routes, while all buses south of Roosevelt resumed normal routes by 8:15 p.m., the CTA said. Some delays remained because of traffic conditions.
Although Lake Shore Drive was snow-covered and slick like most roads and expressways in the area, travel times were actually much better than some other routes.
Motorists on the Drive from Bryn Mawr to Randolph managed average speeds of 20 mph, while speeds from 55th Street to Jackson averaged about 10 mph.
At the height of the evening rush the inbound Edens Expressway from Deerfield Road to the Circle was about four hours. The inbound Edens from Lake Cook to the Circle was about the same.
The inbound Kennedy from O’Hare to the Circle was more than two hours, while the outbound Kennedy from the Circle to O’Hare was also more than two hours.
On the inbound Eisenhower, it was almost four hours from Thorndale to the Circle and the way back was just more than three hours.
Travel times on the Ryan were nearly an hour either way between 95th and the Circle.
There were still plenty of spinouts despite the low speeds.
“We’ve had a bunch of accidents and spinouts all over the district,’’ said Illinois State Police District Chicago Trooper Michael Bobko. No serious injuries were reported.
"Plows are out there but they’re slow because of the rush hour,’’ Bobko said. “People just need to slow down.’’
The inbound Kennedy Expressway was particularly treacherous, according to a police officer on his way to work this afternoon.
“It took me an hour and a half to drive what usually takes me 20 minutes,’’ said News Affairs Officer Darryl Baety, who lives on the North Side. “You have to proceed with caution because the road is very icy.’’
Elgin District Master Sgt. Bob Huber said Illinois Route 53 and I-290 were worse than I-55. Huber said cars are bumper to bumper and some can’t get to the ramps. “It’s a typical Friday rush hour,” Huber said. “It’d be busy without the snow. It just makes it that much worse.”
The Illinois Tollway Authority said it had helped at least 160 motorists in need of assistance since the snow began, providing services such as changing tires, charging car batteries, dispensing fuel, calling for tows and transporting customers.
At 10 a.m., the city of Chicago said it had put out 183 snow-fighting trucks on the city's main routes and Lake Shore Drive. By 2 p.m.,the city had sent out 278. Chicagoans can follow the plows in real-time at ChicagoShovels.org.
As of 8:30 p.m., O'Hare and Midway were reporting “significant delays and cancellations,’’ according to the Chicago Aviation Department.
At O'Hare, airlines have canceled more than 700 flights and delays on all flights were averaging an hour or more, the department said.
At Midway, more than 100 flights were canceled. Southwest Airlines scrubbed all flights between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. but normal operations were resumed after 7 p.m.
Metra reported two issues -- slower-moving commuters and multiple switch problems that are possibly weather-related.
“We’ve had multiple areas, system-wide, where we’ve had switch problems,’’ according to Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile, who said blowing and drifting snow could be responsible.
Also, cautious commuters negotiating snow-covered platforms are also causing some delays to trains.
“People are getting on and off of trains more slowly,’’ Reile said.
Chicago Public Schools canceled after-school activities – including elementary and high school sports and driver’s education, and third-shift preschool programs. In addition, all sporting events scheduled for Friday were canceled. All contests will be rescheduled for Tuesday.
Districts throughout the area were also calling off after-school activities. (You can check school closures HERE).
A storm warning issued by the National Weather Service had been scheduled to expire at midnight but was cleared a few hours early, by about 9 p.m., for Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Kane counties.
The storm was the area's biggest of the season so far, surpassing the the 4.9 inches that fell at O'Hare and the 6 inches that fell at Midway Airport only a week ago.
WGN's Tom Skilling predicted 4 to 9 inches.
Saturday's forecast calls for cloudy skies with a 30 percent chance of show showers in the morning. Highs will be in the mid 20s.Copyright © 2015, RedEye