Snow, high winds, messy commute -- but maybe a white Christmas too

A winter storm whipped by high winds is expected to hit the Chicago area just in time for the evening rush hour Thursday, dumping up to 4 inches here but maybe a foot or more in Wisconsin where a blizzard warning has been issued.

But on the bright side (for some, at least), the National Weather Service is giving us a 30 percent chance of a white Christmas next week.

Thursday will begin with rain but that will change to snow around 6 p.m. as temperatures plunge. Winds will gust at 50 mph and wind chills will drop into the single digits, according to the weather service. There could even be thunder snow, it said.

The snow will continue past midnight and there could still be flurries for the morning commute Friday.

Chicago and most of the collar counties could see 2 to 4 inches of snow, with 1 to 2 inches south of Joliet and 4 to 6 inches near Rockford and Dixon, the weather service said. This would be the first measurable snowfall for Chicago this season -- and the latest it has ever occurred.

The worst of the storm will be north and west of Chicago: Both the Davenport and Milwaukee offices of the weather service have issued blizzard warnings.

“Winter’s held off so long, it’s going to come here with a bang,” weather service meteorologist Jamie Enderlen said.

In Wisconsin, the heaviest snow is expected to arrive after midnight and continue throughout the day on Thursday. Wind gusts of up to 45 mph by Thursday afternoon should make travel treacherous.

The weather service posted blizzard warnings for at least eight south central counties for Thursday afternoon. Forecasters say it could be the biggest snowstorm to hit the state since the Groundhog Day blizzard last year. That storm dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow in southeastern Wisconsin.

WGN-Channel 9 meteorologist Tom Skilling warns that the lack of snow to date over a wide swath of the Midwest, including Chicago, means there's no residual ice-deterring chemicals on the road which "could lead to especially icy road surfaces, producing hazardous travel conditions."

Skilling also reports that Chicago's first measurable snow of the season is usually a minor event, totaling just a few tenths of an inch and not causing any problems. But a check of the city's snow archives dating back to 1884 found that Chicago has logged 12 first measurable snowfalls of 3 inches or more.

The largest was 4.8 inches on Nov. 15, 1940 that helped boost that month to the city's snowiest November on record. The month ended with 14.8 inches of snow. The 1940-41 snow season went on to produce a robust 52.5 inches, well above the city's current 36.7 inch normal.

The forecast for next week is a little cheerier. For Christmas Day, the weather service says it will be in the middle 30s with a 30 percent chance of light snow.

chicagobreaking@tribune.comTwitter: @chicagobreaking

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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