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Winter's encore may obscure lunar eclipse

Winter is returning for an encore this week, with up to an inch of snow this evening and lows in the 20s over the next two nights.

The slushy storm may pull out of the Chicago area in time for people to catch at least some of the lunar eclipse overnight. The celestial show begins shortly before 1 a.m. as Earth's shadow falls across the moon, shifting its color from bright orange to blood red to brown.

Observers will be shivering in the mid-20s, a hard cold slap after the 70s of the weekend.

Temperatures started falling rapidly this morning, plunging from 59 degrees in downtown Chicago at 5 a.m. to 42 degrees less than 40 minutes later.

Mixed precipitation is expected throughout the morning, and by about 3 p.m. it will switch over to snow, says National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Friedlein.

The snow will continue through the evening rush period, falling rapidly enough to leave a slushy accumulation on roadways and up to an inch on grassy areas, Friedlein said.

The agency said the snowfall would be "fairly intense" for a short while, limiting visibility to as little as a mile. The bulk of the snow is expected to fall during the evening commute, with the southern and southwestern portions of the Chicago area affected most.

Actual accumulation totals will vary, with the highest amounts expected close to the city, but commuters should be prepared for a snowy commute.

"I think much of central Chicagoland will end up seeing some snow today and this evening," Friedlein said.

That may not bode well for those hoping to catch the total lunar eclipse. It will unfold over three hours beginning at 12:58 a.m. when the moon begins moving into Earth's shadow. A little more than an hour later, the moon will be fully eclipsed and shrouded in a red glow.

The show will be over by 4:33 a.m., according to astronomers at the University of Texas's McDonald Observatory.

Eclipses occurs two or three times per year when the sun, Earth and the full moon line up so that the moon passes through Earth's shadow. Tuesday's eclipse will be the last full lunar eclipse visible from the United States until 2019, NASA said.

Weather permitting, the eclipse will be visible from most of the country, with the exception of New England and Alaska.

Alaskans can get a view of the moon rising already partly eclipsed. From New England, the moon sets before the eclipse ends.

NASA plans live coverage of the eclipse on NASA TV, the NASA.gov website and on its social media accounts. Coverage will begin at 2 a.m. EDT.

chicagobreaking@tribune.com | Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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