Chicago pelted by snow, sleet

Chicago's midday full weather forecast. (WGN - Chicago)

A winter weather advisory is in effect until tonight sleet, freezing rain and snow hits the Chicago area, making travel hazardous and grounding hundreds of flights.

The National Weather Service expects the heaviest snow to fall this afternoon. Winds gusting at 35 to 40 mph will reduce visibility and glaze roads, the weather service warned in the advisory.

"Snowfall rates in excess of an inch per hour could occur at times," it said. "This will likely be a heavy wet snow sometimes referred to as heart attack snow."

Mike Bardou, a weather service meteorologist, said "the early part of the rush hour will be most affected."

The northern part of the city and the northwest suburbs could see 2 to 3 inches of snow by the evening rush hour, Bardou said. Chicago's South Side and southwest suburbs like Oak Lawn, Tinley Park and Joliet might only get 1 to 2 inches of snow, and the far south suburbs could see less than an inch.

Snow will continue to fall, at a lighter intensity, through the evening until early Wednesday morning and temperatures are expected to hover around freezing. When it's over, we could see anywhere from 3 to 6 inches throughout the area.

As of about 2 p.m., there were 4 inches in northwest suburban South Elgin and Schaumburg, 3.3 inches in west suburban Winfield, 2.5 inches in north suburban Lake Bluff, 1.8 inches in north suburban Morton Grove, and 1.5 inches at Midway International Airport.

Nearly 500 flights had been canceled at O'Hare and 183 at Midway, according to FlightStats, which gathers data from airports and airlines. There were 469 delays at O'Hare and 106 at Midway.

On the roads, spinouts have been reported on interstates 90, 94 and 55, according to the Illinois State Police.

The Illinois State Police Chicago District has instituted its emergency snow plan. In an accident where there are no injuries and the cars are driveable, the drivers should exchange information at a safe place and file accident reports with the state police at a later date.

Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department has deployed its entire fleet of 284 plows. Drivers will plow the main roads, such as Lake Shore Drive, through the evening rush hour. As the snow begins to taper off, the plows will clear residential roads, said department spokeswoman Anne Sheahan.

Extra plows are being deployed to the 2nd congressional district to help residents get to their polling places for today's primary election, Sheahan said.

Road conditions were treacherous throughout the southwest suburbs, especially along Interstates 55 and 80 in Will County, police and fire officials said.

Several vehicles have slipped into ditches along I-55 near Plainfield, especially near U.S. Route 30, said Jon Stratton, a deputy chief with the Plainfield Fire Protection District.  "On I-55, there are vehicles everywhere in the ditch," Stratton said. "Visibility is going down and roads are getting all snow covered, so it's going to be an interesting day."

The most serious accident in the area so far today occurred when an SUV slid under a semi's trailer on the Route 30 overpass over I-55, Stratton said.

Firefighters extricated the woman who was driving the SUV, and she was taken by ambulance to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Stratton said. The woman was conscious and stable when removed from the SUV, he said.

Plainfield police have responded to several reports of crashes and vehicles that have slid into ditches, Sgt. Mike Fisher said. "It is getting slick out there, so people should give themselves extra time, slow down and drive safe," Fisher said.

Schools in the southwest suburbs have also begun changing their schedules because of the storm.

High school students in Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 will be dismissed 20 minutes early today, at 1:50 p.m., to give bus drivers more time to complete their routes, according to a news release from the district.

Middle school students will be dismissed as soon as buses arrive at those schools after completing their high school routes. Elementary school students will be dismissed as close to their usual time as possible, according to the district.

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