A winter storm has set its sights on the Chicago area, leading to thousands of flight cancellations, school closures and an early end to a number of festivities before the Christmas holidays.
Experts say strong wind gusts of up to 55mph, wind chills as low as -35 degrees and potentially measurable snow will create dangerous conditions.
Here’s a rundown of the latest storm news and what’s happening in the area. Live updates below:
Closure of McHenry County Government Offices
McHenry County government offices will close at noon Thursday, a news release said, continuing “life-threatening winter storm conditions.” Offices will also remain closed on Friday, officials said.
A winter storm warning for McHenry County as well as other western Chicago-area counties went into effect at 9 a.m. Thursday.
The warning will go into effect for other parts of the Chicago area at noon.
Secretary of State offices and driver’s license facilities to close early
Due to travel advisories and hazardous road conditions issued by both the National Weather Service and Illinois State Police, “all Secretary of State offices and Driver Services facilities will be closed. at 1 p.m. on Thursday, December 22,” according to a state statement. .
The offices and facilities of the Secretary of State will reopen after the holiday weekend on Tuesday, December 27.
Shedd Aquarium closes early
The Shedd Aquarium announced it would close at 2 p.m. Thursday due to “bad weather”.
“All guests affected by this early closure will receive an email with options to reserve their tickets for another day,” a press release from the aquarium said.
Winter storm warning begins for some counties
Several Chicago-area counties are now under winter storm warnings, which began at 9 a.m. These counties include: McHenry, DeKalb, Kane, LaSalle, Kendall and Grundy.
The warning will go into effect in Lake, DuPage, Kankakee, Cook and Will counties in Illinois at noon and in Lake, Newton and Jasper counties in northwest Indiana starting at 3 p.m. CT .
It will remain in effect across the region until 6 a.m. Saturday.
Porter County, Indiana will see a blizzard warning beginning at 3:00 p.m. Thursday and continuing until 6:00 a.m. Saturday.
Chicago area schools announce closures
A number of Chicago-area schools announced closures Thursday due to the impending winter storm.
Morton Grove School District 69 in Skokie said its schools will be closed on Thursday “due to the winter storm warning currently issued for the Chicagoland area which predicts hazardous travel conditions for Thursday afternoon during our closing hours of the school”
Fairview School District 72 said due to hazardous travel conditions expected Thursday afternoon, its schools will also be closed.
Dozens of other area schools have announced closures or shifts to online learning. For a complete list, click here.
More than 740 Chicago flights canceled ahead of winter storm
According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, about 2.9 million travelers are expected to pass through O’Hare and Midway International Airports between Dec. 21 and Jan. 2.
“We have 500 staff members ready to work 24/7, and 350 snow removal equipment,” said Karen Pride, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. “A lot of salt and a lot of de-icer for the pavements. The airlines are ready to de-ice their planes.”
Although airport preparations are underway, FlyChicago.com at 10:30 a.m. Thursday reports that more than 740 flights to and from O’Hare and Midway International Airports have already been canceled due to weather impacts in the Midwest and across the country.
See the latest updates here.
Christkindlemarkt, Lincoln Park Zoo, Planetarium
The winter storm triggered a wave of business closures, including major holiday attractions like Christkindlmarket and Gallagher Way’s Winterland.
The Adler Planetarium announced that the closures will be in effect due to “anticipated snowy and blizzard-like weather conditions, as well as dangerously cold temperatures”. To keep staff and potential visitors at home, the planetarium announced it would be closed on Friday and Saturday.
Weather conditions have also prompted the Christkindlmarket to change its opening hours for its three locations, two of which are expected to cap their seasonal run this week. The Chicago and Aurora markets will close early at 4 p.m. Thursday. This will be the last day visitors can stop at the sites in 2022. The Wrigleyville front will not operate at all on Thursday.
Lincoln Park Zoo and its popular holiday light show, ZooLights, will not operate on Friday.
The latest news on the timing of the next winter storm
The latest forecast models show that snow and blowing snow can lead to “whiteout conditions” which sometimes result in zero visibility, making travel “extremely difficult”. As dangerous temperatures drop from 30 degrees to 16 degrees and wind chills as low as 25 to 35 degrees below zero move in Thursday afternoon, the roads are expected to quickly become frozen.
Frostbite conditions are expected and power outages are also possible, thanks to wind gusts of up to 80 km/h.
And while the latest forecast for total snowfall remains between three and six inches, with most occurring Thursday afternoon and evening, the combination of “gusty winds and plummeting temperatures will make travel conditions treacherous from of Thursday afternoon,” the NWS said. .