Whiteout conditions from winter storm cause crashes, road closures

The worst of a winter storm hit the Chicago area in time for the evening commute Thursday, causing near whiteout conditions on expressways, sending 10- to 14-foot waves crashing along the lakefront and grounding more than 500 flights.

A band of "particularly intense snow" swept into the area around 4:30 p.m., falling at an inch or two an hour and whipped by wind gusts as high as 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Visibility was reduced to nearly zero on many expressways, causing spinouts and accidents, including a crash on northbound Interstate 57 that stopped traffic at 127th Street in Calumet Park, according to the state police.

Conditions were worse downstate, where the heaviest band of snow hit. A pileup was reported on Interstate 55 between Bloomington-Normal and Dwight around 3:30 p.m.

Other accidents shut down the westbound lanes of Interstate 72 near New Berlin, the eastbound lanes of Interstate 74 at Mansfield and the southbound lanes of Interstate 39 near Kappa.

Illinois State Police issued a traffic alert warning of treacherous travel throughout central and northern Illinois into the night.

"Please slow down and stay off your phones," the alert advised.

The snow was not expected to let up until around 8 or 9 p.m., with as much as 8 inches downstate and 5 inches in the Chicago area.

A gale warning was issued for the lakefront until 10 p.m. ,with some waves as high as 18 feet, the weather service said. It warned of freezing spray and flooding along paths and roads.

A flash flood warning was issued for the area around Wilmington from the Kankakee River.

More than 380 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport and more than 140 at Midway Airport.

The storm swept from eastern Kansas into central Missouri early Thursday, then moved into central Illinois and northern Indiana by the afternoon, according to the weather service.

The snow was the heaviest south of Interstate 80, with "very dangerous conditions unfolding for areas south of the Kankakee River into east-central Illinois," the weather service said.

In Indiana, southbound lanes of Interstate 65 were closed in Newton County because of a traffic crash blamed on the weather. "Road conditions are quickly deteriorating," the Indiana Department of Transportation tweeted.



While the snow will end in the evening hours Thursday, "blowing and drifting snow issues may linger into the overnight hours while winds diminish," the weather service said.

Friday was expected to be sunny with a high near 32. There could be a quick snow shower late at night.

The weekend looks dry with mid to upper 20s on Saturday and mid 40s on Sunday.

Too early to worry about the next one? Nope. Monday night and Tuesday presents the next chance for a combo system not altogether different from this one.

The Illinois Tollway also deployed its full fleet of 196 snowplows in response to freezing rain, sleet and snow expected. 

"Our crews will be working throughout this storm to keep the roads clear and our customers safe, but we are asking drivers to help us by giving plows and emergency vehicles the extra room they need to safely do their work," said Illinois Tollway Executive Director José Alvarez. "We are reminding drivers to please slow down and allow extra time to complete their trips, and to be alert for areas where blowing snow could reduce visibility."

Drivers whose vehicles become disabled should activate their hazard lights and dial *999 from a cellphone for assistance from Illinois State Police District 15. 

Drivers should note the roadway they are using, as well as the direction of travel and nearest milepost or crossroad. For crashes involving property damage only, drivers should report the incident to 630-241-6800 ext. 5042 and continue driving.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.