With snow falling, and temperatures expected to drop drastically in the next couple of hours, Chicagoans are making last-minute preparations for the holiday weekend as cancellations are beginning to pile up across the city, from flights to holiday attractions.
Temperatures are expected to drop of 15 to 20 degrees in two hours beginning around 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday, reaching zero degrees and maybe even the negative single digits, according to meteorologist Scott Baker with the National Weather Service of Chicago. Snow was expected to start falling around 11 a.m., and increase as the day goes on, according to forecasters.
“Dangerously cold” wind chills will reach 30 to 40 degrees below zero across the entire Chicago area by Thursday night into Friday morning, Baker said. Winds of up to 45 and 50 mph will blow the fine, fluffy snow, thus reducing visibility considerably, creating near-whiteout conditions at times, according to meteorologist Kevin Doom.
In preparation for severe weather expected to pass through the area, as of 2 p.m., 536 flights scheduled for Thursday had been canceled at O’Hare International Airport, and 249 had been canceled at Midway, according to the website FlightAware.
Airlines had also already canceled dozens of flights scheduled for Friday out of the two Chicago airports. The forecasted weather prompted Amtrak to make changes to its schedules including Christmas Day travel. For a complete list of changes, please visit Amtrak.com.
Thursday’s Metra service appeared steady as of this morning, but a few modifications were posted for Friday’s service. Metra asked commuters to monitor weather conditions before making plans.
As of 10 a.m., no major disruptions were reported for the Chicago Transit Authority.
In the meantime, in preparation for the storm, Chicagoans rushed to liquor stores, dispensaries, home improvement shops and grocery stores to stock up on necessities and more.
“We’ve seen incredibly strong demand from the second the news broke about the weather,” said Jason Erkes, a spokesperson for Sunnyside, which has 10 cannabis dispensaries across Illinois. “A lot of people see cannabis as a staple — bread, milk, water in case your pipes freeze and a good vape and some edibles.”
Sunnyside dispensaries are seeing extended wait times of over an hour and lines rivaled only by those seen during big events like Lollapalooza, Erkes said. When recreational sales started in Illinois in 2020, wait times did exceed those seen now as lines snaked around blocks.
The dispensaries are advising customers to place orders online as they seek to optimize operations. “We’re doing our best to get people through the line as quickly as possible,” Erkes said. “And at best, give them as much space to wait inside the store as we can.”
“I can’t think of a better product to have around the house when you’re locked down with relatives over the holiday because of the weather,” Erkes added.
Liquor stores have seen an increase in business in addition to the normal seasonal increase in store purchases for gifts and celebrations, said Binny’s Beverage Depot director of communications Greg Versch. “We’re seeing increases over that … as people are stocking up,” he said.
“We have seen a jump in business,” Versch added. “It parallels what you see in grocery stores, only instead of toilet paper and milk, it is bourbon and Chardonnay.” Binny’s will close on Christmas Day but will remain open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Versch said.
In Belmont Cragin, the grocery stores were packed with shoppers.
As the snowfall began, right after noon, the parking lot of Tony’s on Central Park began to fill. The parking lot was saturated and no shopping carts were left as people scrambled to buy what they could before the storm hit its peak and children got out of school.
Maria Martinez said she wanted to make sure she had at least some bread and milk in case it becomes dangerous for her and her husband to go outside the following days.
But prices are high and she can only buy so much, she said.
“Everything is very expensive,” Martínez said. “Everything is so expensive.”
Another woman loaded her laundry cart with toilet paper and other basic necessities and pushed it through snow on the the sidewalk. An older gentleman rushed to the bus shelter carrying several grocery bags.
At Morelia Supermarket Inc., there was a line to park the car. Across the street, at Cermak Fresh Market, the lot was also busy.
Carlos García went to get ingredients for Christmas dinner before his son got out of school.
He said he waited around to find parking the Morelia supermarket for a few minutes but opted to go across the street.
“I don’t think it’s as bad today because people tend to leave everything for the last minute,” he said. ” I’m sure lines will be much worse tomorrow.”
Gracia said he had to rush home to make sure his wife didn’t walk to pick up their son from school. The residential streets remained covered in snow through the neighborhood.
“We’re used to this in Chicago,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the streets of downtown Chicago appeared business as usual, as people bundled in their hats and parkas and strolled on the streets, holding grocery bags or taking their dogs for walks before the temperature drop. Some decided to take a jog.
West Loop resident John Stolken isn’t too worried about the weather. As a local, he says he’s seen winter storms before and thinks it will look similar this time around.
He grabbed breakfast this morning and browsed Nordstrom, with plans to stay in for the day. With most of his family living in the suburbs, the weather didn’t affect his holiday plans too much except for a dinner planned for tonight that was cancelled.
”Hopefully it’s not going to be as bad as they say it is,” he said.
Lori Atkinson said she and her family of five drove out two hours from Northern Indiana, hitting little traffic on their way to the city. They brought out their kids for some sightseeing before staying indoors for the rest of the day.
They came to Chicago to see the Lion King tomorrow evening and don’t expect to change that plan. In the meantime, they’re going to let the kids have some fun around Magnificent Mile and the Harry Potter exhibit at Water Tower Place.
”We were just saying, it’s really pretty out,” she said.
Several Chicago area school districts announced closures Thursday in preparation for extreme winter weather. While classes were in session for Chicago Public School students, all after-school, after-care, and out-of-school-time programming have been canceled for Thursday.
”The District understands that the weather conditions may make it difficult for some families to get their children safely to and from school. Many of our students count on their schools for more than education. They rely on the District for meals, warmth, and adult supervision while parents and guardians are at work, and we’re glad that we will be able to provide that for our children today as this first storm of the season reaches Chicago,” CPS said in a statement.
The school district ensured parents that walkways and parking lots would be cleared as quickly as possible for student safety.
Friday, Dec. 23, was already a scheduled non-attendance day for CPS students.
As the snow began falling in the Fox Valley Thursday, Aurora city officials urged residents to be careful as the winter storm unfolds with snow, high winds and below-zero temperatures.
“Be ready,” Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said during a news conference about the weather Thursday morning. “Be prepared. Be extra cautious. Be of assistance. Be safe. While we’ve faced storms that have brought more snow than is expected today, we will face a severely dangerous environment when the snow is coupled with the high winds and frigid below-zero temperatures.”
The City of Evanston is opening its parking garages for free to residents from Thursday, Dec. 22 through Monday, Dec. 26.
Garages will open at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday and vehicles can remain parked until Monday, Dec. 26. Vehicles cannot be left in the garage beyond that without payment. Surface lot parking is also available on over a dozen lots in the city and can be purchased on the city’s website.
Some of Chicago’s popular holiday traditions will be closing early due to the expected blizzard-like conditions and extreme cold:
- Adler Planetarium: Closed Friday through Sunday.
- American Blues Theater: Ended its run of “It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” Shows for today and Friday are canceled.
- Art Institute Chicago: Closes today at 5 p.m.
- Chicago Botanic Garden: Closed Friday through Sunday. Lightscape is canceled today and Friday. Ticket holders will be contacted by email with more information.
- Chicago Transit Authority’s Holiday Bus: Last two runs on #29 State and #J14 Jeffrey Jump — scheduled for today and Friday — are canceled.
- Christkindlmarket: The Daley Plaza and Aurora locations close at 4 p.m. today and will not reopen again this season. The Wrigleyville location is closed today through Sunday, but reopens at 11 a.m., Dec. 26.
- Courthouses: Most Cook County courthouse activities will cease on Friday, with the exception of adult bail hearings at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse and juvenile detention hearings. The circuit court clerk’s office will also be closed. The Lake County courthouse in Waukegan closed at noon Thursday and was to remain inactive Friday other than remote bond court at 9 a.m.
- Morton Arboretum: Illumination canceled tonight.
- Field Museum: Closes at 2 p.m. today and remains closed Friday. Shortened hours Saturday. Closed Sunday.
- Lincoln Park Zoo: Closed Friday and ZooLights canceled until Saturday.
- Winterland at Gallagher Way: Closed today through Sunday. Reopens Dec. 26.