Huffpost Chicago

Chicago Blizzard: Massive Winter Storm Hits Chicago

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The 20.2 inches of snow that fell by midday in Chicago made the storm the city's third-largest on record, with still more coming down.

The storm was, if not unprecedented, extraordinarily rare, National Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.

"A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we'd see once every 50 years - maybe," Spriggs said.

Chicago closed its public schools for the first time in 12 years and shut down Lake Shore Drive, where hundreds of motorists were stranded for 12 hours after multiple car accidents on the iconic roadway.

On Wednesday morning, Lake Shore Drive looked like rush hour had been stopped in time. Three lanes of cars cluttered the road with snow reaching as high as the windshields. Some cars were almost completely buried. Others filled with snow that engulfed dashboards and steering wheels after doors were left ajar.

Bulldozers worked to clear the snow from around the cars before tow trucks plucked them out of snow drifts one by one. The operation likely would take hours: At least 1,500 cars awaited rescue.

Lindsey Wilson, 26, said that after sitting for hours on a stranded city bus, she joined other passengers who tried to walk off the road. She made it about 100 feet before she couldn't see anything around her, including the bus she'd just left.

Fearing she would be swallowed by mounting snowdrifts, Wilson turned back and spent the night on the bus.

"I thought if I fall over, what would happen if I got buried under a pile of snow?" she said.

Raymond Orozco, chief of staff to Mayor Richard Daley, said motorist rescue efforts had been "severely hampered" by snow drifts, high winds and white-out conditions.

Not only was driving dicey, but flying in and out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport - a major U.S. hub - won't be possible until Thursday. The decision by O'Hare-based airlines to cancel all their flights for a day and a half was certain to have ripple effects.

"Effectively shutting down America's most important aviation hub hits the system immeasurably hard," said transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman.

The city's smaller airport, Midway, also abandoned hopes of resuming flights until Thursday. Boston's Logan Airport closed briefly Wednesday as well.

More than 5,500 flights in or out of the U.S. were canceled as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Most were scratched well in advance of the fast moving storm

Before the blizzard, the National Weather Service called the storm "dangerous, multifaceted and potentially life threatening" on its website, predicting white-out conditions and extremely hazardous roads.

Follow our live blog for more storm coverage throughout the day.

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"In 31 years with the city, I haven't experienced anything like we did at Lake Shore Drive."

Read more here.

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@ WBBMNewsradio : BREAKING: Chicago Public Schools will be CLOSED on Thursday. #Chicago

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@ nbcchicago : Take a breath, #Chicago. The #blizzard watch has officially been canceled.

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Check out our rapidly growing slideshow. These Lake Shore Drive pictures are the coolest:

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Chicagoan Scott Dowling took this really cool video from the North Avenue Bridge over Lake Shore Drive at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore got REALLY EXCITED about thundersnow in Chicago last night.

Check it out:

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The Tribune has a sweet photo of the abandoned vehicles in Lake Shore Drive. Zombie apocalypse?

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As Chicago -- and much of America -- faces down one of the most epic snowstorms in recent memory, one rodent apparently doesn't think winter's going to be all that bad.

Punxsutawney Phil, that meteorologically-inclined groundhog, told his handlers today that he expected an early spring this year.

He only makes that pick around 14 percent of the time, according to a Christian Science Monitor story; the rest of the time, he goes with another six weeks of cold.

We can't help but ask: was this really the day to pick against Mother Nature?

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The dozens of motorists who were stranded on Lake Shore Drive overnight have been rescued--and city officials are now saying they shouldn't have been using the Drive in the first place.

"As reported in (Tuesday’s) press conference we knew that the lakefront and Lake Shore Drive would be hit especially hard," Ray Orozco, Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff, told reporters Wednesday. "Nonetheless, it was clear that people leaving the Loop were relying on it as a major artery to get home that night."

The city didn't close the drive until the storm was raging, and some say that was a mistake.

"I feel like someone missed on the boat on not closing down Lake Shore Drive before it became a disaster," stranded motorist Craig Close, told the Tribune.

Should people have known better--or should the city have acted faster? Vote here:

Read more about the "bad LSD trip" here.

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NBC Chicago News is reporting that a 60-year-old man fell into Lake Michigan and was killed last night. Rescue crews received a report of someone in the water, but were not able to enter due to the high winds, waves and zero visibility. The man's body was recovered this morning.

In Grayslake, a motorist was found dead in their vehicle. The motorist was apparently stranded and died from carbon monoxide intoxication.

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@ GooseClybourn : This #blizzard has forced us to close today. We will reopen at 11am tomorrow. Enjoy your snow day, Chicago! What beer r u drinking today?

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With nearly 20 inches of snow on the ground, Blizzaster 2011 is now the 3rd biggest on record in Chicago. It's STILL COMING DOWN, so we could be No. 2 by the end of this.

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Check out what reader Jessica Uzarraga's is up against..

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More great reader photos are coming in. Check 'em out here.

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The body of a man who fell into Lake Michigan during Tuesday night's blizzard was recovered late last night, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The man possibly became disoriented and fell into the frigid lake, and police told the paper another person might also be in the water.

The man was in his 40s, and has not been identified.

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Will this blizzard be the fourth biggest snowstorm in Chicago history? It could happen. The Tribune rounded up where we stand at this point:

1. 23.0 inches on Jan. 26-27, 1967

2. 21.6 inches on Jan .1-3, 1999

3. 19.2 inches on March 25-26, 1930

4. 18.8 inches Jan 13-14, 1979

5. 17.3 inches Feb. 1-2, 2011 (and counting)

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@ PWSullivan : Despite the Blizzard, the local bars seem to be doing well. That's the Chicago way.

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We are loving the photos our readers are sending over! Check out our slideshow here. Send your photos to chicago@huffingtonpost.com.

Sneak peek from jennifer660:

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We wish Mr. Squirrel luck!

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@ dansinker : I'm kind of amazed that the roof is staying on my crappy little house right now.

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@ robertsietsema : Chicago has stolen our thundersnow!!

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The Chicago Tribune is reporting that...Lake Shore Drive is closed and that high winds have blown a structual panel off of Wrigley Field!

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Airlines say they're halting all flights in and out of Chicago's two major airports as a blizzard bears down on the city. Some don't expect to resume operations until Thursday.

O'Hare and Midway international airports are vital hubs and the cancelations are sure to have ripple effects nationwide.

Spokeswomen for American and United Airlines say their last few flights at O'Hare will take place by early Tuesday evening. The airlines say there'll be no flights Wednesday, and operations are expected to resume Thursday.

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Check out some sweet storm photos here. More to come!

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Will it get this bad? We hope not.

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Reader Andrew McNamara sends us this report (and photo) from the Loop just after 5 p.m.:

Taken at the "L" station at Washington and Wells. A white out covers Millennium Park at the end of the street. Cars are at a stand still.

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If you plan on flying in or out of Chicago in the next two days, you may have to rethink those plans.

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@ emmyrossum : Chicago streets = insane blizzard. #Shameless has shut down production for today. Actors & crew will have have a snOMG-theme party.

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Reader Joshua Polasky sent us this photo of the intersection of N. Kedzie Blvd. and Fullerton in Logan Square.

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Have photos to share? Send them to chicago@huffingtonpost.com!

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Kids, rejoice: Chicago Public Schools has officially closed school tomorrow.

Mayor Daley and Terry Mazany, interim CEO of CPS, announced on WGN-TV that schools will be closed Wednesday, Feb. 2. Based on the anticipation of the snow storm, CPS does not want to compromise student’s safety, said Mazany. CPS administrators are still asked to report to school, but not teachers.

According to the Chicago Tribune, it's the first time schools have been closed for weather since the blizzard of January 1999.

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..Well, almost everything.

The Chicago Sun-Times has a comprehensive list of school, court and museum closures in the city. So far, Chicago Public Schools have NOT canceled classes for Wednesday. We'll keep you posted on that.

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