Snow brings traffic tie-ups, fender benders and — finally — sledding to Southland
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY AND JAIME ANGIO firstname.lastname@example.org January 12, 2012 10:36AM
Pedestrians shield themselves from the blowing snow with umbrellas while walking along Central Avenue in Oak Forest, Illinois, Thursday, January, 12, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: February 14, 2012 10:13AM
There was no ditching the danger of driving Thursday during the Chicago area’s first snowstorm of the season.
The 2 to 3 inches that had fallen across the Southland by late afternoon was expected to double throughout the evening, and that prompted several school districts to cancel after-school activities.
Hundreds of flights were canceled, too, and the snowfall was expected to continue into Friday.
But some were glad it finally snowed and were making the most of it, including the kids trying out the new sledding runs well into the evening at lighted Memorial Park in Blue Island.
“It’s fun because I go down on my sled,” 5-year-old Xavi Vieyra said. “It was awesome.”
Not so for motorists.
Based on reports, driving conditions on Interstate 80 and other highways were particularly bad. Illinois State Police said they were “swamped” with calls about spinouts and accidents, such as the tipped-over truck that had I-80 west of Mokena backed up for miles.
Police throughout the Southland reported only minor problems on local roads, but some drivers had their difficulties there, too, and that was before the evening rush, when motorists reported that travel times were double the usual.
Like the police, Anthony Ortega, of New Lenox, believed the highways were the most dangerous of the roadways. But he still viewed the snowfall for a while from a ditch near Nelson Road and Illinois Highway in New Lenox.
Returning home after registering for classes at Wright College in Chicago, the 19-year-old saw numerous cars spun out on the highway. But he survived the challenge and then traversed the seemingly better-plowed main local roads until the last leg of his trip home, when a right turn went the wrong way for him.
“Driving home was real bad and was I doing real good, and this right turn killed me,” he said, standing near his stranded Nissan about 2 p.m. Thursday. “My wheels didn’t go fully right, so I just slid down into the field. Then I tried to drive up to the curb and tried to get back on the street, but it just made a worse situation.”
By then, he had been waiting two hours for a tow truck and he was counting on shelling out $200. Fortunately, a friend showed up with a sport utility vehicle and a tow chain.
“This really (stinks),” Ortega said. “It’s really dangerous out here. They need more safety precautions for people, more ‘slow down’ signs for people. After today, I’m not looking forward to any more snow.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation warned that conditions would get worse overnight. I-80 already was covered with snow and ice, and so were I-57 and I-55 south of I-80, IDOT said.
“With falling temperatures, there will be slicker road conditions,” IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. “There are slippery spots throughout the system. People need to be aware of the conditions and need to be especially cautious. Slow down, increase following distance and allow more time.”
He said IDOT’s full complement of salt trucks and plows would be out throughout the night and into Friday.
On local roads, fewer problems had been reported as of late Thursday afternoon.
Cook County sheriff’s police spokesman Frank Bilecki said there was a spike in accidents but they were nothing more than fender benders. Police and dispatchers in Oak Lawn, Oak Forest, Orland Park and New Lenox also said there was not an unusual number of weather-related accidents, and Mokena police Cmdr. Dan Rankovich said there had been one minor fender bender as of 3:30 p.m.
Still, they urged motorists to use caution.
“If everyone takes their time and drives sensibly, there won’t be any problems,” Rankovich said.
As of 3:45 p.m., there had been 2.5 inches of snow recorded in Chicago Ridge, Matteson and Oak Forest. National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Bardou said 3 to 5 more inches were expected before Friday morning, with “lake enhancement” dumping up to 8 inches within a few miles of Lake Michigan. He expected the winds to diminish by daybreak and for the snow to turn from wet to powdery.
The kids at Memorial Park in Blue Island didn’t care about the texture of the snow, only that it was there. The Blue Island Park District recently installed a sled launch, and about 30 kids were making use of it Thursday evening, buying into the better-late-than-never philosophy about the first snow.
“It’s never been like this in a long time. We had no white Christmas,” said Joseph Tucker, 10, of Blue Island. “Sledding is great.”
Contributing: Steve Metsch and Casey Toner