Snowfall totals in Chicago miss breaking almost 60-year-old record by narrow margin

Metra Rail fights frigid winter weather with flames at busiest rail interlock in Chicago

Metra Rail fights winter weather by using gas-fed switch heaters at the A2 interlock, which is the busiest rail interchange in Chicago.
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Metra Rail fights winter weather by using gas-fed switch heaters at the A2 interlock, which is the busiest rail interchange in Chicago.

The last time it snowed this much in Chicago so late in the season, John F. Kennedy was president.

O’Hare International Airport’s official snow measurement for Sunday came in at 5.3 inches, which made it the second snowiest day on record so late in the season.

The snowiest day on record so late in the season was set on April 16, 1961, at 5.4 inches. That means the total snowfall Sunday missed breaking the record by 1/10th of an inch.

Meteorologist Casey Sullivan, with the National Weather Service, said forecasters expected the snow to melt on contact with the ground but so much snow fell in such a short period of time, that didn’t happen.

“It was always expected to be a strong storm but the uncertainty was how much would accumulate on the warm ground and the warm pavement,” Sullivan said. “In general, I don’t think we were expecting 2-3 inch (per hour) snowfall rates.”

Monday morning, the conditions still were causing travel troubles.

The Chicago Transit Authority reported a disruption in service on the Blue Line between O’Hare and Cumberland because a car slipped onto the tracks near Rosemont about 5:45 a.m. The vehicle has since been removed, but trains were only operating between Harlem and Forest Park as of 7 a.m. The CTA said busses would be available to provide connecting service between Harlem and O’Hare.

A traffic crash involving 11 vehicles led to a shutdown of I-290 west at the Jane Byrne interchange, WGN reported, attributing the crash to slick road conditions. Illinois State Police Sgt. Jacqueline Cepeda said no injuries were reported in the crash and it remains under investigation.

While more than 1,000 flights were cancelled at O’Hare on Sunday, the Chicago Department of Aviation was reporting far fewer delayed and cancelled flights Monday morning.

As of 7:45 a.m., 68 departing flights had been cancelled at O’Hare and 77 departing flights had been delayed. At Midway Airport, 2 departures were cancelled and 25 departures were delayed, according to the department’s website.

Although Chicago almost broke a record, it was in northern counties where the snowfall surprised forecasters and residents alike.

In McHenry County, which borders Wisconsin, a heavy band of snow dumped between 6 and 8 inches on portions of the county, with Huntley measuring 7.5 inches of snow. But Fox Lake, which is also in McHenry County, only saw 5.3 inches.

In DeKalb County, the city of DeKalb also had 7.5 inches of snow. Sycamore had 8 inches of snow.

St. Charles may have tallied the most snow, with 8.3 inches measured there. To the west, North Aurora had 4.4 inches of snow.

“It is rare to have this big of a snowstorm this late in the season,” Sullivan said. “The conditions you need are what we had yesterday: A very strong storm system moving though that is able to produce heavy enough precipitation that the snow on the ground doesn’t get a chance to melt because snow is falling right on top of it.”

Sullivan said as the storm gained momentum in the early afternoon, it began dumping about 2 to 3 inches per hour on the region.

“It was just a lot of variables that you need to come together, that actually came together,” Sullivan said.

As reports of thundersnow came in Sunday afternoon, mainly across the city’s southern half and southern suburbs, people took to social media to discuss the phenomenon.

“Basically it’s a thunder storm but instead of rain falling it’s snow falling,” Sullivan said. “In general, it’s rare, but it’s not unheard of.”

Sullivan said there is a chance of rain Monday night, about 30 percent. With both a high and low temperature in the low 40s, he said, that system would produce all rain if there is any precipitation. The rain is likely to fall north of Interstate 80, Sullivan said.

On Tuesday, the temperature could get back into the 60s, he said, noting it will be cooler by the lake.