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Blizzard brings county to standstill

Local police say area drivers were careful during their evening commutes

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CRYSTAL LAKE – A blizzard carrying more than a foot of snow brought much of McHenry County to a standstill Tuesday night.

And the snow, whipped by strong winds, is expected to continue through much of the morning. A blizzard warning remains in effect until 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Travel was snarled, but no serious accidents or injuries were reported Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service didn't have snowfall totals for McHenry County late Tuesday. Early reports said 7.6 inches covered the ground in Wonder Lake by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Three inches had fallen in Cary by late Tuesday afternoon.

Winds of 25 to 45 mph with even stronger gusts made it difficult to get accurate measurements, National Weather Service Meteorologist Samuel Shea said.

"There are a lot of things at play right now," he said. "McHenry County will easily see a foot to a foot and a half of snow overnight, but some areas could see a lot more and some could see less."

The white-out conditions made driving difficult on roads starting early Tuesday afternoon. During the slow rush hour commute, dozens of cars were stuck on the side of the road. Visibility ranged from a half-mile in some places to zero in others, Shea said.

Snow fell at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour during the most intense periods Tuesday evening.

A winter weather colossus roared into the nation's heartland, laying down a paralyzing punch of dangerous ice and whiteout snow that served notice from Texas to Maine that the storm billed as the worst in decades was living up to the hype so far.

The potentially historic blizzard slammed Illinois, shuttering Chicago's public schools for the first time in 12 years as residents braced for up to 2 feet of overnight snowfall and treacherous winds approaching 60 mph. Officials in Chicago said the system was threatening swells of up to 25 feet on Lake Michigan.

State and local officials repeatedly warned people not to travel unless necessary. At 8 p.m. Tuesday, the McHenry County Sheriff's Office made another plea as road conditions continued to deteriorate and become impassable in places. Sheriff's deputies responded to many stranded drivers throughout the night.

The winter storm caused about 78,000 ComEd customers to lose power as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Alicia Zatkowski, spokeswoman for ComEd.

That included about 46,000 in Chicago.

"We have 100 crews out right now, but the dangerous conditions are hampering our repair efforts," she said.

In Wauconda, wind gusts ripped down an electric wire between a BP gas station and a bank on Route 176 downtown. Firefighters responded to the downed wire shortly after rush hour. ComEd repaired the line soon after, Wauconda Fire Protection District Lt. Bill Hoover said.

Powerful wind gusts also brought a tree down on a powerline in Barrington. The area of Route 68 and Old Sutton Road were without power Tuesday evening, according to Barrington Hills Police.

The Morningside Lane subdivision in Carpentersville was also without power on Tuesday evening, a spokesman for the Carpentersville Police Department said.

"A transformer blew, there was some sparking and power was out to the area," the spokesman said.

Police in Carpentersville, Pingree Grove, East and West Dundee had responded to several reports of cars stuck in snow drifts on roads, an emergency dispatcher for those communities said.

Police closed South Barrington Road from Algonquin Road to Route 72 from about 8 p.m. until after 9 p.m. Tuesday while they aided seven vehicles stuck in snow drifts on the road. No injuries were reported.

A 3-mile stretch of Route 60 between Route 176 in Mundelein and Peterson Road in Grayslake was closed at 9:30 p.m. because of drifting snow and had been for a few hours, said Brendhan Sears of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Snow piled up on rural roads as some townships didn't plow during the overnight hours.

Blowing and drifting snow created problems elsewhere. At times, plows weren't able to keep up.   

"It's a bad situation," Shea said.

Commuters on Metra's Northwest Line were delayed on the way home from Chicago on Tuesday evening, with some trains arriving more than an hour late.

More than 1,000 flights at O'Hare International and Midway airports were canceled. As were about 6,000 flights across the nation. Stretching more than 2,000 miles across a third of the country, the storm system promised to snarl travel and commerce.

Schools, government offices and businesses closed early Tuesday. Most said they wouldn't be open today. Nearly all local school districts planned to be closed today as well.

McHenry County's facilities will be closed today, as will many other towns throughout the region. Cary is one exception.

"We're going to be open for business," Village Administrator Cameron Davis said late Tuesday.

Neighboring towns such as Fox River Grove and McHenry shuttered offices today.

Trash collection will be delayed for most McHenry County residents in the wake of the blizzard. MDC Environmental Services, which serves most of McHenry County, said collections be delayed by one day for the rest of the week.

As snow piled up, the McHenry County Fire Chiefs Association requested that residents help keep fire hydrants clear in front of homes and businesses.

Officials from several towns asked residents not to park on streets overnight. These cars could impede plows, traffic, and emergency vehicles.

"We're asking for everyone's cooperation on this," Crystal Lake Police Department Deputy Chief Gene Lowery said. "And we're asking people to please stay home."

Major industrial operations, small businesses, and area pubs bowed to the weather. TC Industries closed at 4 p.m. Tuesday with plans to reopen at 4 p.m. today. Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria and Pub in Crystal Lake and Algonquin sent employees home Tuesday, as well.

Around The Clock Restaurant and Bakery, 5011 Route 14 in Crystal Lake, closed early Tuesday on account of the weather for the second time in the restaurant's 35-year history. The first was during a storm in 1996. Steve Theofanous, who owns the restaurant with his brother Fano Theofanous, said closing for the duration of the storm made sense with so few customers.

"We decided it was best for the business and best for our staff," Steve Theofanous said.

He added that he plans to stay at home today: "I'm not going out."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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