McHenry County avoids worst of first winter storm

Morning commuters urged to watch out for wind and ice

The first snowfall of winter packed far less of a punch in McHenry County than forecasters predicted, but high winds combined with cold temperatures will slow the morning commute.

The major roadways throughout the county are clear this morning as crews worked overnight salting and retreating, said Mark DeVries, maintenance superintendent for the McHenry County Division of Transportation. Problems still exist in the more rural areas of the county, where whipping winds continue to blow snow across the roads.

“Overall, the roads are in good shape,” DeVries said. “There shouldn’t be any problems on the highly-traveled roads, but we are working to get everything scraped and cleared. This could have been a lot worse.”  

The county expected to see between 4 and 6 inches of snow Thursday evening into Friday morning, but with temperatures hovering around freezing, there was no large accumulation on the ground, said Kevin Brink, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The intense storm working its way to the east also diminished more than expected as it entered Illinois.

Early snowfall totals included less than an inch in Woodstock and more than an inch in Rockford, according to the weather service. Midway Airport and O’Hare International Airport received .2 and .3 inches of snow, respectively.

Neither of the airports reported significant delays early Friday morning.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office had no reports of major accidents due to the storm. However, there are several reports of vehicles in ditches and accidents on Route 20 from Marengo to Hampshire due to icy conditions.

Around 700 north region customers remain without power this morning, according to ComEd. In total, close to 11,000 households are still without power throughout the region.

That includes 8,600 in the western region, 1,200 in the south region and 300 in the Chicago region.

Overall, the utility company has restored power to more than 90,000 customers since the storm began.

Residents can expect wind gusts of between 35 and 45 mph throughout the day, according to the weather service. The day is expected to be partly cloudy with a high of 24 degrees.

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The snowstorm that hit places such as Colorado and Iowa dropped up to four inches on McHenry County on Thursday, ending a historic streak of snowless days.

Rain turned to snow and conditions deteriorated Thursday afternoon and evening, but today’s morning commute should be good, said Mark DeVries, maintenance superintendent for the McHenry County Division of Transportation.

DeVries said people still should be cautious while traveling today because high winds may lead to blowing snow and snow-covered roads, especially in rural areas.

Winds are expected to be 20 to 25 mph, with gusts as high as 40 mph, the National Weather Service said.

High winds Thursday caused some electricity poles to lean over. About 1,600 customers in McHenry County had power outages about 9:15 p.m., ComEd reported.

Ed Fenelon, a weather service meteorologist, said rain from Thursday could lead to slippery roads. “Temperatures are dropping,” he said. “Anything on the road will ice up.”

School districts around the county canceled or rescheduled Thursday afternoon activities because of the storm.

County snowplow crews were expected to be on the road at 3:30 a.m. to prepare for the morning commute. They worked until 11 p.m. Thursday, DeVries said.

He said salt will be on roads to combat ice.

“All major roads will be fine,” DeVries said. But, “Don’t travel unless you have to” and “make sure you have a cellphone and supplies if you’re traveling.”

The northwestern part of the county was hit harder than the rest of the county.

The snowfall ended a snowless streak that reached 290 days.

Steve Alesi, parts sales manager at Crystal Lake Auto Zone, said he had a rush of people looking for supplies between 5 and 6 p.m.

“People really don’t listen to weather forecasts anymore,” Alesi said. “They just wait for the storm to come.”

He said he was not happy that the long streak of snowless days come to an end.

“It means I’ve got to shovel again, [and] salt the driveway down again,” he said. “I’m not too pleased. I was happy when we weren’t getting snow.”

The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with whiteout conditions stranding holiday travelers and sending drivers sliding off slick roads – including into a fatal, 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa.

About 1,000 flights were canceled Thursday in the Midwest because of the storm. A bulk of those were at O’Hare and Midway international airports.

American Airlines canceled all of its O’Hare flights scheduled after 8 p.m. Thursday, saying it expected winds to make it “very difficult, if not impossible, to operate.”

The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and more than a foot in Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight and then into Canada.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.