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Snowstorm Makes Mark in Chicago's Record Books

By  Emily Morris and Quinn Ford | March 5, 2013 7:30am | Updated on March 5, 2013 7:07pm

CHICAGO — As the flurries kept flying Tuesday night, Chicago's more than 7 inches of snow had already tied for the ninth largest March snowstorm on record, according to the National Weather Service.

About 7.7 inches of snow had been dumped on the city as of 6 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

Speaking at the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cautioned residents to be prepared but said the city was ready for the storm earlier Tuesday.

"We are prepared as a city to deal with this stuff," Emanuel said. "Everybody, whether you're driving or at the airport or using mass transit, needs to use extra time given the condition of the weather."

Emanuel was joined by Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams. Williams said as of this morning, 284 plows were out on the roads. He said plows will work to clear main streets, school areas and public transportation hubs before moving on to side streets.

Williams told drivers to be aware that plows will be working throughout the rush and overnight.

"We can only move as fast as traffic allows," Williams said. "Be careful. Our plows are large, and we're moving through the same traffic you are."

Emanuel and Williams said after 2011's "snowpocalypse" that left cars stranded on Lake Shore Drive, the city made changes.

Emanuel said one of those changes was the installation of removable median walls in two spots on the northern stretch of the drive. In advance of Tuesday's storm, the walls were removed to allow emergency responders easier access to the roadway

Emanuel also took the opportunity to ask Chicagoans to be considerate of their neighbors.

"Make sure everybody else in your neighborhood, if you can lend a hand," Emanuel said. "You do the appropriate thing to be a good neighbor."

Air travel has already been affected by the weather. More than 1,100 flights were canceled at O'Hare and Midway airports for the day, the Chicago Department of Aviation said.

Southwest Airlines canceled all flights between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Midway, the department said.

Travelers are urged to check airline websites for flight information and arrive early to the airport. 

But the snow was not an inconvenience for all Chicagoans. Jim Toolis, who lives in Canaryville, took his two boys sledding Tuesday afternoon. He watched from the bottom of the hill at Bridgeport's Palmisano Park as his kids raced eachother on their sleds.

"I went down it a couple times," Toolis said smiling. "But man, it's tough going up that hill."

Toolis said he decided to take his boys sledding after they were let out of school early due to the weather.

A winter storm warning issued by the weather service cautioned that localized snow totals of 10 inches are possible, though National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said the city is likely to see a few inches less.

As of noon, 2.2 inches of snow had already been measured at O'Hare, the official measuring point, said meteorologist Richard Castro of the National Weather Service.

Castro said winds could pick up close to 30 mph in the late afternoon.

"Later they'll start to pick up and we'll start to see more issues with blowing snow," Castro said.

Many Chicago area schools canceled classes for the day or have plans to dismiss students early. Check the list of area school closings here

In addition to the city's plows, the Illinois Tollway had deployed its full fleet of 182 snowplows early this morning. Chicago also began salting roads, and Emanuel reminded residents they can check the status of snow plows in their neighborhood on the city's Plow Tracker.

Illinois State Police issued a travel advisory asking drivers to take caution on the roads Tuesday. Drivers who get into an accident during the storm should exchange information and report the incident within 10 days, unless someone needs medical attention, state police said.

The storm comes during a season that did not bring the city an inch of snow until Jan. 25.

And while it's not unheard of to get snow in March, the expected accumulation for the area would nearly double the 5.6 average total for the month, according to the weather service.

Meanwhile, CTA President Forrest Claypool and Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said Tuesday work on the Wells Street Bridge reconstruction would not be affected.

Claypool said construction on the bridge's CTA tracks would be delayed for rush hour because of safety concerns caused by moisture on the third rail. Klein said construction on the actual bridge would not be impacted by the storm at all. He said construction will continue 24 hours a day as scheduled.

Klein also said the city's bike lanes should not be badly affected by snow. He said crews typically wait until the snowfall stop to plow the lanes, but since very few bike lanes are protected by barriers, it would only take a matter of hours for the city to clear them.