CHICAGO (AP) — A wet snow forced residents of Chicago and the Midwest to once again break out shovels and slog to work along slippery roads and slow transit lines, a reality check for winter-weary residents who had just reveled in a day or so of spring-like temperatures. Along the storm's eastward track, upstate New York was gearing up for a blizzard.
Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in northern Illinois lost power and a few hundred flights were canceled at Chicago's airports, including Midway International, where 6 inches of snow fell. The storm was moving east into northern Indiana, and it was forecast to hit the Great Lakes in Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York before dissipating over Canada.
"The roads were just horrible, it was pretty hazardous conditions out there," said Stephen Rodriguez, National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Ill. He said an initial forecast for 8 inches of snow in the city was overblown, but that the impact on the morning commute was significant.
Forecasters warned that as much as 9 inches of snow could fall in parts of southeastern Michigan, with 4 to 8 inches in Detroit. Before the sun rose Wednesday, snow and sleet were making roads slippery across a large southern swath of the state. Hundreds of schools closed their doors for the day.
The picture was similar in upstate New York, where hundreds of schools called off classes after the weather service warned that a blizzard with winds of up to 50 mph could paralyze the area from western New York to the Adirondacks.
Chicago had already been buried by 75.5 inches of snow this winter — the fourth most on record dating back to 1884-1885, according to the weather service. The snowfall on Wednesday pushed the seasonal total into third place, ahead of the 77.0 inch total from 1969-1970, though with some snow still falling Wednesday morning a final tally was not complete.
After a few days of spring-like thawing, the return to snow-covered streets and trees was a jarring sight. Forty mph winds blotted out the lit-up skyline for a few hours before dawn and left trees glazed with heavy snow. Workers downtown grunted as they heaved slush with well-worn shovels. Others rushed to return sidewalk signs warning pedestrians of ice falling from skyscrapers.
The shift in temperatures, from the 50s on Monday to back below freezing, caused some confusion.
"I had a guy in here yesterday asking for salt and right after him a guy wanted mulch. Only in Chicago," Richard Schauer, owner of Schauer's Hardware in Forest Park, said Tuesday.
He did say there are still a few shovels, though the selection is pretty thin.
Snowfall totals in southeastern Michigan could come close to breaking a 133-year-old record. The storm will likely move the Detroit area close to the seasonal snow total of 93.6 inches set in 1880-1881, according to the weather service.
Rainy Indianapolis experienced a swift temperature drop of about 30 degrees, from 68 late Tuesday afternoon to 37 early Wednesday. In Missouri, temperatures that peaked in the high 70s and in St. Louis as high as 83 degrees on Tuesday were replaced with high winds and temperatures in the low 30s Wednesday morning.
Jeff Gatewood, who owns Allisonville Nursery in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers, said the months of snow and cold cut down on winter customers, but in recent weeks many visitors confided that their yearning for spring drove them to stop by the business and take in its house plants and cheery garden items.
"Everybody's got so much pent-up energy, it's going to make for a crazy spring," Gatewood said. "Spring fever is really going to be pretty high this year.
"And we all know the weather's going to hiccup and do this a few times before it straightens out."
Associated Press writers Herbert G. McCann, Ashley M. Heher and Don Babwin in Chicago; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; David Runk in Detroit; Jim Salter in St. Louis; and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa. contributed to this report.