Snow, ice pound northern Ill., CU

Pedestrians navigate slush and snow as they make their way through downtown Chicago Friday, Dec. 19, 2008. A major winter storm cut a broad swath across the Midwest on Friday, snarling traffic and cutting power to thousands of households. Schools across t M. Spencer Green, The Associated Press

By Rupa Shenoy

CHICAGO – A wintry mix of sleet and snow lashed Illinois Friday, knocking out power to thousands, canceling flights and snarling morning commutes as ice idled several commuter trains and made driving treacherous.

“We are pleading with the public to stay home today if possible,” said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

By Friday morning, 3-7 inches of ice and snow had fallen on parts of northern Illinois, said James Auten, a meteorologist for National Weather Service’s Lincoln office.

Schools throughout the state canceled classes. More than 300 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and Midway International Airport had 24 canceled flights, Chicago aviation officials said.

In suburban Chicago, frozen tracks and power lines caused commuter train delays of up to an hour and some trains were canceled altogether, Metra officials said.

“I’m going to leave town as soon as I’m able. I can’t continue to do winter in Chicago,” said Patricia Singleton, 50, whose said a commute that usually takes 40 minutes from her home in the Chicago suburb of South Holland to her downtown office took two hours.

Her Metra train was canceled, so she drove to a nearby community and caught a city train.

“We expected this, so I prepared and left early,” Singleton said. “But I’ve had enough. My husband is retiring in three years and I told him we’ve got to move south.”

Reggie Sudds, a letter carrier at the downtown Post Office, normally drives to his train, but on Friday rode a Chicago Transit Authority bus to the train station.

“Let CTA do the worrying,” said Sudds, 55.

Slippery roads created dangerous driving conditions across much of the state. The ground was frozen from the recent bitter cold, so it wasn’t absorbing the melting ice and snow, Auten said. That caused slush to pool on roads, making driving even more hazardous.

Illinois State Police said there were no fatalities or injuries reported around the state, but several cars had slid into ditches.

Farther south, temperatures rose rapidly, making roads across south-central Illinois slushy and wet rather than slick. By 9 a.m., the temperature in Mattoon, about 50 miles south of Champaign, was 46 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Even farther south, in Effingham, the temperature had reached 54, and Interstates 57 and 70, which meet in the small town, were clear.

Auten, the meteorologist, said warming temperatures combined with melting ice and snow was creating fog across stretches of southern Illinois. Though ice that coated southern and central Illinois overnight was melting, tree branches were breaking under the weight and falling on power lines.

ComEd spokeswoman Alicia Zatkowski said 20,000 customers were without power from south of Chicago’s Midway Airport to the Indiana border. More than 250 crews were working to restore service.

Ameren said 40,000 customers were without power. Outages were heaviest in Bloomington and Peoria, with some also reported in Champaign.

The city of Chicago deployed all its plows and salt trucks overnight, but spokesman Matt Smith said crews wouldn’t get to side streets until early afternoon. The city and other parts of northern Illinois were expected to see more snow all day Friday, with accumulations of an additional inch or less, Auten said.