See also: Get ready for a colder and wetter winter
Photo: Infrared satellite image of the “Groundhog Day Storm” of 2011, taken at 8 p.m. EST Feb. 1. Nine of our top ten biggest snowfalls have occurred during La Nina winters. Photo courtesy of NASA (Public Domain)
by Keith Beebe
ELBURN—There have been only five years since 1884 where the Chicagoland area didn’t experience measurable snowfall before Dec. 9.
One of those years is 2011.
Despite this alarming statistic, recently stated by WGN Weather Producer Bill Snyder, Chicagoland could be in for some serious weather over the next several months. According to Brad Hruza, an Elburn resident and National Weather Service-certified storm spotter, the United States will enter a La Nina winter—a weather phenomenon that occurs when ocean temperatures are unusually cool in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, affecting global weather patterns—for the second consecutive year.
“In our location in Illinois, we tend to have colder temps for extended periods of time during La Nina. The effects on the climate vary quite a bit, as we saw last winter, with the high snowfall totals around the Chicago area,” he said. “La Nina seasons are very hard to predict snowfall amounts for, but I was talking to a friend at WGN news a few weeks back, (and he said) nine of our top 10 biggest snowfalls have occurred in La Nina winters.”
A Greenland block, which Hruza said existed almost all of last winter, could possibly set up again over the next several months. In a Greenland block, warmer air is pulled up toward that country and blocks weather systems from continuing east.
“The systems will ride east and hit the block, move north and then northwest and come right back around and keep certain areas cold and snowy. We had a few systems last winter that would hit the block and go into Canada and come right back around and hit us again,” Hruza said. “There are signs this could happen again, but again we will not know for another month or so. This winter could be just as bad as last winter in terms of cold and snowfall, especially if the Greenland block returns.”
Even if the snowfall total over the next few months doesn’t approach last year’s amount, it is important that everyone take necessary precautions to prepare for severe weather. Hruza recommends paying attention to local news and weather reports and carrying winter safety kits in your home (non-perishable foods, extra batteries, radios, candles, lighters, matches and a three-day supply of water) and vehicle (gloves, blankets, hats, flares and a flashlight). Also have a cellular phone on hand to call for help in case of emergency.
If your vehicle becomes stuck during a blizzard, do not keep your car running. Carbon monoxide can fill your car if the exhaust gets blocked by heavy snow, and you could also run out of gas. Instead, clear any snow away from the exhaust and then start your car every so often to warm it up and keep the battery from dying in the cold.
“During the first few snowfalls, it takes most people time to get back into winter driving mode. Slow down, take your time and never follow too close to the person in front of you. In extreme cold, you may hit black ice—invisible ice that looks like the pavement is wet—and slide out of control,” Hruza said.
And if you’re just out in the cold, be sure to keep your head, hands and feet covered to prevent frostbite; take frequent breaks while shoveling snow; and don’t let children play in snow near a road.
“Vehicles can slide in bad conditions and go off the road. The way I teach is to not let children play on the other side of the sidewalk closest to the road. They all should stay on the house side of the sidewalk,” Hruza said.