McDonalds Manager Matthew Kemeny shovels the sidewalks outside the business as snow begins to fall in West Bend, Wis., on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 18, 2012. Snow is expected to hit the northern Illinois area on Thursday. John Elhke | AP Photo
Updated: December 19, 2012 2:16PM
It’s been awhile since Chicago-area residents have heard the terms, “near-blizzard conditions” “thundersnow,” and “winter storm watch,” but the first accumulating snowfall event of the season could bring all of that and more to the area Thursday.
A winter storm watch will be in effect Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. A powerful winter storm that has taken shape over the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle regions was expected to move out across the southern Plains by Wednesday evening and to reach western Illinois by early Thursday morning, according to the weather service. By the time the snow hits the Chicago area later in the day Thursday, it will likely be accompanied by strong winds and low visibility, leading to the possibility of wind damage, sporadic power outages, and treacherous driving conditions.
Thursday will start with rain and wind in the Chicago area, but as temperatures fall, the snow -- wet and heavy -- will descend upon us.
The weather service forecasts a very windy day with rain and a chance of thunderstorms from morning through early afternoon Thursday. This rain will then mix with and eventually change all to snow by evening.
And it won’t be pretty, either. When it changes over, the rain will change over to wet snow from west to east across northern Illinois from late morning through late afternoon, and across northwest Indiana by early evening, the weather service said.
Snow may become locally heavy at times for a brief period, combining with very strong northwest winds to cause blowing and drifting snow and severely reduced visibilities.
Northwest winds will increase to 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 50 mph by Thursday evening, which may possibly create near-blizzard conditions in some areas. This will greatly reduce visibility, making traffic difficult and leading to the possibility of minor wind damage and sporadic power outages. Snowfall amounts are expected to be in the 1- to 4-inch range across the Chicago area. Snow will taper off Thursday evening, though gusty northwest winds may continue to produce some blowing snow through Thursday night.
The accumulating snow is not expected to last long, probably only a few hours, but that snow may be heavy and lead to roads quickly becoming snow-covered and making travel treacherous. The potential also exists for areas of thundersnow to develop Thursday afternoon and evening, and anywhere thundersnow occurs, locally heavier snow totals would be likely, the weather service said.
While the snow will end by Friday morning, it will still be very windy then, according to the weather service. Highs will be in the upper 20s Friday, with northwest winds between 25 to 35 mph in the morning, decreasing to 20 to 30 mph in the afternoon. Gusts of up to 45 mph are possible, though. Temperatures will dip Friday night, with lows in the mid-teens in the outlying areas to the lower 20s downtown.
Saturday was expected to be mostly sunny, with high temperatures around 30 degrees.