NEWS

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January 11, 2004

Sunday snowstorm put travel plans on ice

There was no white Christmas this year in Chicago. Unusually, there was no white New Year's either. Chicago's snowfall for the month of December was a mere one and a half inches, more than six inches lower than the average and only a sixth of what cities as far south as Baltimore, Maryland, had received.

But on Sunday morning, as Baltimore baked in the low 70s, the skies opened up and poured down their wintry fury, delighting the youngsters of Chicago who had been unjustly denied the opportunity to make snowmen and snow angels.

The snowstorm, which dumped more than five inches of snow on Chicago, was not all fun and games, however. Many students traveling back to campus after winter break found that their flights were either hopelessly delayed or cancelled entirely. Most students who did get off the ground could only circle the city aimlessly until being diverted to cities from Minneapolis to Indianapolis.

Gabriela Russek, a second-year in the College, was scheduled to depart from New York's LaGuardia Airport at 10:30 Sunday morning. Her plane took off only thirty minutes late, but as the intensity of the snow in Chicago picked up during the late morning and afternoon hours, the passengers on Russek's plane were notified that landing would be impossible.

After circling Chicago for nearly and hour, the flight was diverted to Indianapolis, where no gates were available for the plane to dock. Russek was forced to remain on the plane on the runway for three hours while a gate opened up.

According to Russek, nobody knew what was happening. "We kept calling our parents and our parents seemed to know more about what was going on than the pilot did," she said.

Russek said that 10 minutes after finally leaving her plane, the passengers were notified that the skies over Chicago had cleared and they could continue to their original destination. Russek's plane landed in Chicago at about 9 p.m., and, after a problem with luggage that took another 90 minutes to resolve, she arrived at Chicago 12 hours after her flight had been scheduled to depart from New York.

Despite the numerous delays that plagued her journey, Russek said that she felt fortunate to have reached Chicago at all. "When we got to Indianapolis, the captain said, ‘You can get off the plane, and you can go to such-and-such a window and they'll give you your accommodations'—which wasn't very encouraging because they meant hotel accommodations," she said.

Other students were forced to spend Sunday night at airports from Atlanta to Phoenix and catch flights to Chicago Monday morning.

Colin McFaul, a third-year in the College, had his Sunday flight from Los Angeles to Chicago cancelled and was then unable to get a seat on another flight until Wednesday night, forcing him to miss the first three days of the second quarter. "We started boarding the [long-delayed] flight to Chicago at 3:30 or 4 in the morning on Monday. Then they told us the flight was cancelled due to bad weather in Chicago. They didn't have anything available until Wednesday at the earliest, and then they told us nobody else had anything available either," he said.

In an unofficial survey of 100 College students conducted this week, only 36 percent said that they made it to campus sometime on Sunday. Many believed that the University would cancel classes on Monday as a result of the numerous difficulties that students encountered with their transportation. However, the winter session started on time and University administrators continued a five-year streak of holding classes on every scheduled day.

"We don't get snow days here," said fourth-year Anne Pretz, who does not remember ever having her classes cancelled due to bad weather.

Snowstorms in the beginning of January are the norm and not the exception in Chicago, according to Joe Bastardi, a forecaster for Accuweather.com. According to Bastardi's seasonal outlook for this winter, Chicago is going to experience below-average temperatures and near-average precipitation levels, which may translate into an average to above-average season in terms of snowfall.

Chicago's annual snowfall typically exceeds 30 inches a year, although last year Chicago had barely 20 inches.

While more snow is predicted this weekend and for the middle of next week, these storms look like they will produce more snowmen and snowball fights than frustration and disappointment.

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