Incoming flights grounded at O'Hare as dense fog shrouds Chicago area on Christmas Eve

Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Hannah Leone And Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Weather News

CHICAGO -- Amid dense fog reducing visibility in Chicago, the Federal Aviation Administration early Tuesday grounded incoming flights at Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway airports through 8 a.m., though the advisory was allowed to expire at Midway and continued at O'Hare after 8 a.m.

For a short time Tuesday morning all flights were grounded, according to the FAA, but as of 7:30 a.m. the agency's website noted the "ground stoppage," or halting of flights, was indicated only for airplanes arriving at the city's two airports. By 8 a.m. flights were arriving and departing regularly at Midway.

Visibility at Midway improved to a mile about 8 a.m. and it still was a quarter-mile at O'Hare, said Casey Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, who noted the dense fog advisory for the city goes through 10 a.m.

"The fog is dissipating from the south," Sullivan said, explaining that's why Midway has resumed air traffic. "The fog is just going to gradually lift across the area during mid- to late-morning hours."

Still, the ground stoppage for incoming flights at O'Hare means not all departing flights will leave on time and travelers could miss connecting flights, leading to a chain-reaction of air travel delays during a traditionally peak period for travel.

"Because a traffic management program is delaying some arriving flights, departing flight schedules may be affected," according to the FAAs Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

As of 8:15 a.m., at O'Hare International Airport 336 flights were delayed, while at Midway Airport 26 flights were delayed. O'Hare reported 23 cancellations and Midway had 71, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The FAA suggests travelers check directly with their airline to determine if a flight has been delayed, and it has a page on its website that provides links to all major airlines. Delays on many airlines at O'Hare were an average of 26 minutes, the city's aviation department noted.

Overnight, "dense, freezing fog" developed throughout the city and its surrounding suburbs, leading to travel difficulties both in the air and on-ground. About 6:30 a.m. visibility at both Chicago airports was less than a quarter-mile, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Ratzer.

"It's pretty soupy out there," Ratzer said. "Visibility is pretty low. There's a few spots where the temperature is freezing and it's possible for a few patchy slick spots, particularly on overpasses."

Some travelers weren't sure how they were going to kill time waiting during the mounting delays, while others on arriving flights were waiting on luggage.

Ralph Korson's flight back to his hometown of Traverse City, Mich., after visiting friends was canceled, but he said he was able to get put on an 11:50 a.m. flight. Minutes before 8 a.m., he wasn't sure how he was going to kill the time. "Well it's boring," Korson said, figuring he'd sit somewhere, "get a magazine or something."

Still, the incoming flight stoppage was affecting those waiting for their bags, as well as those waiting for the airplane they were meant to depart on. Nancy Hassan and Wessam Abdeleziz waited near the baggage claim with their sons, ages 7 years and 6 months, in hopes the fog advisory would lift so they could pick up their car four miles away and drive home to Kalamazoo, Mich.


The baby, wearing a blue onesie patterned with snowmen and penguins, crawled across a zebra-print blanket while his mother watched over him. The family celebrated their Christmas early with a vacation in Las Vegas, where the older boy enjoyed zip lining.

"They have lot of fun activities for kids," Hassan said.

After making it part-way to their final destination, the family was ready eager to get on with their travels. Hassan explained they usually fly out of Chicago or Detroit, depending on the price of tickets, she said.

But the family may still be in for delays even once they pick up their vehicle.

The dense fog also could affect road travel, with decreased visibility for motorists. The American Automobile Association expects more travelers on the road this holiday season nationwide than ever before. The figure represents a 3.9% increase from motorists last year and AAA said travel will be at its peak Thursday.

"AAA forecasts that 104 million Americans will travel by car -- the most on record -- for a year-end holiday," according to Jeanette Casselano, an AAA spokeswoman.

In the Chicago metropolitan area, the only places not reporting much fog were parts of Lake County and down in Will County, Ratzner said.

The weather service advises drivers to slow down, turn on low beams and increase following distance while the freezing fog hangs over expressways.

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