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Winter storm snarls travel for many trying to get home for the holidays


There's coastal flooding in parts of New England, blizzard conditions around Buffalo, N.Y., where officials warned it would be nearly impossible for first responders to operate. And in Chicago, nearly 600 flights canceled at O'Hare International Airport yesterday. We're joined now by Michael Puente, a reporter with member station WBEZ in Chicago. Michael, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL PUENTE, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What's it like there?

PUENTE: Well, Scott, snow is what we're really good at handling here in Chicago, but that's not the issue. In fact, we didn't even get as much as was predicted. It's just really, really cold. I know you're a Chicago guy, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah.

PUENTE: But I think you would even find this pretty cold. It's actually climbed to 3 degrees right now, but it feels much colder because of that wind chill. We're talking 20- to 30-mile-per-hour winds that can knock you down or blow you sideways. It also makes it feel like it's minus 35 degrees. You're getting into dangerous territory driving or even walking around for more than a few minutes especially if you don't have the right gear.

SIMON: And how is the city handling it?

PUENTE: It's causing a lot of disruption. Officials have been opening warming shelters. There are some trains here that have been stopped along DuSable Lake Shore Drive, where the wind comes right off the lake. But, you know, I talked to Rich Guidice. He's the executive director of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications. And he said the city's been handling things relatively well. He said had things gone as forecasted a few days ago, it could have been much worse.

RICH GUIDICE: You know, had we had gotten that 3 to 6 inches of snow, like I said, with the 50-mile-an-hour wind gusts and the extreme cold temperatures that we had, we could have had a different scenario. So we'll take this as a win thus far. But by no means should anybody spike the ball just yet. We still have a few days to go here.

SIMON: And, Michael, how does this compare to the rest of the country?

PUENTE: Well, Scott, we may be one of the coldest places right now in the country, but we're certainly not the only ones suffering in the wake of the storm. More than a million people were without power on Friday, and roughly 60% of the country was under some kind of advisory.

And the travel problems are just as widespread. Nearly 6,000 flights were canceled yesterday. We saw 1,300 more flights were canceled today. This is really an unfortunate confluence of factors. It's a holiday weekend, one of the busiest travel times of the year. And that with staffing issue the airlines have been dealing with, it's the real-life version of that movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," which was also about holiday travel involving Chicago.

SIMON: I love that film. But go ahead, yes.

PUENTE: Me, too. Unfortunately, Scott, this is not a movie. And it's very frustrating for people, not to mention dangerous for those who are dealing with power outages and other serious disruptions. But for people looking for some good news in Chicago and many other places in the country, it's supposed to start warming up beginning Christmas Day and into next week.

SIMON: And, Michael, bear down, Chicago Bears - they're playing today despite all this - right? - against the Bills.

PUENTE: That's right. They're playing the Buffalo Bills. They're also no stranger to cold. You know, Scott, usually, tickets for Bear games go for, like, 150 to $200. But you can almost get in to this game for free. So, Scott, if you're up for the Bears game today, I'll buy you the ticket, and I'll meet you there.

SIMON: I'll bring the family. Michael Puente from member station WBEZ in Chicago, bear down. Thanks very much.

PUENTE: Bear down. And thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Michael Puente
Michael covers news and issues primarily in Northwest Indiana, Chicago’s Southeast side and South Suburbs.The first 13 years of Michael’s journalism career was in print. He’s worked for the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana (part of the Sun-Times Media Group) and the Daily Herald based in Arlington Heights, Ill. Michael got his start in radio as co-host of the Latin Lingo Show on WJOB AM 1230 in Hammond. He joined WBEZ in 2006.The NWI Studio in Crown Point is WBEZ’s only studio outside the City of Chicago. He earned a B.A. in Communications from Calumet College of St. Joseph in Hammond, Indiana where he now teaches as an adjunct professor.Michael’s stories on WBEZ have earned more than three dozen awards including from the Indiana and Illinois Associated Press broadcasters associations, Indiana Society of Professional Journalists, the Chicago Headline Club, and National Headliner Awards. Michael is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and a former board member of the Latino Council on the Media of Chicago.Michael is an avid White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Bears fan. He also acts on occasion in community theater in Northwest Indiana.