Chicago may be 800 miles away from the East Coast, but Hurricane Sandy’s presence was felt all the way into the Midwest Tuesday.
Some hotels around downtown were packed with stranded travelers, even as they dealt with cancellations from people who couldn’t get here.
“We haven’t had more business, but we’ve had a lot of cancellations,” said Anish Moore, who works at the front desk of the Rosemont InterContinental near O’Hare Airport. “Most of the people were from New York so they haven’t been able to come.”
Alexandra VanDinkle, front desk manager of the Chicago Marriott Downtown, said the hotel is helping its stranded guests.
“It’s affected a lot of travelers in different ways, primarily in having to rearrange flights extend vacations or business trips or cut them short,” she said.
Mike Buszczak, 24, has been a guest at the Wit Hotel for three days. “I’m from New Jersey and I’m just trying to get back home,” he said. “I came here for a quick weekend getaway, and now I’m stuck.”
Buszczak said he is worried about his family. “I don’t know if I will still have a house when I get back.”
Although Chicago will not experience the same damage from the East Coast, which is taking a direct hit, the city is still feeling the effects of the weather system.
Ramesh Srivastava, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago who specializes in cloud microphysics and dynamics, said strong winds and high waves will be the biggest threat to the Chicago area.
“Most issues are going to be confined to the lake shore,” Srivastava said. ” Waves are the main thing, and high winds.”
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What has made this storm so unusual is the unexpected dip in the jet stream as a hurricane was moving up the east coast. “The jet stream merged with Sandy yesterday and flung Sandy back to the north west,” said Jeff Frame, a lecturer with the department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The Low barometric pressure associated with the hurricane caused ocean levels to rise. Combined with sustained hurricane force, winds caused the flooding on the east coast. Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Wilmington, Delaware all experienced record low atmospheric pressure.
“Think of the ocean like a pillow,” Frame said. ” The atmosphere pushes down on it. When the pressure lowers the pillow expands.”
Outdoor activities at Navy Pier were closed today as well as the lakefront along Oak Street and Fullerton Avenue.
“The pier is still open all day today,” said Nick Shields, director of communication at Navy Pier. “The only portion of the pier that’s closed today is the Pier Park section. Pier Park is where our Ferris wheel is, where our mini golf is, where our carousal is and where the wave swinger is.”
Shields said the decision to close that part of the Pier was for precautionary measures. “No one needs to be on a gondola 150 feet in the air when it’s 60 mph winds up there,” he said.
When asked if the Pier has had to close attractions down in the past, Shields said they’re used to making changes. “It’s not 100 percent uncommon for us to stop the Ferris wheel because of high winds,” Shields said. “Safety always come first.”
Cruise ships docked along Navy Pier are taking extra precautions due to the weather. Furniture has been removed from the boats and extra safety lines are being used to secure the ships. Crews will sleep on board tonight. If winds threaten to break the mooring lines, crews on hand will engage engines to pin the ships against the dock.
With the outside portion of Navy Pier and the lakefront shut down, that hasn’t stopped McCormick Place from hosting both the Pack Expo and 4G World 2012 Conference & Expo. Both expos end Wednesday.
“Our hotel is booked as it is due to the expos,” said Stan Lliev, operations manager at the Hilton Garden Inn near Midway Airport. “We lost a lot reservations because people couldn’t fly in and we gained a lot of reservations because people couldn’t leave,” he said.
Lliev said many of the guests are flight crews who can’t get to the East Coast.
“The entire complex has been sold out, including all nine hotels here at Midway,” he said. Lliev expects to hear word from the airlines by Wednesday if there will be more cancelations.
Businessmen at Midway aren’t the only ones trying to get home. Many people are still stranded inside the airport.
Michael Camden, 25, a grocer from Albany, New York, has been stranded since Monday. “Our area is just fine,” Camden said. “It got touched by the storm, but it’s fine. We’re worried about our family in Freeport, Long Island.”
Jamie Clark, 26, a welder also from Albany, kept switching flights to difference cities. Each time, she got cancelled. “First, we switched to Buffalo, cancelled, to Newark, cancelled, and now back to Albany,” she said. “”I can’t wait to get out of here!”
At O’Hare International Airport, travelers experienced similar delays.
Christopher Pagnutti, 41, from France, has had flight delays since Sunday morning. “I was supposed to go from Las Vegas to New York on Sunday morning, and then from New York, Dublin and then Dublin, Paris and I was supposed to arrive in Paris Monday morning afternoon at 4 p.m., instead of that we are still in Chicago.”
Spencer Harison, 34 from Salt Lake City, said he was getting by. “My flights delayed but that’s okay,” he said. “I’m going to sit and do my work on my phone.”
Seth McGowan, 23, was traveling back home to New York but was stopped due to the flight cancellations at O’Hare. “We took a trip back to California to visit family and now I am stuck here,” McGowan said. “This was my connecting flight and I have been here for a couple days trying to get to Philadelphia but having no luck.”
Jayson Friedmann, 22, a substitute teacher at Pace High School in New York had a hard time telling his 3-year-old daughter, Jayden, about the hurricane and why they can’t go home.
“I tried to tell her about the hurricane but she really didn’t understand what was going on,” Friedmann said. “I’m just glad I’m not missing work or anything, my school was shut down because of Sandy.”
Passengers received bad news when checking in to Union Station this morning. Many of the train routes heading to the East Coast were cancelled until further notice, forcing a longer stay in Chicago.
“The long distance trains going to and from (Chicago to the East Coast) have been cancelled yesterday, today, and still unsure about tomorrow,” said Christina Leebs, media relations manager of Amtrak.
“Re-accommodations for passengers who can not leave Chicago can be placed on another train if possible, or a refund can be made,” Leebs said. “Also, we have to assess any possible damage that is made to the tracks.”
Trevor Greig, James Foster, Eva Quiñones, Lynsey Mukomel, Trevor Joseph, Sarai Flores, Brandon Kuesis, and Kaitlyn Cubacub contributed reporting.