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Records add up as snow doesn't

(MCT) — Yet another weather record has been surpassed in this strangely snowless winter.

Wednesday was the 320th consecutive day without an inch of snowfall in Chicago, besting a stretch of 319 days that ended 73 years ago, in January 1940.

And no snow of any consequence is in sight. The National Weather Service predicts rain for Thursday night, with warmer-than-average weather through the end of the week.

"We've just been kind of lucky, I guess, if you don't like snow," said Kevin Birk, a Romeoville-based meteorologist for the weather service. "Other cities have not necessarily seen the records we have seen in Chicago."

Rainfall forecast to begin Thursday night could total an inch. If that were snow, it could measure about 10 inches.

But temperatures are expected to be in the mid-40s Thursday and to reach 60 degrees Friday, well above the average daily high just below freezing. Friday's record high is 61 degrees, set in 1880.

"It's not out of the question if we get a little more than what we were expecting, we could be flirting with the record high," Birk said. "At this point we're not forecasting that high, but it's not out of the question."

The expected rain isn't likely to help ease the drought in Illinois, experts say. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, the Chicago area's precipitation levels over the past year are about 4 to 6 inches below normal, while areas in central and north-central Illinois are about 12 to 16 inches below normal.

When the ground is frozen, rain typically runs into rivers and streams instead of being absorbed by the soil, experts say. But if snow does come later in the season, it's more beneficial because the snowmelt can be absorbed by the thawing soil.

"It takes quite a bit of snow to start putting a dent in the deficit," Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the drought center. "In wintertime, we typically do not make a lot of improvement to drought situations."

The lack of snow has saved municipalities money on salt and maintenance. Chicago had been prepared to use about 285,000 tons of salt this winter but has used just 4,800 tons so far, according to the Streets and Sanitation Department. About 100,000 tons of salt were spread on city roadways last winter.

Meanwhile, roadwork can continue. City workers plan to paint lane markers along Lake Shore Drive from Randolph Street to North Avenue.

"We are taking advantage of this great weather," said Pete Scales, spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation.

Chicago has already broken two snow-related weather records this year: the longest stretch between snowfalls and the latest measurable snowfall. The snow total at O'Hare International Airport stands at 1.3 inches, which ties the winter of 1889-90 for the most snow-deprived start to the season.

Things could be different but for a couple of near misses. Meteorologists had predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow from a mid-December storm, but the snow remained west and north and the city got only a dusting. On Christmas, areas to the south were pounded, while Chicago saw only flurries.

A decent snowfall in Chicago would be good news for Tim Gibbons, founder of Tim's Snowplowing Inc., who employs more than 100 workers.

"I'm not hitting the panic button at this point," Gibbons said. But "I would like a few systems to move in and remind everybody that this is still Chicago and it snows in winter here."

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