East-west connections
Doug Austin, 36, hurries to reschedule a flight in the United Terminal of O'Hare Airport on Monday. His flight to the Southwest was delayed because the plane coming from New York was stranded. He needed a flight that would get him there faster. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune / October 29, 2012)
About 500 flights out of Chicago have been canceled because of the sprawling storm engulfing the East Coast.

Airlines have canceled more than 400 flights at O'Hare International Airport and more than 90 at Midway International Airport.

Most of the cancellations are due to Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to join up with two other weather systems on the East Coast to create a huge storm affecting 50 million people.

The gathering storm has also prompted the National Weather Service to issue a lake shore flood warning for the Chicago area from 1 a.m. Tuesday until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Winds as strong as 60 mph are expected to whip up waves as high as 25 feeet on Lake Michigan, particularly at the south end, the weather service said.

"These large waves will batter the beaches and shorelines leading to coastal erosion and flooding," the weather service warned, saying piers and break walls will be especially vulnerable.

National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Castro advised waterfront high-rise residents to secure items on their balconies, and joggers and bicyclists should avoid the lake shore.

“The fact we’re seeing impact in the wind out here in the Midwest — the magnitude of this storm is really rare,” Castro said.

Sandy is so large, he added, that it’s also preventing the cool weather system over Chicago from moving out. Temperatures aren’t expected to rise higher than 50 degrees through at least Thursday.

But Chicago’s troubles are minuscule compared to those on the coast, where Hurricane Sandy is on track to collide with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.

Government offices, schools, courthouses and transit systems shut down in the mid-Atlantic region Monday as Hurricane Sandy off the coast kicked up a threatening combination of pounding rain, wind and tidal surges.

Officials implored residents to stay off the roads while imposing evacuation orders that affected thousands of residents in low-lying coastal communities, primarily in Delaware.

In Washington, the federal and local governments closed along with the courts, public schools and the Metro system that serves about 1.2 million weekday customers. Dozens of flights in and out of two critical airports, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Dulles International, were canceled. Tourist attractions like the Smithsonian museums were off-limits, and shelters opened to feed and house hundreds.

With Sandy bringing top sustained winds of 85 mph and hurtling on a predicted path toward Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, utilities warned power outages could affect millions and last for a week. As of Monday morning, outages in Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia were only sporadic.

No pocket of the region appeared safe from Sandy's impact. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said his state was "right in the crosshairs" of the storm and urged people to stay off the road for the next 36 hours.

"The days ahead are going to be very difficult," O'Malley said. "There will be people who die and are killed in this storm."

In mountainous western Maryland, a blizzard warning was issued for sections of Garrett County for Monday night into Tuesday morning.

O'Malley said the forecast for Maryland worsened Monday morning and he predicted Chesapeake Bay flooding would be reminiscent of the worst hurricanes in the state's history: Gloria in 1985 and Agnes in 1972.

The stormy Atlantic Ocean covered the beach in Ocean City, where an ocean pier was significantly damaged. Tracy Lind, a front desk worker at a Holiday Inn & Suites, said the damaged pier was part of the fabric of the resort town, frequented by fishermen and visited by tourists and locals seeking a close-up look at the ocean.