Arctic blast to come over weekend

January 18, 2008 9:19:58 PM PST
It is very cold outside, but the cold conditions are just a taste of what can be expected over the weekend.It could feel like it's -25. A wind chill advisory goes into affect at midnight.

While it was cold Friday on the Lake Michigan shore, forecasters say it's going to get a lot colder. And Chicagoans, who were spared winter's wrath in January, must be prepared the way people who work outside are.

Lenette Fenwrick has an apartment full of young children. It's also an apartment that, she says, has very little heat. Frequent complaints to building management have gotten no results. So she turns on the oven to try to keep the place warm.

"I got grandkids, they got colds, that's all we can do is turn on the stove, that's it," said Fenwrick.

Making the situation even more dangerous, the tiny apartment is not equipped with a working carbon monoxide detector. The fire department warns that could be a deadly combination.

According to the fire department, there are a number of dangers people often overlook in extreme cold. They advise homeowners to have working co detectors and keep all space heaters at least three feet away from potentially combustible materials, like bedding, and people should avoid using torches to thaw frozen pipes.

A century-old church on the West Side went up in flames mid-morning Friday. Chicago firefighters were prepared despite the cold.

"Mind over matter's what it was. It's not easy," said Ron Maitling, Chicago firefighter.

While nobody was injured, firefighters lamented that they couldn't save the structure. The water on the roof turned to ice quickly, and they had to get down.

"The more water you pour on these buildings, it can start freezing up on you. The water inside the building puts weight on the building," said Maitling. "The heavier load, it can collapse a lot quicker."

Maitling has been on the job for three decades and regrets not being able to save the century-old church.

"At a point, we decide that the structure is no longer safe for the firefighters, so we set up an exterior attack where they will not get injured in the event of a collapse," said Deputy Fire Chief Pat Kehoe, 4th District.

From the age of 18, Parker brought in street kids to the church to learn the drums and become good citizens. Her sister is an associate pastor, and appreciates the firefighters' efforts.

"We are all devastated. The church was a beacon in the community, especially for our young people. This is where they would come for shelter," said Dawn Parker, associate minister, Emmanuel Temple AME Church.

"You have to work slower. It is a lot harder, icy conditions. It is a lot more dangerous out here, use caution every step of the way," said Maitling.

That caution is echoed among others making a living in the bitter cold. Workers from Ozinga Ready Mix have shored up a sewer opening that could have shut down West Taylor.

"Very difficult, it is harder to work than any other day because you gotta be careful - too much exposure, your face is going to freeze," said Anthony Garzolini, Ozinga Ready Mix.

But the ability to dress for the weather is the key to comfort and safety. Ironically, the men are installing pipes for a new air conditioning system at UIC. If they have to work in extremes, they prefer cold.

"It is tough when it is cold, but at least when it is cold you can dress for the cold. It is worse when it is really hot outside," said Mike Martinelli, Reliable Contracting. "It takes a lot more out of you when it's hot, it takes energy."

"It was so warm the other weekend, and I had, like, a different coat on, and I started to see people's faces. But now, everybody's covered up themselves," said Chicago area resident Summer Thornton.

Almost overnight, the unseasonably warm temperatures were quickly replaced by frigid air, but that didn't seem o stop area bike riders celebrating Friday's bike to work event.

"If you stand at the bus stop, it's colder because, you know, you got to stay there and wait, but we're moving, and we're fast," said biker Cynthia Bell.

The plunging temperatures forced most morning commutes to cover up, but there were still a few people in weather denial.

"I just came from Chattanooga, Tennessee. We got snow up there. It's nice here," Sherbert Eisman said.

While most try to ignore the cold, city officials are not the only ones warning the public about how dangerous it can be. Those at the Pacific Garden Mission say they will offer what they always offer as they prepare their 539 beds for those looking to escape the cold.

" [We will] do what we do, 364 days, or 365 days a year, give shelter to the homeless," said Pacific Garden Mission's Byron Freeman.

Forecasters say, if you think Friday's winter weather is bad, be warned. Saturday is going to be brutal.

"Tomorrow, it's stay in the house. I'm not going out. Get the mail. That would be about it," Chicago area resident Kurt Colin said.

Many area residents are planning to stay inside. Of course, for those who have to go out, use layers, make sure you bundle up, and try to keep as little skin as you can exposed to some of the arctic temperatures that are supposed to roll into the area later on Friday and Saturday.

ABC7 Chicago's Weather Center will continue to update with the latest on the arctic blast, and more importantly, when the warm-up will come.