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The wind chill in Chicago was minus 8 degrees at 4 a.m. Wednesday, while the actual temperature stayed steady around 2 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
A wind chill advisory was issued for the Chicago area, effective from 9 p.m. Wednesday until 10 a.m. Thursday. Wind chills will drop to around 20 degrees below zero by 10 p.m. Wednesday and between minus 22 to minus 28 degrees by Thursday morning, the advisory said. A wind chill warning is in effect until 4 a.m. on January 23 for counties west of Chicago, including DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Kane, Lee, McHenry, Ogle and Stephenson. Wind chills there will drop to around 30 degrees below zero overnight and remain between 20 below and 25 below zero late through Thursday morning.
Meterologists warn that frostbite or hypothermia could occur "within minutes" of exposure to the cold.
Temperatures on Wednesday will reach a high of 16 degrees, with a low of zero, the weather service said. Lower temperatures will come Thursday, with the high between 9 and 10 degrees and a low of minus 5.
To prepare for the extreme cold, the Illinois Tollway activated 11 Zero Weather Road Patrols Tuesday to help customers stranded in their cars. Seven Illinois Tollway oases also serve as warming centers.
This particular blast of cold air is not the polar vortex itself, but rather a byproduct of the system that regularly moves through Canada and into the United States, meteorologists said.
By Friday, highs in the area are expected to climb to 24 degrees, falling to 15 at night, forecasts show.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.