Chicago Weather: Frigid wind chills arrive, winter costs keep adding up

February 26, 2014 (CHICAGO)

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A Wind Chill Advisory is in effect from midnight to noon Thursday for most of the Chicago area.

The cost of this brutal winter is adding up, and higher home heating bills are just one added expense.

It's the gift that keeps on taking, this lump-of-coal of a winter that turned Barbara Sciacchitano's home into an ice castle.

"It's impossible to do anything else. This becomes a full-time job, just managing the house, being here for the workers who are coming in and out," said Sciacchitano.

We first met Schiacchitano last month after she returned from vacation to find the heat in her Lakeview home had gone out.

Pipes had frozen and burst, the water re-freezing. Weeks later, the list of repairs seems endless: a new boiler, heating pipes, and radiator. New water pipes, toilet, flooring and baseboards.

"It's been difficult of course, and there's been stress. But I think I've come through it okay," said Schiacchitano.

Four Seasons Heating, Air Conditioning, and Plumbing has been working with Sciacchitano's insurance company. One of the 175,000 insurance claims nationwide this winter, which includes everything from auto accidents to roof damage and burst pipes. All of it totals $1.5 billion in losses.

In addition, there are the sky-high heating bills. The average Nicor bill is 26 percent higher this winter than last, and the average People's Gas bill for March will be 80 percent higher than February, or about $57 more for a typical bill.

The sticker shock is also hitting municipalities and agencies. The State of Illinois approved another $500,000 for salt purchases, and IDOT is already spending triple what it did last winter to keep roads safe.

In total, nationwide, it's an estimated $5 billion hit to the economy.

"Economists have estimated that it might cost us maybe a tenth or two-tenths of a percent loss in the GDP," said John Challenger, Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Temperatures will hover in the teens for most of the week. Snow could fall late Saturday and all day Sunday into Monday. This winter could be the third coldest since record-keeping began more than 140 years ago, forecasters said.

So far, this winter season's average temperature of 19.1 degrees currently places it as the fifth coldest since record-keeping began in 1871, the National Weather Service said. But a frigid end to the week will probably push this winter's average temperature to at least 19 degrees, which would bump it into the top three coldest on record, the weather service said.

Forecasters define meteorological winter as the months of December through February, and use the average temperatures measured at O'Hare Airport to determine the rankings.

Lows will drop to 3 to 9 degrees below zero across the area, but 10 to 20 mph winds could make it feel like minus 20 to minus 30 degrees outside, the weather service said.

Wednesday's highs will reach 10 to 14 degrees and Thursday will be even colder, when highs will only reach 5 to 9 degrees. Both days will see bitterly cold, subzero wind chills, the weather service said.

High temperatures might not break 20 degrees until Saturday, which also brings with it a 50 percent chance of snow.

IDOT, Tollway: Stranded drivers should stay with cars

The Illinois Tollway will have crews ready to help stranded motorists during the cold snap, the agency said in a release.

"We urge our customers to stay with their vehicles if they become stranded and not risk their safety by trying to walk for help themselves," Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said in a release. "They should dial *999 and wait for assistance to arrive."

The Illinois Department of Transportation also has round-the-clock-patrols out on highways.

Motorists should make sure their cell phones are fully charged before heading out, and keep a cold weather safety kit including blankets, gloves water, batteries and non perishable food, the tollway recommends. Drivers should also make sure their fuel tanks are at least half full to avoid gas lines freezing, and check tire pressure.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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