Chicago Weather: Bitter cold; wind chills between -20, -30 test winter fortitude

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Eric Horng, John Garcia, and Cate Cauguiran and Megan Hickey WLS logo
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Bitter cold; wind chills between -20, -30 test the most winter-wise
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The extreme cold made Tuesday's commutes tough for people heading back to work for the first time since the holidays.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The extreme cold made Tuesday's commutes tough for people heading back to work for the first time since the holidays.

The walk to the train or bus stop was, for many, hard to take.

"I'm counting the blocks. It's only a couple blocks, so I'm like okay, I can make it," said one commuter.

"I can't even describe it. It's unbearable. I've been doing it for over 15 years, so you get through it. You get through it," said Shirley Jackson, commuter.

High temperatures only reached into the low teens Tuesday. The National Weather Service said a Wind Chill Advisory was in effect until noon.

Officials with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications said anyone having problems with their heat should not hesitate to call 311. Since last Thursday, officials said they've gotten more than 600 calls about cold residences.

"Don't wait. If you feel like it is too cold in your apartment or your home, or your furnace is having an issue, by all means do not hesitate," said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, executive director of OEMC.

Officials have been staffing the operations center, keeping close watch on the city and looking for people who may be in trouble or any water mains that have broken.

OEMC said there are close to 30 warming shelters set up across the city, which are not being used to capacity at this point. If you find yourself without adequate heat, officials said you should use those warming centers as needed.

Click here for a list of warming centers in Chicago.

The extremely cold temperatures are a health risk for everyone. Gloves, thick socks, scarves and hats are essential. Anyone who needs to even step outside should dress in warm layers and cover as much skin as possible to prevent hypothermia and frost bite.

The extreme cold made Tuesday morning a tough one for people heading back to work for the first time since the holidays, and can put your health at risk.

"It's the furthest from the heart areas that get cold the fastest, and that's why you have to make sure they are kept warm," said Dr. Yanina Purim-Shem-Tov, Rush University Medical Center.

Purim-Shem-Tov said while layers play a key role in keeping you warm and healthy, but protecting your extremities - your hands, head and feet - are sometimes overlooked.

"If you get exposed to cold air over and over and over, those parts can actually fall off or die off," she said.

Subfreezing temperatures also bring the threat of icy slips and falls, but doctors said one of the most common cold weather reasons for ER visits is frostbite, which can happen much faster than most people think.

"You start off with just blistering or just cold sensation, but then they can turn purple and eventually the full circulation just stops to those areas, so it's very important that we keep those areas warm," Purim-Shem-Tov said.

The American Lung Association also warns that people with lung disease, like asthma and COPD, can suffer severe lung damage from the bitter cold air.

The cold is dangerous for pets as well. The city's Animal Care and Control shelter is filling. Many of the dogs are hoping for a warm home.

"We need the community to help us get the animals out, so that they can get a second chance. Many of the animals we get are either adoptable or rescuable," said Susan Russell, executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control.

It is against the law to leave pets outside in extreme cold.

The icy and steaming Chicago River was a rough sight in the New Year. Thermometers read -2 Tuesday morning. But the subzero temperatures did not keep Deena Stein and Elyse McGill inside.

"I don't think I'm going to stay in. It gets boring when I stay in," Stein said.

"It's good to be alive and if you dress appropriately, it's good!" McGill said.

The extreme temperatures can lead to serious problems with cars, and drivers should take steps to protect their vehicles from the cold.

Those commuting by car also face risks from the cold. Batteries drain in cold weather, and it can be difficult to keep the right amount of air in your tires. Gas lines can also freeze in such extreme cold. Many recommend keeping your gas tank more than half full for the duration of the deep freeze.

For homeowners, the cold weather brings the risk of frozen and burst pipes, which can cause further problems if they're not professionally repaired.

The extreme cold has caused frozen pipes, burst pipes, and fires in residences across the area.

Brenda Andrews has been waiting for her burst pipe to be fixed for four days after it flooded her home and damaged her property. She said her heat went out the same day as the pipes burst.

"I need help!" Adams said.

In Aurora, one homeowner tried to fix his frozen pipes himself on New Years' Eve, resulting in a fire that caused more than $175,000 worth of damage. The Aurora Fire Department said he used a propane heater to try to thaw the pipes.

Robert Revels from R&R Plumbing Technicians in Homewood said running the faucets could have done wonders for those residents.

"A small trickle of water on both the hot and cold sides, so you're covering both sides of the water, is all you need to eliminate frozen pipes," Revels said.

He also recommended opening kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow air to circulate around the pipes.

If they do freeze, do not reach for the blow torch. Revels uses a special thawing machine that can safely thaw the line. If your pipes freeze, call a professional plumber.

"I know everybody tries to save a few bucks. I get it, I'm one of them, but call a plumber or call someone who's knowledgeable about thawing those pipes," Revels said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also shared a video Tuesday showing how to safely insulate a pipe to keep it from freezing in the cold.

Light snow showers are expected to move in overnight into Wednesday, most likely leaving a dusting across most of the area. Roads will be slick where snow falls, and while the showers are expected to end before the morning commute icy spots on the roads are still possible.

More cold air will move in after the cold, and highs are expected to stay near 10 degrees through Friday.

On Monday, the city reached a high of 1 degree, marking a new record for the coldest high temperature on the first day of the year, the Weather Service said. The previous record was 5 degrees in 1969.

The average temperature of -4 degrees was also the coldest average for Jan. 1 in Chicago, lower than the -2.5 degree mark set in 1969, the Weather Service said. The low temperature Monday was -9 degrees.

The dangerous cold is not expected to let up until the weekend, when temperatures may creep back up to the 30s.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.