Weather Chicago: Cold snap with wind chills well below zero increases risk of frostbite, hypothermia

Warming centers open; Metra takes precautions in hopes of preventing delays amid Chicago severe weather
CHICAGO (WLS) -- An extreme cold snap has moved into the area, with wind chills forecast to reach well below zero, making for a cold Wednesday.

Click here to see school closings due to bitter cold temperatures

Temperatures will barely make it into the double digits Wednesday, but will eventually rise into Thursday.

Temperatures dipped below zero, and wind chills were as low as minus 34.


At 8 a.m., the temperature was minus 5 at O'Hare International Airport with a wind chill of minus 12, a slight improvement from minus 16 recorded at the airport just an hour earlier. In Aurora, the wind chill reached minus 34, in DeKalb minus 30, in Bartlett minus 22 and in Kankakee minus 21.

The last time Chicago was this cold was Feb. 7 of last year when temperatures reached minus 7 degrees, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Birk. Temperatures dipped again to minus 5 on Feb. 14.

Just three years ago, in 2019, the city recorded a Jan. 25 with a temperature of minus 6 degrees.

The record low for this date is minus 16 set in 1897.

Several Metra lines, including North Central Service and Milwaukee District North reported issues with switching due to the cold. Trains on both Metra lines were operating with delays up to 35 minutes Tuesday due to switching problems.

Metra is using gas burners and other heating equipment to heat the rails, and with arctic-like conditions expected in the morning, they left train engines running overnight.

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Chicago weather has turned bitterly cold with wind chills well below zero.

"Everything we can think of doing, we will do," said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. "And we will try and make sure that your ride is safe, comfortable, warm and timely."

Commuters that had to wait for the bus or train were piling on the layers Wednesday morning.

"I started the car for 30 minutes, I let it run for 30-40 minutes before I even got in it, then I commute, I drive to the train station, got on the train, had to wait for an extra 10 minutes because everything is frozen outside in the cold, got here, caught a cab to Union Station, freezing, freezing," commuter Nia Neal said.

Wednesday's temperature will rise to around 10 degrees, but the wind chill will remain extremely cold, reaching as low as minus 20 again, according to the weather service.

"It's so cold outside it's bitter; it hurts your face when you walk," commuter Joseph Heredia said. "You gotta layer up every day, you know, it's hard, but we live in Chicago, that's what we do."

Fellow commuter Dilip Nakarani agreed.

"It's crazy. If you have a long walk, you're going to be in trouble," Nakarani said.

The weather is particularly dangerous for the homeless men and women in the Chicago area.

As the freeze continues, there is concern about the dangers for unhoused people living outside, who could suffer from frostbite or hypothermia.

"This is a health concern; we are worried about every time the temperature starts to fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit," said Dr. Stathis Poulakida, Cook County Health burn surgery director. "The tissues that are at the realest risk are the hands and the feet because they are end blood supply, as well as your nose, or maybe your ears, as well."

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Dr. David Trotter, chair of emergency medicine at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, answers questions on the health dangers from severe cold.

The National Weather Service warns the bitter cold can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Officials are urging people without heat to use warming centers.

Chicago has activated six community warming centers which are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
-45 W. Wilson Ave

-4312 W. North Ave1140 W. 79th Street (79th/Racine Ave)
- 1140 W. 79th Street (79th/Racine Ave)
-8650 S. Commercial
-4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave
-10 S. Kedzie (Kedzie/Madison Ave)
The Garfield Center, at 10 S. Kedzie, is available 24/7. Libraries and park district sites are also available. To locate a center nearby, residents can call city services at 311 or visit

There are an additional 19 warming centers around Cook County, which can be found by clicking here.

There are some steps you can take to keep your vehicle running and your house warm:

  • To keep your car running in the extreme cold, get your battery checked and make sure you have jumper cables in your trunk.

  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.

  • Have an emergency kit equipped with blankets, non-perishable food, boots and extra clothing in case you get stranded.

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    ABC 7 Chicago Meteorologist Cheryl Scott explains what Lake Michigan's pancake ice is and how it forms.

    When it comes to your home, experts advise:

  • Setting your thermostat to 68 degrees

  • Have your furnace inspected to make sure it's working safely and efficiently.

  • Replace your furnace filter if it's been a while.

  • Never use an oven or kerosene heater inside.

  • "It should not be used in your home. Those vapors they can become combustible and not only cause a fire, but an explosion," Chicago Fire Deputy District Chief Brian Johnson said.

    The Chicago Fire Department does not recommend using space heaters; however, if used, be sure they are UL-certified and at least 3 feet from anything that can ignite. The use of a space heater in children's rooms should be monitored closely as children sometimes move them close to or into the bed with tragic results, officials said.

    If extension cords are used, they should be rated at 15 amps minimum, and never put cords under carpet. With the added demand on furnaces and boilers, CFD also reminds residents they are required by ordinance to have working carbon monoxide detectors to protect against carbon monoxide leaks from a heating system that could be fatal over time, and to keep smoke detectors in working order.

    Another big problem in the cold is busted pipes.

    To prevent this from happening:

  • Allow a slow trickle of water to flow from your faucets to help prevent pipes from freezing

  • Open doors and cabinets to allow heat to get to bathroom pipes and pipes under sinks.

  • When it comes to protecting yourself from frostbite or hypothermia, use common sense, dress in layers and always wear a hat and gloves.

    Wednesday night's wind chill is expected around minus 7 degrees.

    A warm-up is expected Thursday, when daytime temperatures rise to 30 degrees, with nighttime lows nearly reaching the single digits. There's also a chance of snow.

    Sun-Times Media contributed to this report.

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