Chicago Weather: Polar vortex brings brutal cold, Wind Chill Warning in effect

ByABC 7 Eyewitness News Team Coverage WLS logo
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Chicago: Colder than Antarctica, Siberia, North Pole
Chicago is experiencing colder temperatures than some of the coldest places on earth.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago area is bracing for historic cold this week as frigid temperatures begin to drop Tuesday.

A Wind Chill Warning is in effect for the entire Chicago area from 6 p.m. Tuesday until 12 p.m. Thursday.

CLICK HERE for our full ABC7 AccuWeather Forecast

On Tuesday, wind chills are expected to be between -15 to -30, with a high of 3 degrees and a low of -22, and it will only get colder from there. Wednesday's expected high -13, and wind chills will make it feel like as much as 50 degrees below. It has the potential to be the second-coldest day in Chicago history.

WATCH: Chicago is colder than some of coldest places on earth

Chicago is experiencing colder temperatures than some of the coldest places on earth.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation for the entire state.

"This storm poses a serious threat to the well-being of people around the state, and we will use every tool at our disposal to keep our residents safe," Pritzker said. "This disaster proclamation ensures that the state of Illinois has the flexibility to effectively and efficiently respond to the needs of local governments during this extreme weather event."

The record for the coldest day in Chicago was December 24, 1983, with an average temperature of -18 degrees recorded at O'Hare. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago was -27 on January 20, 1985. The coldest high temperature ever recorded in Chicago was -11 on Dec. 24, 1983 and Jan. 18, 1994.

In Chicago, Lyft is offering free rides to warming centers using the code CHIJAYDEN19, up to $25 per ride, through Friday.

WATCH: Ice chunks in Chicago River, Lake Michigan

As the Polar Vortex bears down on Chicago, ice chunks are filling the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.


Chicago Public Schools will close schools Wednesday and Thursday due to the cold. The temperatures could present a hazard for children traveling to and from school, CPS said. CPS buildings will also be closed Wednesday and Thursday due to the weather and all after school activities are canceled. CPS made the announcement about Thursday classes Tuesday evening.

School Closings: Chicago Area Complete List

Some suburban school districts, including Niles and Plainfield, have announced that schools will be closed Wednesday and even Thursday as well. Click below for a full list of school closings in the Chicago area.

Northwestern University will be closed from 8 p.m. Tuesday to 12 p.m. Thursday due to the extreme cold. The university will continue to provide "essential services" including policing, facilities management and residence hall dining.

The University of Chicago has canceled all classes and non-essential activities for Wednesday due to the cold.

Columbia College Chicago announced it will close Tuesday evening through Wednesday due to the weather. The closure begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday through all of Wednesday and applies to all academic and business operations of the campus. DePaul University has cancelled classed for Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday.


Not everyone can work from home, and not everyone can even work indoors. Some Chicago workers must work outside during the polar vortex, and safety is their number one priority.

Despite the cold, there will be U.S. Postal Service mail delivery on Wednesday and Thursday.

"We deliver rain, sleet, snow. And tomorrow will be the cold," said Crystal Flynn, USPS employee.

The 2,500 to 3,000 letter carriers around the city will still be out working their routes in the historically cold wind chills.

"If they feel any kind of cold-related things that might happen - we've talked to them about frostbite, hypothermia - we want them to get into a warm place if they feel any kind of symptoms like that," said Tim Norman, USPS spokesperson.

The City of Chicago said Streets and Sanitation is considered an essential agency, and there will be garbage collection in the city Wednesday and Thursday. The agency asked residents to be patient as service may be slower than usual since garbage collectors will be taking special precautions with the cold.

At O'Hare, working from home isn't an option. Their job is to get people home safely, especially in this kind of cold.

"The systems we maintain are critical to the safety of the flying public," said George Spence, chapter president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.

If something critical breaks down, navigation and safety specialists have to be outside in the elements. But in weather this cold they'll be bundled, and working only on what's necessary in teams.

"If it can be deferred, defer it. If it needs immediate attention you bring enough people and enough resources to get the job done in the minimum amount of time," Spence said. "Especially in the cold, because your survival time if something were to happen out there is down to minutes."

But it's the workers bundled in thick layers and bright yellow safety coats that have the most punishing work of all.

"The guys that are on the ramps, the guys that are unloading the bags, all that stuff gets done outside, that's going to be a big challenge for those folks," said Spence.


As transit and road agencies like CTA, Metra and IDOT braced to help commuters navigate the cold weather, Amtrak canceled all trains in and out of Chicago Wednesday and Thursday.

Amtrak has canceled all trains originations to and from Chicago for Wednesday and Thursday due to the extreme cold, including short-distance corridor trains and long-distance overnight trains, the agency said. Trains that originated on Tuesday will complete their trips to or from Chicago.

Amtrak typically operates 55 trains daily to and from the Chicago hub.

Metra said all lines will operate on alternate schedules due to the extreme cold. Click here for the extreme weather alternate schedules for every Metra line. The modified schedule will extend through Thursday and could change further depending on conditions.

The South Shore Line said trains would operate on a reduced scheduled Wednesday and Thursday due to the extreme weather. They will also bus passengers from South Bend to Michigan City from Tuesday through Friday morning. Click here for more information and to view the modified schedule.

For some people with disabilities Pace buses are a lifeline. Deputy Executive Director said 1,200 buses were running 97 percent on time Tuesday afternoon, but subscription rides - regularly scheduled pickups and drop offs for appointments - are canceled due to cold.

"We ask our customers to check ahead if the location they are going is open to make sure they need to travel," Metzger said. "If they don't have to travel, don't do it. We want them to think about having to travel - if it's too dangerous out there, don't do it."

Riders who must travel should call Pace to reschedule their appointments for Wednesday and Thursday.

Transit agencies including PACE, Metra and the CTA prepared to help Chicagoans get around in the extreme cold Wednesday.

Despite the historic temperatures, many Chicago residents still need to rely on public transit.

"The air hurts. I don't know how else to explain it. The air hurts your face right now," said Allison Baldwin, Metra rider.

"I am poor, so I can't afford an Uber," said Ellie Prendes, a musical theater major at Columbia College. "I mean, we take the train as much as we can but our classes are just far enough that the train would be good but not far enough that it would make that much of a difference."


Chicagoans are preparing for dangerous cold Wednesday and Thursday.

Anyone who works downtown can utilize Chicago's pedestrian walkway system in the heart of the city to escape the bitter cold. The system of underground tunnels and overhead bridges links more than 40 blocks.

A lot of residents said they will be working from home or work has been canceled for them Wednesday. They also plan stock up at grocery stores so they can stay in for the next few days.

"Luckily our office has given us the opportunity to stay home and work from home," said Glen Harris. "I think a lot of people are doing that, so going to go to the grocery store tonight, get some soup, get some goodies and then stay inside and bundle up and do some work tomorrow."

Polar Vortex Explainer: Get ready for bitter cold the next few weeks

ABC7 meteorologist Larry Mowry explains how the Polar Vortex is responsible for the bitter cold in late January and February.

Tuesday cold hampered air travel at Chicago's airports. As of 9:30 p.m. O'Hare International Airport reported average delays of less than 15 minutes and 286 cancelations, and Midway International Airport reported average delays of less than 15 minutes and 283 cancelations.

One traveler at O'Hare heading for warmer weather said she was going to be sad to miss the dangerous cold.

"I am going to Phoenix, where I live now, I moved there a year ago," said passenger Jane Bozym. "I am a little bit sad that I am actually going to miss the cold, just to say that I lived it."


The Illinois Department of Transportation has increased its patrols, sending IDOT Minutemen patrolmen out to search for drivers in distress or who may be stranded.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has increased its highway patrols to help drivers in distress. IDOT Minutemen patrolmen like Ricky Soto will be driving the expressways, especially overnight, to assist any driver in trouble or who may be stranded.

IDOT is also deploying a warming van to respond to people in need.

"It could be dead batteries, tires. Some people, their tires are as bald as my head," Soto said.

"It's very important that people stay in their vehicles. We don't want people exiting their vehicles in traffic and especially in conditions like this," said Guy Tridgell, IDOT spokesman.

The Illinois Tollway is also ready for the cold, and is reminding drivers that all oases are open 24 hours and can serve as warming centers.

If you must drive Wednesday and Thursday, Soto said be prepared: make sure your tires have enough air, and check your battery and alternator.

"Carry a blanket, a few blankets, depending on how many people travel with you, food, also some hand warmers," he said.


The city and strangers are scrambling to help homeless communities, whose residents are in grave danger during the extreme cold Tuesday night through Thursday morning.

Dozens of warming shelters in the city and throughout Cook County have been opened as an additional safety precaution. Officials say everyone should limit their outdoor exposure over the next few days.

RELATED: Find a Chicago area warming center near you

George Arroyo is known as the mayor of the tent city along Roosevelt Road near the Dan Ryan Expressway. He's lived there for the last four years, since his wife died. He is among the dozens of homeless men and women hoping to survive the two days of sub-zero temperatures. Strangers went to the tent city Tuesday, continuing to donate much-needed supplies to help.

City officials are keeping city-funded shelters open for 24 hours, extending hours at warming centers, and adding a half dozen CTA buses to the streets as mobile warming centers in hopes of helping the city's most vulnerable.

Covenant House Illinois at 30 West Chicago Avenue will be open Wednesday to help any homeless youth who do not have a place to go during daytime hours.

The company 5th Group Realty has booked 50 rooms at the Amber Inn for the homeless to stay in for the next three days, and also plan to provide them with food, an employee told ABC7. They are driving a bus around the city Tuesday night looking for homeless people who want to stay at the hotel.

Pastor William Fleshman of Abundant Life Christian Center will spend the next two nights at the tent city to draw attention to what he says are untapped federal funds available to help the people there.

How to spot and treat frostbite, hypothermia other winter health dangers

With cold weather comes increased risk of several kinds of health concerns. Here's a quick guide on what to do if you or a loved one is affected.


The Lincoln Park Zoo will close early Tuesday, at 3 p.m., and remain closed Wednesday and Thursday for the safety of animals and visitors, except for several species acclimated to the climate, like polar bears. The Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry will also be closed Wednesday due to the cold. Both expect to reopen Thursday, but will make that decision at a later time.

RELATED: How to keep your pets safe in dangerously cold weather

With dangerous cold forecast this week, PAWS Chicago is sharing the following tips to help you keep your pets safe.

Courthouses in Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry and Will counties will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Illinois Secretary of State Offices will also be closed Wednesday.

WATCH: Look back on Chicago's coldest days

Here's a look at the coldest days on record in the Windy City.

The city of Wheaton will not have garbage pickup on Wednesday due to the weather, but normal operations will resume Thursday and Friday.

It's even too cold for ice castles. The Ices Castles outdoor display in Geneva will be closed on Wednesday. Disney on Ice performance at the United Center has also been canceled.

Also closed on Wednesday is the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago.

Many restaurants, bars, theater productions, and other entertainment venues have closed due to the weather as well. Even if you already have tickets, be sure to check with the venue, production, or establishment before leaving the house to make sure they're not closed or canceled.


Officials are encouraging everyone to stay indoors until the extreme cold has passed, but if you've got cabin fever in the suburbs there are some indoor recreation options for you.

While many people may choose to hibernate the next few days, those who come down with cabin fever can bring their kids to blow off steam at Little Beans Cafe.

"We're hoping that people may just want a reprieve from the cold. Certain people want to leave the house and find somewhere to go," said Rob Spengler, owner of Little Beans Café.

Most school districts in the area have canceled class for Wednesday and Thursday due to the potentially life-threatening temperatures. Jeron Dorsey with the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston said they are a resource for parents who can't afford to take the day off, and the building will remain open as a warm and safe place for kids.

"We'll have meals for them like lunch, supper. We'll have gym activities, we'll have arts and crafts activities, things like that," Dorsey said.


The dangerous deep freeze can also make it difficult to keep your home warm. To avoid a loss in heat experts recommend replacing your furnace filter and keeping vents clear. Also lower blinds and close drapes.

Take precautions for your home for the deep freeze

Clear the snow from your roofs and shovel those sidewalks; preparation before the extreme cold sets in can make all the difference.

Before going to bed, raise your thermostat a few degrees to help offset the inevitable loss of heat. If you have a high-efficiency furnace, clear the intake and exhaust of snow and ice, which could pose a carbon monoxide danger.

How to keep pipes from freezing in cold weather

Making a snowman isn't as easy as it seems! Building technique and weather conditions play a very important role in how your snowman turns out.

To keep your pipes from freezing, experts say to trickle your faucets. If they still freeze, never thaw pipes with an open flame. Use a hairdryer instead.

If you'll be out driving during the deep freeze, experts say to make sure your vehicle is ready for it.

Keep your tank at least half-full, replace the car battery if it's old and add some extra air in your tires.

Officials recommended drivers plan their route in advance and tell others where they are going. Lastly, keep your cell phone charged in case something happens.

Several inches of snow fell across the area on Monday, and the Goose Island Beer Company found an opportunity for some marketing .Crews from the brewery were out in Ukrainian Village shoveling spaces as they promote two new beers named, "Pro-Dibs" and "Anti-Dibs."