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Reading of minus 16 breaks record low temperature

Updated: January 6, 2014 1:28PM



Strong winds and record cold plunged Chicago into a dangerous deep freeze Monday morning, closing highways and causing delays on the CTA and Metra. The temperature at O’Hare Airport hit minus 16 at 7:51 a.m., and wind chills dropped to minus 42 as Chicago turned into “Chi-Beria.”

City officials did not mince words in warning the public of the extreme weather.

“If you can stay indoors. Please do so,” said Gary Schenkel, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. “Everyday activities may not be feasible.”

CTA trains and buses were running on every route, but some with ‘”minor delays” of up to 10-15 minutes, according to CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.

Metra was another story, with Milwaukee North and West lines; North Central; BNSF; UP West, North and Northwest experiencing delays of 15 minutes to up to nearly two hours. Switching problems at Ogilvie Transportation Center backed up trains for more than an hour.

The South Shore train line in Indiana, meanwhile, suspended all service.

Blowing and drifting snow also closed Interstate 80-94 in both directions between the Illinois state line and Interstate 90. Interstate 94 closed in both directions through the U.S. 421 exit at Michigan City, and Interstate 65 closed between U.S. 12/20 in Gary and mile marker 172 in Lafayette.

And as bad as minus 15 sounds — breaking a record set in 1988 — the temperature could still drop another degree or two Monday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Enderlen.

But as hearty bunches of Chicagoans waited out CTA delays at the Addison Blue Line station Monday, some said it didn’t feel as cold outside as they expected.

Their trick: Layers.

“I have double layers from head to toe,” said Kathleen Buchar.

“I’ve got a North Face sweatshirt,” Brian Devereux said. “Big winter jacket, two pairs of pants, three socks, girlfriend’s boots.”

Devereux, who said he’s lived in Chicago all his life, said Monday’s temperatures were possibly the coldest he’s seen.

Peter Theis, who also doubled up his layers Monday, said he didn’t think the conditions were too bad for his commute despite the coldest temperatures he’s seen “for a long time.”

He noted his walk to and from the train station isn’t very long.

But he and Buchar each said they could have stayed at home. They decided to venture out anyway.

“My kids are home from school,” Buchar said. “I’ll get more done if I go into the Loop.”

Garbage and recycling collection in Chicago was suspended for Monday, but was expected to resume Tuesday.

Chicago Public Schools students got the day off Monday because of the cold. CPS officials originally gave parents the option to send their children to school or keep them home, but reversed course Sunday afternoon. The Chicago Teachers Union had issued a statement calling for classes to be canceled.

The University of Chicago, DePaul University and Northwestern University will be closed Monday; Loyola University planned to be open. Catholic elementary schools in Cook and Lake counties will be closed Monday.

Many adults will not have to take off their pajamas on Monday, as some companies, including the Chicago Sun-Times, are allowing employees to work from home. Nurses, doctors, paramedics, police and other emergency workers aren’t so lucky. And supermarket and other retail workers will have to brave the cold to get to their jobs.

Abt, an electronics and appliances store, canceled all deliveries Monday.

The Brookfield Zoo; the Museum of Science and Industry; the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium will be closed on Monday. Lincoln Park Zoo will have abbreviated hours and the Field Museum will remain open with free basic admission.

Cook County Circuit Courts will be open Monday, but detainees held in the Cook County Jail won’t be taken to their scheduled court appearances, except for those scheduled to appear at the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 2600 S. California Avenue in Chicago, according to an order from Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced that jail inmates who were scheduled for release Monday, but have no warm place to go, will be allowed to postpone their discharge until the weather warms up. Visitation at the jail was suspended Monday and Tuesday.

For the city’s homeless population, remaining outdoors could be fatal.

Pacific Garden Mission, the city’s largest homeless shelter, expects to break their record of overnight visitors, 1016, which was set a few days ago.

“We will set up mats on the ground and use every available space we can,” said Phil Kwiatkowski, president of the mission.

Six community service centers and six senior centers in Chicago will be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday to help those seeking refuge from the bitter cold. Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave., is the lone site open 24 hours every day. Anyone seeking respite should call 311, said Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services.

“No one will be turned away who needs shelter,” Diaz said, who noted that social workers will be dispatched to areas where the homeless are known to congregate to persuade them to come inside.

“We can’t legally, physically remove somebody from their locations if they refuse to go,” Diaz said. “If somebody refuses to leave, no matter what, we will know where they are, we will keep close tabs on them.”

The cold came on the heels of Sunday’s snow, which sent cars sliding across lanes on highways and city streets, snarling traffic.

Between helping a crush of last-minute customers trying to prepare their cars for the cold, Chris Sewall, a service manager at Pep Boys auto repair in Logan Square, suggested drivers take care of basic car maintenance to avoid nightmarish breakdown situations in subzero weather. Sewall dealt with an influx of people with old car batteries that had died because of the cold on Sunday. A few suggestions he offered for cold weather drivers: Check the air pressure in tires, make sure jumper cables and a set of extra warm clothes are in the car.

More than 1,300 flights were canceled Sunday at O’Hare International Airport Sunday, and all flights had minor delays as crew worked to de-ice planes and runways, according to the city’s Department of Aviation. Another 1,600 flights had been canceled by noon Monday, with delays of about 30 minutes.

Inside the airport, weary travelers recounted airline horror stories and expressed frustration with their inability to get home.

Slumped against a baggage conveyor, 33-year-old Maria Maturana said she had been trapped in a two-day-long holding pattern ever since she left Nashville, bound for her home in Madison, Wis., following a business trip.

Maturana said she was routed from Nashville to Philadelphia to O’Hare, where she had been stuck since Saturday night. She thought a flight insurance policy she purchased would help, but came to learn that flight insurance doesn’t apply to weather related troubles.

The airline offered her a bunk bed at the airport, but luckily her employer sprang for a hotel room, she said. Still, two Sunday flights she was booked on were canceled. And her baggage, containing important medicine, was missing, she said.

Once her luggage arrived, she planned to board a bus for Madison, thanks to a voucher from the airline, and she hoped to arrive home sometime late Sunday or early Monday.

“Right now I feel like crap. This is the worst,” Maturna said. “Why aren’t they prepared for this? Winter happens every freaking year.”

Standing in line at the American Airlines ticket counter, 25-year-old Boston resident Brian Boudreau said he was optimistic that his flight to Washington, D.C., — and eventually home to Boston — would depart. Of course, several other flights the nurse-practitioner student was supposed to be on already had been canceled.

“I’m generally optimistic, but this is attempt No. 3,” said Boudreau, who was in town for a bachelor’s party.

At least 200 flights were canceled Sunday at Midway Airport, and another 85 flights were canceled Monday, with delays of about 40 minutes, the department said.



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