'Dangerously cold' weather blasts Chicago area

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(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - The bitter cold that moved into the Chicago area on Christmas Day is expected to stick around through the new year.

“Excessive Cold Risk” is what the National Weather Service (NWS) calls it, and it is warning of “dangerously cold” temperatures and wind chills through next week and then the possibility of snow later this week.

That excessive risk will remain in effect at least through New Year’s Day, as dangerously low wind chills return for the weekend.

“We’re definitely in a cold pattern that’s not going to break anytime soon,” NWS Meteorologist Stephen Rodriguez said Tuesday.

The cold isn’t expected to break records, but it will hurt if not properly dressed, he said.

High temperatures won’t likely climb out of the mid-teens all week, and lows will be in the single digits, meaning wind chills will be below zero for much of that time.

The normal temperature for this time of year is about 32 degrees, Rodriguez said.

“Pretty brutal” are the words his NWS colleague Kevin Birk used to describe the situation. “We aren’t expecting any big snow storms, but there will be some minor accumulations over the area starting Thursday and into Friday night.”

Wednesday’s high was expected to be only 8 degrees with wind chill values as low as 15 degrees below zero, Rodriguez said.

Temperatures at O’Hare International Airport reached a low of 2 degrees below zero Tuesday morning. The dangerously low temperatures could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as few as 30 minutes, according to the weather service.

AAA’s service requests in the Chicago area were up Tuesday by 165 percent compared to the usual amount of calls, according to AAA spokeswoman Gail Weinholzer. She said most of the service requests were due to dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires caused by the cold weather.

“Any time we’re coming off of a long weekend and have somewhat extreme temperatures, we always see an uptick in call volume,” Weinholzer said. “We’re up in service requests, but it’s certainly manageable.”

Trains on some Metra lines were experiencing delays during Tuesday’s morning commute due to switch problems, according to the transit agency. The most extensive delays were reported on the Rock Island District, Union Pacific North, Milwaukee West and BNSF lines.

A wind chill advisory was also issued until 11 a.m. Wednesday for Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Will, Kankakee, Livingston, Iroquois, Ford and Lake counties in Illinois, as well as Porter, Newton, Jasper and Benton counties in Indiana, according to the weather service. The coldest conditions will exist north of I-88, where wind chills could range from 15-to-25 degrees below zero.

With a high of 21 degrees at midnight and a daytime high temperature of 15 degrees, 2017 marked Chicago’s coldest Christmas Day in more than 10 years, the weather service reported. The city recorded the coldest Christmas Day in 1983, when the temperature dropped to 17 degrees below zero, with a high of 5 degrees below zero. The city was not expected to reach record-low temperatures on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Several warming centers are dedicated for residents to find refuge from the cold. The warming centers are open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at:

Englewood Center, 1140 W. 79th St.
Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave.
King Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
North Area, 845 W. Wilson Ave.
South Chicago, 8650 S. Commercial Ave.
Trina Davila, 4312 W. North Ave.

The Garfield Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To request a well-being check for someone who may be suffering from the cold, report inadequate heat in a residential building, or connect to shelter and supportive services, call 3-1-1.

For information on Cook County warming centers outside of Chicago, people should call the Cook County Department of Homeland Security’s Duty Desk at (312) 603-8185.