CHICAGO — A fresh blast of frigid arctic air sent temperatures plummeting overnight and produced dangerously cold conditions that prompted Illinois schools, cultural institutions and government buildings including courthouses to call off business for Wednesday.
All of northeast Illinois, northwest Indiana and southern Wisconsin was under a wind chill warning starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday until noon Thursday, with a wind chill advisory in effect until the warning period begins. Wednesday was expected to see air temperatures that range from minus 15 to minus 26, according to the National Weather Service.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation Tuesday to provide resources to officials across the 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 in a statement. “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.”
During a news conference Tuesday at one of the city’s two 24-hour shelters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the declaration will help the city recover funds for the additional services it’s providing, which range from indoor activities at park field houses for children to warming buses for the city’s homeless.
Emanuel pointed to Sunday’s rescue by Chicago police officers of a 33-year-old man and his dog from the frigid water off Foster Beach as an example of residents looking out for each other during the dangerous conditions.
“Every one of us have a role to check on somebody, that may be a neighbor on the block who is elderly or needs extra help,” Emanuel said.
On Monday, Cook County logged the 20th death attributed to cold weather since Oct. 30. A 39-year-old man was pronounced dead Monday at Evanston Hospital. On Tuesday, officials determined he died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease with obesity and hypothermia as contributing factors, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. His death was ruled an accident.
The potentially record-setting temperatures come after 13 consecutive days with at least a trace of snow at O’Hare International Airport, according to the weather service. More snow could be on the way, with a chance of light snow Wednesday morning and again Thursday night.
The last time the area recorded 13 consecutive days of snow was from Nov. 26, 1978, to Dec. 8, 1978 — the same winter as the blizzard of ’79, the weather service reported. But that stretch saw much more snow, with 23.5 inches recorded.
The prolonged cold snap in much of the Midwest and East Coast is due to a disruption in the polar vortex. The cold front moved into the area from Monday night to Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, the area was expected to feel wind chills as low as minus 20 to minus 30, according to the National Weather Service. And the wind chills would drop to 50 to 60 below zero overnight.
As a second, even more brutal cold surge moved in Tuesday evening, temperatures Wednesday could reach 20 degrees below zero or colder, according to the weather service.
“It certainly gets cold in Chicago wintertime, but this is going to be record-breaking cold,” said Kevin Donofrio, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
The stretch of subzero temperatures, flirting with Chicago’s all-time low, is expected to last into Thursday, with the temperature at O’Hare possibly not rising above zero degrees until early Friday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, it appeared the area had more of a chance of hitting the record low early Thursday rather than early Wednesday, said Casey Sullivan, a meteorologist for the weather service. The low for Wednesday morning was expected to be minus 24 while the low for Thursday morning was expected to be minus 26, Sullivan said.
The lowest temperature ever recorded in Chicago was 27 below zero on Jan. 20, 1985. While that record isn’t certain to fall, daily record lows for Jan. 29 of minus 16 and for Jan. 30 of minus 15 could be bested, as could the coldest daytime high in Chicago of 11 below zero, set Christmas Eve 1983.
Chicago Public Schools canceled all classes and activities that were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Most schools and some churches and other institutions have been listing closings on the Emergency Closing Center website.
Alonzo Williams, from the Chicago Park District, said park field houses across the city will be offering free drop-in programs for students. The programs will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and include activities such as basketball and arts and crafts. Parents have to register on the district’s website or in person.
Two warming centers operated by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services will be open 24 hours.
Lyft, the ride-sharing app, was offering free rides with a value of up to $25 to Chicago residents trying to get to one of the city’s warming centers, according to an email from the company.
Chicago airports had more than 1,400 flights canceled Monday because of weather. The city’s Aviation Department was reporting almost 500 flight cancellations, with departure delays averaging less than 15 minutes at O’Hare and Midway airports by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The department has delay and cancellation information on its website, and links to individual airlines’ flight information.
(Chicago Tribune’s Liam Ford contributed to this report.)
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