Deep freeze hits Chicago again

January 26, 2014

The Associated Press

(AP Photo)
Charlita Lucious takes in what little warmth the sun gives off as she waits for her bus in sub-zero tempereatures, Monday Jan. 27, 2014 in Chicago.

A second deep freeze in weeks locked the Midwest in its icy grip Monday, prompting schools to close, airlines to cancel flights and the mass mobilization of emergency crews to dig out major roadways.

From Chicago, where parents were forced to bring their kids to work or call in sick to stay home and care for them, to South Dakota, where officials were warning about treacherous driving conditions, this latest round of subzero highs in many parts of the Midwest had many people wondering when it would end.

"I'm moving to Alaska where it's warmer," Kathy Berg said in jest — though it's in fact true of current weather conditions — as she arrived by train for her job in Chicago wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, sweatshirt, polar fleece hoodie, winter coat, knit cap, two scarves and two pair of gloves.

A persistent weather pattern that's driving Arctic air south was forecast to force temperatures to plummet for about 2 1/2 days, starting overnight Sunday. Actual temperatures will range from the teens in northern Kentucky to double-digits below zero in Minnesota, but even colder wind chills were expected — minus 43 in Minneapolis; minus 18 in Dayton, Ohio; minus 14 in Kansas City, Mo.; and minus 3 in Louisville, Ky.

By sunrise Monday, weather forecasters in Chicago were telling viewers that the high temperature for the day had already come and gone and that the low may reach minus 4 degrees with wind chills at 40 below.

It was the same in Nebraska and Iowa, where the weather service issued warnings for both subzero temperatures and wind chills that could reach minus 40 degrees — a forecast that had Amy Henry, an employee at a 24-hour drug store in Omaha thinking enough was enough.

"I just look at my (apartment) pool every day and say, 'Oh, come on, summer,'" said Henry, 36.

Meanwhile, at Donutville U.S.A. in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, a couple of guys said they weren't going to let a little cold keep them from their morning cruller.

"We're here every day — we never miss," said Angelo Barile, a 72-year-old retired owner of an Italian bakery.

Traveling in many places remained treacherous Monday. Officials in many states urged people to stay off the roads, including in Indiana where 50 mph gusts were recorded early in the day. And in Michigan, parts of which have experienced their snowiest January on record, weather-related crashes killed three people over the weekend and roads remained slick.

On Monday, snow drifts kept Interstate 29 closed from Sioux Falls to the Canadian border before reopening in the morning.

Travel remained difficult in Chicago. Airlines had canceled more than 1,000 flights at the city's two major airports during the last cold snap, and the city's aviation department said by Monday morning more than 500 flights already had been canceled this time.

At Union Station, some early morning trains were cancelled, leaving frustrated travelers to wait around until the afternoon before they could get trains out of the city.

Meanwhile, homeless people looking to stay warm kept a watchful eye for security at the station, knowing if they stayed in one place too long they would be kicked out.

"You have to keep moving around," said Von Khan, 67, who carried big shopping bags in each hand and a backpack slung over his shoulder.

Frigid temperatures are expected to hold into Tuesday. If Chicago makes it to 60 straight hours below zero, it would be the longest stretch since 1983 — when it was below zero for 98 hours — and the third longest in 80 years.

Chicago Public Schools called off Monday's classes for its nearly 400,000 students, as did some suburban districts and schools in Michigan and elsewhere.

That forced Kristelle Brister, the manager of a Chicago Starbucks, to bring her 9-year-old son into the store where other employees scrambled to keep up with orders.

"We had two (employees) call in because they couldn't come to work because of the school closings and another called in sick," she said. "It's hard."

Business is far from usual this winter for Alex Alfidi, manager at Leo's Coney Island restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham. His 24-hour restaurant been getting some carryout patrons, but the casual walk-in customers have stayed away.

"We slowed down big time," said Alfidi, 39. He said he's logged some challenging winters in his 15 years in Michigan.

"This is the biggest one," he said.