WBEZ | weather http://www.wbez.org/tags/weather Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Are Chicagoans the toughest big city dwellers in the nation? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagoans-toughest-big-city-dwellers-nation-109816 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/EXTREME WEATHER.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>During this season of multiple polar vortices, we Chicagoans have been told more than once to suck it up. My Canadian and Minnesotan colleagues claim this is &ldquo;no big deal&rdquo; where they come from.</p><p>&ldquo;Welcome to my winter,&rdquo; they scoff, pulling on industrial-sized parkas and marching into the snow.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>I silently endured their scoffing while secretly plotting to prove that we native Chicagoans are not weather wimps at all -- but just the opposite. It&#39;s my contention that while we may not embrace the Inuit lifestyles, Chicagoans have to work and live through more weather extremes than probably anybody.</p><p>And we have the potholes to prove it.</p><p>After surviving this wretched winter, for example, we may face summer temps that exceed 100 degrees for days in a row.</p><p>Certainly, we must get the worst of it on both ends, making us the toughest people in the nation. Right? Probably.</p><p>This would require some reporting.</p><p>Barbara Mayes Bousted, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Omaha, Neb., recently created the <a href="https://ams.confex.com/ams/93Annual/webprogram/Paper218513.html" target="_blank">Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index</a>. Using factors such as temperature and precipitation, it basically measures how miserable winter has been for communities across the country this year and beyond.</p><p>Unfortunately, it is not exactly what is needed, because I am looking for misery on both ends of the temperature spectrum.<br /><br />&ldquo;That&rsquo;s an interesting puzzle to piece together, to figure out the range of extremes all the way from the heat to the cold,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But the index that I&rsquo;m using doesn&rsquo;t account for how far we go to the other end, the warm side.&rdquo;</p><p>She and colleagues pointed to everyone from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to scholars to WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling. All were super nice, but none could answer this question of overall toughness.&nbsp;</p><p>Just when the search seemed like it hit a dead end, I stumbled on<a href="http://www.city-data.com/top2/toplists2.html"> Citydata.com.</a> It cranks out all sorts of Top 101 city lists by crunching statistics in a variety of categories. These include lowest average temperature, highest average snowfall, coldest winters and -- YES! -- largest annual temperature differences in cities with populations above 50,000.</p><p>Certainly, Chicago would top this this, right?</p><p>Well, not on the face of it.<br /><br />The list led with Grand Forks in North Dakota, followed by a bunch of towns in that state, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin. Then finally Illinois, whose most extreme weather town (with over 50,000 people) is Rockford (No. 41), followed by Hoffman Estates (No. 43). Chicago didn&rsquo;t show up til No. 66.</p><p>Why is Hoffman Estates, in the northwest suburbs, so much colder than Chicago? That&rsquo;s a story for another day.</p><p>I decided that this list was crowded up with too many small towns. The target was metropolitan cities whose residents have to venture miles to work or school each day -- no matter what cruel joke Mother Nature served up.</p><p>So I narrowed it to cities with more than 250,000 residents. On this list, Chicago soars to sixth place. Only Minneapolis and its twin city St. Paul, Omaha, Milwaukee, and Kansas City beat us in temperature differences in an average year.</p><p>But how much time do these other urbanites really expose themselves to frosty or broiling transit platforms or street corners to get where they need to go each day?</p><p>The data on public transportation usage showed that only pesky Minneapolis bested us here. It seems that 14.4 percent of them take the bus or trolley to work, while we check in at 13 percent.&nbsp;</p><p>But when we added in the share of people who take the subway or elevated train to work each day, Chicago (at 9.7 percent) pulled ahead.</p><p>It is true that Minneapolis doesn&#39;t really have a subway or el system to help them on that list. &nbsp;But I think we win fair and square.</p><p>Still, some folks from the Twin Cities disagree.</p><p>To Lynette Kalsnes, my fellow WBEZ producer, our winters hardly compare to the those of her Twin Cities youth. &ldquo;I laugh at the very idea,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been in Chicago for 12 or 13 years and this is the first winter that has approximated anything like Minnesota.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Still, she acknowledges that our summers are&nbsp; pretty brutal, even though folks in Minneapolis also get hit with high temperatures, copious mosquitoes, and humidity.</p><p>But how can they say they&rsquo;re tough when they have those skyways between buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re only using that if you work in downtown Minneapolis to get from your job to get your lunch,&rdquo; Kalsnes parried. &ldquo;But you&rsquo;re outside the rest of the time. It&rsquo;s not like the whole state is a pedestrian mall.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s clear that these arguments could go on forever. But as one colleague pointed out, it is a little weird that we would engage in a debate over whose city serves up the most misery.</p><p>And yes, you could look at it that way. Or you could say that these debates really reflect how much we must love our cities in order to endure such extremes.</p><p>You could also say that these extremes make us all the more grateful for good weather.&nbsp;</p><p>As Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said, &ldquo;I think that no one appreciates a perfect, beautiful, summer, spring, fall, or even winter day more than a Minnesotan.&rdquo;</p><p>Well, we could offer a debate on that, but I think we should &nbsp;just call it a draw. That is because, even though Chicagoans are tough, we&rsquo;re also a very generous people.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em> podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a> or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 16:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagoans-toughest-big-city-dwellers-nation-109816 Morning Shift: The state of marriage http://www.wbez.org/morning-shift-state-marriage-109748 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/by firemedic58.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We take a look at the state of the institution of marriage and how divorce could be helping the economy. Plus, the music of Foul Tip.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-state-of-marriage/embed?header=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-state-of-marriage.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-state-of-marriage" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: The state of marriage" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Fri, 21 Feb 2014 09:12:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/morning-shift-state-marriage-109748 Just how bad is this Chicago winter? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This post has been updated to reflect how the 2013-2014 winter season in particular compares to seasons past. It introduces the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, which seeks to combine several factors that make winter miserable: temperatures, snowfall and a winter season&#39;s duration. As of March 17, the index would suggest the 2013-2014 was the third-worst since the 1950s. Additionally, the season ranks third-highest when it comes to&nbsp;</em><em><a href="#snow">snowfall</a>&nbsp;measured from Dec. 1 to the end of February.&nbsp;</em><em>Continue reading to see how recent decades (not just this season) compare to those of Chicago&#39;s past when it comes to&nbsp;<a href="#temps">temperature</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#windchill">wind chill</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#extremes">extreme events</a>,&nbsp;<a href="#grey">grey skies</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="#city">city response</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Maybe you&rsquo;re still warming up from January&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/polar-vortex">polar vortex</a> &mdash; replacing your car&rsquo;s battery or repairing the plastic insulation taped into your window frames &mdash; but bear with us: What&rsquo;s the worst part of winter?</p><p>Curious City recently got a related question from Edgewater resident Tracey Rosen:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;Is it&nbsp;true&nbsp;that Chicago winters were worse than they are now?&quot;</em></p><p>I asked Illinois State Climatologist <a href="http://www.wbez.org/results?s=jim%20angel">Jim Angel</a>, who pointed out Tracey&rsquo;s query raises questions of its own.</p><p>&ldquo;I have wrestled with that question before &mdash; what constitutes a &lsquo;bad&rsquo; winter. Is it the snow, the cold temperature, the length of the season, etc.,&rdquo; Angel said in an email. &ldquo;I can tell you that by most measures the winters in the late 1970s were the worst.&rdquo;</p><p>But it depends on what you deem &ldquo;worse.&rdquo; Would that be a winter with more snow? One with more big snowstorms? Should the coldest winter count? Or maybe one where city services like public transportation freeze to a halt?<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tracey%20rosen%20WEB.jpg" style="float: right; height: 195px; width: 260px;" title="Question-asker Tracey Rosen, who asked Curious City if Chicago winters were really worse than they are now. (Photo courtesy Tracey Rosen)" /></p><p>To answer Tracey&rsquo;s question, we broke down some of the more universal descriptors of a &ldquo;bad&rdquo; winter and found out which years had it the worst (<a href="#temps">temperature</a>, <a href="#windchill">wind chill</a>, <a href="#snow">snowfall</a>, <a href="#extremes">extreme events</a>, <a href="#grey">grey skies</a>, and <a href="#city">city response</a>).</p><p>Along the way we found out what effect a brutal Chicago winter has on the people who live here and how some of them cope. But we also struck gold when we found there&rsquo;ve been attempts to scientifically assign a value to each winter&rsquo;s particular blend of meteorological misery; this would be <a href="#misery">one measurement to rule them all</a> &mdash; or at least allow us to compare a snowy, but mild winter to one that was cold but had clear skies.</p><p><strong><a name="misery"></a>Winter and our discontent</strong></p><p>A scientist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association researches the question we&rsquo;re asking: How do you judge a severe winter? Barbara Mayes Boustead developed the <a href="https://ams.confex.com/ams/93Annual/webprogram/Paper218513.html" target="_blank">Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index</a> (AWSSI, pronounced &ldquo;aussie&rdquo;) to mathematically pin all of this down.</p><p>AWSSI assigns points to each winter based on its daily temperature maximums and minimums, its snowfall and lingering snow depth, and its length. The index designates the &quot;start&quot; of winter when the first snow falls, or the first high temperature that&rsquo;s 32 degrees or colder. If neither of these happens before Dec. 1, then that&rsquo;s when the index starts counting. The &quot;end&quot; of winter is set by the last snowfall date, the last day with one inch or more of snow depth, or the last day when the maximum temperature is 32 degrees or colder. If none of these occurs after February, then the last day of February is the end of winter.</p><p>The winter of 2013-2014 &ldquo;began&rdquo; in Chicago on Nov. 11, according to AWSSI, with 0.4 inches of snow. That&rsquo;s close to the average start date of Nov. 13, which means it&rsquo;s unlikely to rank as one of the city&rsquo;s longest winters &mdash; several have stretched five or six months. In 2006, winter started on Oct. 12 and didn&rsquo;t end until April 12.</p><p>The following chart represents the trajectory of misery within specific seasons. Read from left to right, you can see when a particular winter season began and &mdash;&nbsp;as the line climbs &mdash; how it performed on the AWSSI scale. This version represents only the five highest- and five lowest-ranking seasons. The blue, filled-in section represents 2013-2014, while the black line follows the average since the start of the 1950-1951 season. &nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://llnw.wbez.org/insert-images/boustead winter update.png" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/boustead%20winter%20update.png" style="height: 447px; width: 615px; margin: 5px;" title="Click to enlarge! This chart shows the five highest-ranking and five lowest-ranking winter seasons according to the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index. The 2013-2014 season is indicated by the blue, filled-in section and is current through March 17, 2014. The black line represents the average compiled from the beginning of the 1950-1951 winter season. Data provided by NOAA's Barbara Mayes Boustead." /></a></div></div><p>Statistically speaking, the AWWSI suggests that this winter is indeed &quot;bad&quot; compared to previous seasons; as of March 17, Boustead said,&nbsp;2013-2014 ranked as the third-most severe since the 1950s.&nbsp;</p><p>Omaha-based Boustead said she her work&#39;s<a href="http://www.omaha.com/article/20111124/NEWS01/711249895" target="_blank"> inspired by the descriptions in Laura Ingalls Wilder&rsquo;s Little House on the Prairie novels</a>, particularly <em>The Long Winter</em>.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;ve been doing this whole thing for is so that I can go back to these records and add up what their AWSSI was that winter and show how severe that winter was,&rdquo; she said.</p><p><strong><a name="temps"></a>Temperatures: chilly, crisp or spiteful</strong></p><p>Looking at data from the <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/">National Climatic Data Center, housed in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration</a>, you can <a href="http://www.southernclimate.org/products/trends.php">get a sense of that &lsquo;70s chill</a> Angel mentioned:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/h9P0LhfCacDnZMY2oWtx98ZK62yvDYMNhyDZGL-DRRCy7T67acaWyh-41Sy1yJ95Jni3eZR7bc-R9YE5kvDpDKhz1LhEMGRTced1Q-wJ5nAAEDrjBqI2ko3HmQ" style="margin: 5px; height: 474px; width: 610px;" title="Winter season temperatures in Illinois. Chart courtesy of Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program. " /></p><p>The green dots are the temperatures during individual winters (December-February). The red and blue areas are periods where warmer and cooler temperatures, respectively, dominated. A relatively cold period for northeastern Illinois (compared to its average winter temperature of 25.1 degrees Fahrenheit) began in 1976 and continued through 1987. Relatively mild winters, average-temperature-wise, immediately followed, from 1988 through 2006.</p><p><a href="http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/?n=chi_records">Chicago&rsquo;s coldest month was January 1977</a>, with an average temperature of just 10.1 degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest single temperature reading, however, was eight years later. On January 20, 1985 the thermometers hit 27 degrees below zero. And Chicago&rsquo;s coldest year on record was 1875, with an annual average temperature of 45.1 degrees.</p><p>On Jan. 26, a press release issued by Gov. Pat Quinn&rsquo;s office reminded Illinoisans that some freezes can be fatal:</p><p>&ldquo;Extreme cold temperatures are dangerous and can be deadly. Since 1995, more than 130 fatalities related to cold temperatures have occurred in Illinois, making it the second-leading cause of weather-related deaths in Illinois in the past two decades.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="300" scrolling="no" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/zZVElJBkO7Q?rel=0" width="405"></iframe></p><p>We&rsquo;ve had a few bouts of persistently cold temperatures this winter, including one that approached a length not seen since 1996, when a 66-hour run of subzero temperatures became the area&rsquo;s second longest. That record belongs to a 98-hour period beginning on Dec. 26, 1983.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s temperature as measured at O&rsquo;Hare Airport has dropped below zero 15 times this winter, <a href="http://blog.chicagoweathercenter.com/category/tims-weather-world/">as of</a> the end of January &mdash; that&rsquo;s twice the long-term average. That puts us not far from the winter of 1978-79, when the city saw subzero temperatures 23 times.</p><p>The1970s were indeed cold and snowy, enough to be a point of pride for the Chicagoans who weathered those years.</p><p>&ldquo;When people comment and say, &lsquo;Oh winters are not as cold as they used to be,&rsquo; it&rsquo;s a way to say, &lsquo;My Chicago is not what it used to be,&rsquo;&rdquo; said our question asker, Tracey Rosen. &ldquo;You know, the identity of the Chicago that I drew from is not what these young people are doing with Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Statistically speaking, though, the winter of 2013-14 could give young Chicagoans an idea of what their late 70s forbears had to deal with. Again, Barbara Mayes Boustead&#39;s &ldquo;winter severity index&rdquo; ranks this season &mdash; as of March 17 &mdash; the city&rsquo;s third-most &ldquo;severe&rdquo; since the 1950s.&nbsp;</p><p><strong><a name="windchill"></a>Wind chill: The wind blows cold</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Meridith112%20st%20charles%202014.jpg" style="float: left; height: 230px; width: 260px;" title="Wind chills can add some misery to any Chicago winter. (Flickr/Meridith112)" />A biting wind can make an ordinary cold night feel like a deep freeze &mdash; January&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/polar-vortex">polar vortex</a> brought Arctic wind chills as low as 40 degrees below zero. But, Chicago&rsquo;s coldest wind chill ever was -82 degrees. It came on Christmas Eve, 1983.</p><p>The wind in the term &ldquo;wind chill&rdquo; can compound a winter season&rsquo;s misery. For example, gusts can make it hard to clear snow. Tim Gibbons has owned Tim&rsquo;s Snowplowing, Inc. for 30 years. They&rsquo;re located in Humboldt Park now, but Gibbons started plowing in the neighborhood he grew up in and still calls home &mdash; North Center. Lately wind has been making his job difficult.</p><p>&ldquo;What we&rsquo;ve had is the phenomenon of a light, dry snow followed by a heavy-wind vortex, as these systems pass, that is taking that same light, dry snow and moved it back across whatever surface it was on,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If it was a wet, heavy snow &hellip; it&rsquo;s less likely to be driven by any wind. But this light, dry, fluffy snow moves around like dust.&rdquo;</p><p><strong><a name="snow"></a>Snowfall: Speaking of fluffy stuff</strong></p><p>According to <a href="http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/?n=CHI_winter_snow">data from the National Weather Service</a>, four of the five snowiest decades since 1890 have occurred in the last 50 years, as have eight of the 10 snowiest individual winters on record. Average snowfall for winters in the 1970s was just over 40 inches per year. (For comparison, the decade with the driest winters was the 1920s, with only 18.2 inches of snowfall per year on average.)</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/kgv6U/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="600"></iframe></p><p>Chicago went 107 days with snow on the ground from November 27, 1978 to March 13, 1979.</p><p>This season, it&#39;s unlikely we&#39;ll have snow in sight for such a long period. And, despite some notable snowfalls, some key operations are able to keep up. According to climatologist Jim Angel, this winter we have not gone more than about four days in a row with snow cover at O&rsquo;Hare. &quot;Of course,&quot; he adds, &quot;some of the piles of snow in parking lots are lasting a lot longer.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p><strong><a name="extremes"></a>Finding the extremes</strong></p><p>Just as averages can blur individual data points, looking at total snowfall can miss the difference between a quaint winter wonderland and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoth">Hoth</a>: huge snowstorms.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/winter%20%20Forest%20Preserve%20District%20of%20Cook%20County%20Records%2C%20University%20of%20Illinois%20at%20Chicago%20Library.jpg" style="float: right; height: 241px; width: 300px;" title="One good thing about lots of snow? Tobagganing. (Photo courtesy Forest Preserve District of Cook County Records, University of Illinois at Chicago Library)" />Since 1886, there have been 42 storms that brought 10 inches of snow or more to Chicago, said Ben Deubelbeiss of the National Weather Service. (The most recent one was in 2011, when <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/2011-blizzard">more than 20 inches of snow blanketed the city, stranding cars on Lake Shore Drive</a>.) Every decade has had at least one such storm, but the 1890s leads the pack with seven. The 1970s is a close second, however, with six snowstorms that dropped at least 10 inches. The 1960s were third, with five.</p><p>How about individual years? It&rsquo;s rare for any given year to have more than one Chicago snowstorm that big. In fact, Deubelbeiss said since NWS&rsquo; records began in 1886, only five years have had two storms with more than 10 inches of snow each: 1894, 1895, 1896, 1978, and 1970.</p><p>Here are Chicago&rsquo;s ten biggest snowstorms:</p><p>1. 23.0 inches Jan 26-27, 1967<br />2. 21.6 inches Jan 1-3, 1999<br />3. 21.2 inches Feb. 1-2, 2011<br />4. 20.3 inches Jan 13-14, 1979<br />5. 19.2 inches Mar 25-26, 1930<br />6. 16.2 inches Mar 7-8, 1931<br />7. 15.0 inches Dec 17-20, 1929<br />8. 14.9 inches Jan 30, 1939<br />9. 14.9 inches Jan 6-7, 1918<br />10. 14.3 inches Mar 25-26, 1970</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s single <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-chicagodays-1967blizzard-story,0,1032940.story">biggest snowstorm</a> occurred on Jan. 26, 1967. At 5:02 a.m. it began to snow. It snowed all day and night, until 10:10 a.m. the next day, dropping 23 inches of snow in all. Looting broke out, some people were stranded overnight at work or in school, and 26 people died as a result of the storm.</p><p>(Not everything was bad about the massive snowfall. Chicago Public Library researchers said <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20040402070119/http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/disasters/snowstorms.html">some of the 75 million tons of snow that fell that year made its way to &quot;as a present to Florida children who had never seen snow before.&quot;</a>)</p><p>Cold temperatures and periodic snow continued for the next ten days, aggravating attempts to cleanup after the storm and get city services back to normal. All that was made a bit more shocking by the fact that just two days before the storm, the temperature had reached a record 65 degrees.</p><p><strong><a name="grey"></a>Grey skies: The not-so-fluffy stuff</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jon%20Pekelnicky.jpg" style="float: left; height: 278px; width: 370px;" title="On average, Chicago gets sunshine 54 percent of the time. This is not one of those times. (Flickr/Jon Pekelnicky)" />Chicagoan Frank Wachowski <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-08-09/news/ct-met-weather-watcher-frank-20110809_1_national-weather-service-chicago-weather-weather-page">has catalogued the city&#39;s weather data for decades</a>, compiling its longest continuous volume of meteorological data. One thing he keeps track of is the amount of sunlight that shines each day.</p><p>Of the years tracked in Wachowski&rsquo;s records, 1992 had the most winter days (November through February) with no sunshine &mdash; 46 of those 121 days registered zero percent on Wachowski&rsquo;s sunshine recorder. Of the 25 gloomiest years using this measure, only five have occurred since 1990.</p><p>On average, Chicago only gets sunshine 54 percent of the time. That annual average has stayed about the same for 30 years, Wachowski said.</p><p>In the winter, it&rsquo;s even grayer. Winter months typically get sunshine less than 44 percent of the time. In November 1985, the sun only shined on average 16 percent of the time.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not surprising to people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, like <a href="http://arlenemalinowski.com/not_normal.htm">Arlene Malinowski</a>. SAD, as it&rsquo;s known by its acronym, afflicts about six percent of Americans. Malinowski&rsquo;s an actor and playwright who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arlene-malinowski-phd/seasonal-affective-disorder_b_4551574.html">has written about</a> the depression that sets in during long, gray winters.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re tired all the time, there is this decreased energy, a real lack of focus and productivity. It is more than just, &ldquo;oh blah I&rsquo;m having a bad day&rdquo; &mdash; it is a deep, deep sadness and emptiness,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Last week I looked out the window and the streetlights were on at 11 o&rsquo;clock in the morning, and I thought, &lsquo;This is not right.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>But there&rsquo;s a light at the end of the tunnel, literally. A lightbox can simulate sunlight indoors &mdash; a therapy Malinowski recommends along with walks or vacations, if you can take them.</p><p><strong><a name="city"></a>Municipal response: City Hall on the case</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-warming-centers-options-and-limits-109470">If you can stay warm and indoors during cold snaps and snowstorms</a>, even extreme weather itself doesn&rsquo;t throw off your schedule for more than a day or two. But when city services grind to a halt, the agony of a winter storm can go on for much longer.</p><p>When 20.3 inches of snow fell on Chicago Jan. 13-14, 1979, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/best-game-town/great-lsd-gridlock-blizzard-1979-redux">it snarled both city streets and Mayor Michael Bilandic&rsquo;s reelection ambitions</a>.Jane Byrne went on to win the municipal election less than two months later, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2010/12/30/132478152/Political-Lessons-From-Old-Chicago-Blizzard-Still-Linger">and the politics of snow would become associated with her term forever</a>.</p><p>New CTA lines running in expressway medians choked on all the de-icing salt. Unlike previous storms, the 1979 blizzard saw massive closures of rapid transit lines, in addition to buses, cars and flights.</p><p><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvFwjhpkjL0">WBBM Channel 2 News did a Special Report</a> on the city&rsquo;s response during that storm&rsquo;s aftermath. In his intro to the segment, newsman Bill Kurtis described a scene that may sound familiar to those who have weathered more recent blizzards:</p><p>&ldquo;Side streets still unpassable. Public transportation snarled. Expressways buried. O&rsquo;Hare Airport closed for one of the few times in its history. This is turning out to be Chicago&rsquo;s winter of discontent, alright.&rdquo;</p><p>About O&rsquo;Hare closing &mdash; Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said while they always have staff on hand to maintain the airport, winter weather has temporarily knocked out all available runways on several occasions. There were &ldquo;nearly half a dozen&rdquo; such occasions in the 1970s and 80s, Pride said, but that hasn&#39;t happened since.</p><p>Another major blizzard struck the Midwest in 1999, dropping <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/extremes/1999/january/blizzard99.html">22 inches of snow on Chicago</a> before temperatures plummeted to -20 degrees or lower in parts of Illinois on January 3 and 4. The National Weather Service ranked it as the second worst blizzard of the 20th century, behind only the blizzard of 1967.</p><p>Later that month in 1999, President Bill Clinton declared a disaster area in half of Illinois&rsquo; counties. Areas of Indiana were also declared disaster areas. The Midwest storm caught Detroit off guard but, <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/extremes/1999/january/blizzard99.html">according to Stanley A. Changnon of the NCDC</a>, &ldquo;Chicago was prepared. The city put 850 snow removal trucks on the streets (240 is the normal number for heavy snow).&rdquo;</p><p>The 1999 storm was slightly larger than the one in 1979, at least in terms of snowfall, but it doesn&rsquo;t carry the weight of a mayor&rsquo;s political career. It did, however, set some records. Lake Shore Drive was shut down altogether for the first time in history, and Interstate 65 in Northwest Indiana was also closed. Chicago Public Schools extended winter break by two days. By Jan. 9, one week after the storm, <a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/chicago-s-11th-year-anniversary-of-the-1999-new-years-snowstorm">only about half of Chicago students were back in class</a>.</p><p>Our most recent massive snowstorm &mdash; the 20.2-inch blizzard of 2011, responsible for the city&rsquo;s third highest snowfall on record &mdash; shares some things with its 1999 predecessor. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/03/us-weather-chicago-idUSTRE71180W20110203">Chicago Public Schools were again closed</a>, for the first time since 1999, and cars were once again stranded on Lake Shore Drive.</p><p><strong>Climate change</strong></p><p>In terms of cold and snow, generally speaking, the trend is toward milder winters. How much milder Chicago&rsquo;s winters will become, and how quickly that will happen, is difficult to pinpoint.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/GILL%20COLD%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Despite what this photo implies, Chicago winters are getting milder, generally. (WBEZ/Andrew Gill)" />&ldquo;This pattern we have been seeing &mdash; especially since the late 70s &mdash; is just this pattern of fewer days below zero, less snowfall and just overall some warmer conditions when you look at the average temperatures,&rdquo; said State Climatologist Jim Angel. &ldquo;And that kind of makes this one seem even more dramatic, I think, because we&rsquo;re not used to this kind of weather.&rdquo;</p><p>Climate change is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/23/science/earth/23adaptation.html?pagewanted=all">making the baseline Chicago winter more mild</a> but, perversely, it might also make extreme bouts of cold more common. While the overall trend is toward warmer temperatures, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/10/white-house-climate-change-polar-vortex-google-hangout">some scientists think the off-kilter &quot;polar vortex&quot; that caused early 2014&#39;s frigid temperatures</a> could drift down from the Arctic more often due to climatic variations. If that proves true, future winters could paradoxically be milder, but more prone to bouts of extreme cold thanks to <a href="http://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/how-polar-vortex-related-arctic-oscillation">an unruly &quot;Arctic Oscillation.&quot;</a> (<a href="http://www.skepticalscience.com/pliocene-snapshot.html">It&rsquo;s been millions of years</a> since we&rsquo;ve had as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as we do now, so we may see some strange or seemingly paradoxical climate and weather effects &mdash; <a href="http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2012/03/globalweirding/">some people even prefer the term &quot;global weirding&quot;</a> to describe the unexpected results of climate change.)</p><p>As we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, scientists expect the average global temperature to increase. <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/2013/13">Last year was warmer and wetter than average for the contiguous U.S.</a>, NOAA said in January &mdash; a finding consistent with climate change.</p><p><strong>A silver lining?</strong></p><p>Ultimately agony is a matter of perspective when it come to winter weather.</p><p>Tim Gibbons of TSI Snow said it&rsquo;s important to remember the good times. The 54-year-old has been around for some mighty winters, but has only fond memories of the blustery late 1970s.</p><p>&ldquo;We would skate on frozen parks outside pretty much from Christmas to Valentine&rsquo;s Day, nonstop. They didn&rsquo;t plow the side streets at all back then,&rdquo; Gibbons said. &ldquo;We would skitch &mdash; or hang on the bumper of moving cars &mdash; for entertainment, to get places. It was really quite an interesting means of transportation.&rdquo;</p><p>Now that he&rsquo;s older, he admits business can be stressful during extreme winters. But he said that&rsquo;s not the whole story. His advice? People should help each other shovel out their cars (he&rsquo;s no fan of dibs), and remember that even the coldest winter&rsquo;s only temporary.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s time we all take a deep breath, count our blessings, soldier on in the true &lsquo;I will&rsquo; spirit of Chicago,&rdquo; Gibbons said. &ldquo;Hearty people live in Chicago. We get through our winters and we celebrate our summers as a result.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 05 Feb 2014 07:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637 Chicago warming centers: The options and the limits http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-warming-centers-options-and-limits-109470 <p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: Our first answer to this question was put together while the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services was inundated with media and service requests concerning the frigid temperatures that arrived Sunday, Jan. 5. Spokesman Matt Smith was gracious enough to follow through with a comprehensive interview the following day. The current story reflects those comments and clarifications.</em></p><p>Caitlin Castelaz doesn&rsquo;t live in Chicago anymore, but that didn&rsquo;t stop her from watching news about <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/below-zero-temps-push-midwest-northeast-109464" target="_blank">the &ldquo;polar vortex&rdquo; that arrived in our region</a>. And, she said, she welled up with concern as her social media feeds filled with troubling updates and warnings. The former Rogers Park native thought about a fellow she used to pass frequently.</p><p>&ldquo;This guy &mdash; he was basically my neighbor,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;He lives under the train tracks for the El. I&rsquo;m thinking, Where&rsquo;s he gonna go? I&rsquo;m hoping he&rsquo;s got connections to go somewhere.&rdquo;</p><p>So Caitlin hopped on <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/" target="_blank">our website</a> from her cozy New York apartment and asked us:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>What are the capacities and limitations of city shelters during the cold months? How can Chicagoans help out?</em></p><p>As we and Caitlin prepped for this story, we thought we should expand the meaning of &ldquo;city shelters&rdquo; and, after a little digging, we were glad we did. The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the cold temps, but the city of Chicago understands that others sometimes need help, too. The city offers warming centers to anyone on the wrong side of a cold snap; one important caveat, though, is that the city offers safety during the cold, but not necessarily comfort.</p><p><strong>Capacity</strong></p><p>3,000. That&rsquo;s the number of beds Matt Smith from the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) said the city has available to those who need a safe, warm spot to sleep overnight during emergencies. Smith said that figure comprises approximately 600-700 beds in the shelter system. The rest serve as interim housing.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Smith, the system has not reached capacity since our sub-zero stretch hit Sunday, Jan. 5. (Smith estimates that 96 percent of beds were filled the evening of Monday, Jan. 6.) He said the city could add emergency bedding for an additional 500-600 people if needed.</p><p dir="ltr">Both Smith and the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/oem.html" target="_blank">Office of Emergency Management and Communications</a> assured residents that no one who needs help will be turned away.</p><p dir="ltr">But the City of Chicago is not the only one providing emergency places to stay warm and sleep. Private organizations and nonprofits also offer spots to stay warm and sleep.</p><p>Kristine Kappel, who coordinates shelter services for Catholic Charities, wrote that as of Monday afternoon, &ldquo;At Catholic Charities in Cook and Lake Counties we have 287 shelter beds available and are at full capacity.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago operates a dozen <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/fss/provdrs/serv/svcs/dfss_warming_centers.html" target="_blank">warming centers</a> throughout the city, many of which are offices or centers run by the Department of Family Support and Services. Notably, only the Garfield Center at 10 S. Kedzie Ave. offers overnight accommodations. Smith said that between Sunday, Jan. 5 and the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 7, approximately 1,500 people had used the city warming centers.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/caitlin-1.jpg" style="height: 233px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Caitlin Castelaz feels we can better protect people by knowing more about how social and other services operate during emergencies, including cold snaps. (Courtesy of Facebook)" /></p><p>Anyone who needs a spot to beat the cold can also go to <a href="http://www.ccc.edu/" target="_blank">City Colleges</a>, <a href="https://www.chipublib.org/" target="_blank">public libraries</a> and <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/oemc/general/PDF/Cold_Weather_Shelters_Map.pdf" target="_blank">police and fire stations across the city</a>. According to officer Marty Ridge, who works out of the 14th District station in Logan Square, these are meant to be places to warm up and beat the elements for a short time; there&rsquo;s no food or drink served. Police can coordinate a ride to a longer term solution &mdash; be that a warming center or a shelter.</p><p><strong>Limitations</strong></p><p>Aside from the Kedzie location, the warming centers offer limited hours, though the city has <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/fss/supp_info/CommunityCenters/WarmingCenterFlyers/010214WCenterFlyerExtendedHours.pdf" target="_blank">extended centers&rsquo; operations</a> during the current bout of dangerously low temperatures and high winds. Some city warming sites are open only to seniors.</p><p>Smith said that during non-emergency situations, there&rsquo;s a gap between when warming centers close and shelters open, leaving people with a few hours to kill before a warm space opens up.</p><p>&ldquo;By extending those hours, they can leave a warming center at 8pm and go right to a shelter,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Or if they&rsquo;re in the shelter system &nbsp;they can stay to just wait it out.&rdquo;</p><p>Half of the city&rsquo;s warming centers are for seniors, and those offer hot beverages and food year round, but the other six sites don&rsquo;t. That limitation means some people who do find relief from the cold must eventually head back into once they get hungry.</p><p>Several WBEZ reporters were turned away from reporting from inside warming sites, but West Side Bureau Reporter Chip Mitchell interviewed Jerome Williams, who spent Sunday evening at the Garfield Center. Williams reported that the bathrooms were in terrible shape.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s urine all over the floor. There&rsquo;s no door, and it&rsquo;s not cleaned right,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not nice for the kids to be in there. No door on the stall. None whatsoever. They say there&rsquo;s work going on it. They said that a couple of weeks ago.&rdquo;</p><p>Concerning this complaint, Smith said the warming centers are &ldquo;not luxurious&rdquo; and meant to simply keep people out of harm&rsquo;s way. &ldquo;Given the fact that people are sometimes in emergency situations, maybe someone will have an accident and they may not smell fresh. The point is it&rsquo;s an alternative to someone being out in the deadly cold, and it is deadly cold.&quot;</p><p><em>(Update: On Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 7 we received a message from 28th Ward Alderman Jason C. Ervin&#39;s office stating they reached out to&nbsp;Fleet and Facilities Management and the bathroom stall door situation &quot;... is being fixed as of this point.&quot;)</em></p><p>Another limitation of the shelter system is outreach. While the city and other agencies attempt to direct residents in need to available resources or shelters, those residents sometimes do not accept the offers. Officer Marty Ridge said it can be an issue of trust; some have had negative experiences at a shelter or they&rsquo;re reluctant to leave all of their belongings behind. Shelters won&rsquo;t necessarily hold someone&rsquo;s shopping cart full of belongings.</p><p>The city attempts to educate people living on the streets about available resources. Smith said the city collaborates with various agencies to step up that outreach ahead of and in times of extreme cold or heat.</p><p>&ldquo;We can&rsquo;t force someone to come in off the street, but we&rsquo;ll certainly try to assist them and work with them to get them to the point where they will accept our services,&rdquo; Smith said.</p><p><strong>So, what can Chicagoans do to help?</strong></p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><strong>Check on your neighbors, family and friends.</strong> This is especially the case with the elderly and those with disabilities. Make sure they have enough food, medication and any other necessary supplies, such as batteries or backup power. If you think someone in Chicago may need assistance you can&rsquo;t provide (e.g., a warm meal or a ride to a Chicago warming center) call 311.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><strong>Shovel sidewalks and curb ramps.</strong> It&rsquo;s common sense, but the longer someone takes to trudge from point A to point B, the longer they&rsquo;re exposed the elements and the danger from it. When you clear sidewalks and curb ramps, you help everyone get around more quickly and safely, especially those who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs. When sidewalks are deep with snow or ice, people sometimes resort to walking in the street, which presents additional dangers.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><strong>Donate warm clothing to local charities.</strong> It&rsquo;s never too late to donate new or used blankets, coats, gloves, snowpants and other cold weather gear. The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and clothing donation bins accept clean items in good repair, year round.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr"><strong>Slow down, look around, be helpful.</strong> Whether you&rsquo;re driving, biking, walking or gazing out the window at the person trying to dig their car out of a snowbank, it never hurts to use that niceness that Midwesterners are known for and lend a hand. &nbsp;</p></li></ul><p><strong>Resources for getting help or helping others</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/311.html" target="_blank">311</a>: Call 311 for all requests for assistance within Chicago. The city can offer or otherwise coordinate wellness checks on you, your neighbors, friends or family. You can also learn about transportation options to warming centers. (In an emergency, of course dial 911.)</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/fss/provdrs/serv/svcs/dfss_warming_centers.html" target="_blank">Warming Centers</a>: The Department of Family Support and Services offers a dozen warming centers around Chicago, some specifically for seniors. During the cold snap in early January, the agency <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/fss/provdrs/serv/alerts/2014/jan/extended-hours-for-community-service-center-patrons.html" target="_blank">extended hours</a> at many centers.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/oemc/general/PDF/Cold_Weather_Shelters_Map.pdf" target="_blank">Cold Weather Shelters:</a> The city allows anyone seeking refuge from the cold to go to their closest police or fire station to stay warm. Capacity varies at each building, and oftentimes workers there will help connect people to a shelter or a warming center if needed.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/snowportal/chicagoshovels.html" target="_blank">Chicago Shovels</a>: This site, run by the city of Chicago, tracks snowplows, allows you to lend a hand to those who need assistance shoveling snow, and offers other apps for winter preparedness.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://webapps1.cityofchicago.org/volunteerregistry/" target="_blank">Emergency Assistance Registry for People with Disabilities or Special Needs</a>: This registry allows Chicagoans with disabilities or other special needs to voluntarily identify themselves as requiring assistance during emergencies. For example, the form notifies first responders that a resident relies on specific medical devices or can&rsquo;t communicate verbally.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs" target="_blank">FEMA disaster preparedness for people with disabilities</a>: The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a helpful kit to prepare for dangerous weather situations.</p><p>As for what the city and others agencies might do if another bout of extreme cold comes our way, Smith said &ldquo;All of Chicago&rsquo;s cold weather emergency plans are a process of evolution.&rdquo; He said changes come from experience (like he blizzard of 2011 prompting <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/new-escape-routes-lake-shore-drive-93621" target="_blank">new turnarounds</a> on Lake Shore Drive), and his department will be reviewing how the city handled this particular emergency and adapt their strategy if necessary. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Curious City tweets <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZCuriousCity" target="_blank">@WBEZCuriousCity</a></em></p></p> Mon, 06 Jan 2014 18:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-warming-centers-options-and-limits-109470 Metra in the wind, sleet and rain http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/metra-wind-sleet-and-rain-108252 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Metra train thumbnail image Flickr Larry Darling.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Cory Feign remembers being marooned somewhere between Mount Prospect and Chicago&rsquo;s Ogilvie Transportation Center, staring out the windows of a Metra train at a drizzly little storm.</p><p>What I would think of as a typical storm came through,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The kind of thing that if you were a kid you&rsquo;d be riding your bike through puddles as the storm was wrapping up, that trains should keep moving through. It didn&rsquo;t seem like, &lsquo;Thank God they stopped this train.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>That got him thinking:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>When and why did Metra start shutting down the entire regional train system due to potentially severe weather?</em></p><p>The 37-year-old rides his bike to Metra&rsquo;s Union Pacific Northwest line in suburban Mount Prospect every morning, commuting to his job across the street from Ogilvie as a trader for WRN. He says in recent years severe weather warnings have screeched trains to a halt more often than they used to.</p><p>At least compared to 2012, Cory is right. <a href="http://climateillinois.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/wet-june-and-wettest-year-to-date-in-illinois/">Until July this was Illinois&rsquo; wettest year to date</a>, with parts of the state <a href="http://climateillinois.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/il-prcp-mpe-m2d-dev-20130630.png">including northern Cook County, where Cory&#39;s train goes</a>, registering big departures from average precipitation between January and June.</p><p>Last year, extreme weather delayed 41 Union Pacific trains, compared to 209 so far this year. A lightning strike in April knocked out signals near Ogilvie, delaying 74 trains in one fell swoop.</p><p><strong>Ever-watchful tracks</strong></p><p>When we set out to answer Cory&rsquo;s question, Metra spokesman Mike Gillis corrected our course right away.</p><p>&ldquo;Metra has not recently shut down system-wide in bad weather,&rdquo; Gillis said. &ldquo;What has happened, however, is that BNSF Railway and Union Pacific have stopped trains.&rdquo; Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific are independent train companies, based in Texas and Nebraska respectively. They operate the Metra lines that bear their names, while Metra operates the seven remaining lines in the local commuter rail system.</p><p>BNSF, UP and Metra share the goal of keeping riders safe, Gillis said, but their operating rules vary slightly. So we asked Mark Davis, spokesman for Union Pacific.</p><p>&ldquo;Weather plays a huge role in the rail industry and has since its beginning,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The weather service AccuWeather provides UP with national weather data, he said, but the railroad company is already well-connected. It has sensors along railroad tracks across its 23-state network that measure the heat in railcar bearings. Those sensors feed data into a master computer system, which also gets information from about 1,400 temperature stations operated by UP.</p><p>&ldquo;Why is that important to us? Well, extreme weather fluctuations impact the rail itself,&rdquo; Davis said. &ldquo;During the summer, in extreme heat, rail wants to grow, metal wants to expand and grow. During the winter it&rsquo;s just the opposite &mdash; you have a huge temperature swing on the cold side and rail wants to pull apart.&rdquo;</p><p>Temperature swings cause slowdowns, or even put kinks in railroad switches.</p><p><strong>What happens during the rough stuff?</strong></p><p>When the weather&rsquo;s bad &mdash; but not bad enough to force a full shutdown &mdash; trains slow to less than 25 miles per hour. Metra dispatchers tell trains to reduce speed when there is a weather advisory for a tornado or severe thunderstorm.</p><p>High winds also pose a threat. At 70 miles per hour, wind can blow over a train car, but UP slows or stops service at 65 mph, in case there is a gust. AccuWeather currently provides wind speed information, updated every 15 minutes, but UP is rolling out its own network of wind sensors, Davis said.</p><p>Right now their closest wind sensor to Chicago is in central Iowa.</p><p>BNSF is working with Metra in Chicago to install wind detectors to provide real-time wind speed data along their line.</p><p>During a tornado warning, all UP trains stop in the warned area and usually wait at least 30 minutes after a warning is lifted, Davis said.</p><p>Metra uses similar protocol. Trains slow to 25 mph or less when there is a wind advisory above 60 mph. If wind speeds are expected to be above 70 mph, dispatchers tell trains outside the warning area to stop short as they close in, while workers inspect the track ahead. At 80 mph, or during a tornado warning, dispatchers instruct trains to stop at the first safe location and await further instructions even if they&rsquo;re outside the warning area.</p><p>Wind hasn&rsquo;t toppled any Midwest commuter trains in recent years, but coal trains and overloaded freight cars have blown over. In China<a href="http://web.archive.org/web/20070302073413/http:/www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/02/28/china.train.ap/index.html"> hurricane-strength winds during a sandstorm derailed an 11-car train, killing at least four people and injuring another 30</a>.</p><p>Luckily for Metra riders, such speeds aren&rsquo;t common in northern Illinois. According to Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, wind speeds have only topped 60 about 14 times since the early &rsquo;80s at O&rsquo;Hare (wind speed data is gathered at commercial airports).</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s hard to say if the number is really changing over time,&rdquo; Angel said. &ldquo;It appears to occur most often in the summer months.&rdquo;</p><p>But wind that wouldn&rsquo;t blow over cars might still rip off tree branches or bring down power lines. If a train engineer sees something on the tracks, he&rsquo;ll radio back to Metra&rsquo;s offices downtown.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve empowered our train crews,&rdquo; Davis said. &ldquo;If they feel it&rsquo;s unsafe they have the power to stop the train.&rdquo;</p><p>The worst disruption to area trains in recent years was the February second blizzard in 2011. Five Metra rail lines closed as more than 20 inches of snow blanketed Chicago. The other lines had to run on Sunday schedules.</p><p>So what about Cory&rsquo;s sense that shutdowns have become more common? Even if trains are still running during high winds and thunderstorms, he says it seems like they&rsquo;re running slowly. And those delays ripple out.</p><p>UP spokesman Davis likens it to O&rsquo;Hare, where a thunderstorm at one airport can affect airports across the country.</p><p><strong>Comparing notes: With your friends and en masse</strong></p><p>Cory has several friends who take a few of the other Metra lines. During delays they&rsquo;ve taken to sharing notes on weather conditions and announcements from train engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;I take the Northwest line and I have friends that take several of the other train lines. We kind of compare notes when these things are happening, because you get kind of bored sitting on the train with nothing to do,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Sometimes my friends will be like, &lsquo;Have you heard anything?&rsquo; &hellip; We have our own communication system to figure out when we might be able to get back home. It seems like that wouldn&rsquo;t be too hard to implement for the general public.&rdquo;</p><p>Metra does have<a href="https://twitter.com/Metra"> a Twitter feed</a>, which announces delays and advisories as they happen. &nbsp;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>ME Advisory - Inbound Train #118 Operating Approximately 15 to 20 Minutes Late <a href="http://t.co/7onDHeRl6Y">http://t.co/7onDHeRl6Y</a></p>&mdash; Metra (@Metra) <a href="https://twitter.com/Metra/statuses/362243482519220224">July 30, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p>With all the different weather conditions that could slow or stop a train, Cory&rsquo;s impromptu database may be at a disadvantage. But if he and his friends have service on their smartphones, they might do well to check weather maps and advisories. The people running their train sure are.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes for WBEZ. Follow him at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"> @cementley</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 31 Jul 2013 16:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/metra-wind-sleet-and-rain-108252 Wet weather not hurting Illinois farmers http://www.wbez.org/news/wet-weather-not-hurting-illinois-farmers-107963 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/illinoiscorn.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois farmers lost a lot of money last year when crops were unable to withstand the drought and high temperatures.</p><p>But Illinois has had plenty of rain this year. In fact it has had the wettest six months of the year on record.</p><p>According to John Hawkins of the Illinois Farm Bureau, rain has delayed planting.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally by the 4th of July we&rsquo;re just entering the pollination stage for corn. That&rsquo;s the critical stage to developing the crop. Last year at this time we had half the crop pollinated. This year we&rsquo;re nowhere near there. We have less than 1 percent entering pollination stage. It will probably be the middle of July when we get to that critical stage.&rdquo;</p><p>Hawkins isn&rsquo;t worried though. With lots of rain and mild temperatures, he expects a great yield for corn.</p><p>&ldquo;You couldn&rsquo;t ask for better conditions across illinois,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Soybean crops are also benefiting from the increased moisture, Hawkins said, but the true weather test will come in August.</p><p>Hawkins said soybeans do much better in warmer temperatures.</p><p><em>Mariam Sobh is the midday and weekend news anchor at WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/mariamsobh" target="_blank">@mariamsobh</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 08 Jul 2013 07:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/wet-weather-not-hurting-illinois-farmers-107963 Massive storm system surges toward Mid-Atlantic http://www.wbez.org/news/massive-storm-system-surges-toward-mid-atlantic-107674 <p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday she will focus much of her attention on issues promoting early childhood development, women and children and economic issues as part of the foundation created by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.</p><p>The potential 2016 White House contender offered her most extensive description of her post-Obama administration agenda since leaving her role as the nation&#39;s top diplomat. Clinton walked out to applause on stage at a Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago, calling the Clinton Foundation &quot;my home&quot; for several new public policy initiatives close to her heart.</p><p>&quot;What I think we have to be about is working together, overcoming the lines that divide us, this partisan, cultural, geographic (divide),&quot; she said. &quot;Building on what we know works, we can take on any challenge we confront.&quot;</p><p>Clinton&#39;s speech at the start of a two-day conference touched on themes that could be part of a future Democratic presidential campaign, with the former New York senator stressing the need for private and public partnerships to tackle issues like economic and educational inequality.</p><p>&quot;This can&#39;t just be a conversation about Washington. We all need to do our part,&quot; Clinton said. The foundation has recently been renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation to reflect the family&#39;s full involvement in projects around the globe.</p><p>Clinton noted that she had visited 112 nations as President Barack Obama&#39;s secretary of state &mdash; &quot;I&#39;m still jet-lagged,&quot; she joked &mdash; and had learned several lessons during her travels around the world. Regardless of someone&#39;s circumstances or homeland, &quot;what people wanted was a good job,&quot; she said. She also pointed to efforts in rural West Virginia to boost education and overcome poverty, saying economic inequality was &quot;not limited to one county in West Virginia.&quot;</p><p>&quot;There are too many places in our own country where community institutions are crumbling, social and public health indicators are cratering and jobs are coming apart and communities face the consequences,&quot; she said.</p><p>As secretary of state, Clinton promoted a number of initiatives to improve the standing of women and girls in developing nations and she said that focus would continue, both in the United States and abroad. Clinton also described efforts to bolster early childhood opportunities around the nation, a subject that Obama has pushed this year.</p><p>The founder of the initiative, Bill Clinton, said he was glad his spouse was joining him at the foundation &quot;with her own priorities and projects.&quot; The former president said he learned everything about non-governmental organization work from his spouse, who worked early in her career with the Children&#39;s Defense Fund and was active on a number of educational and health initiatives as first lady of Arkansas.</p><p>Mrs. Clinton&#39;s remarks focused on the initiatives she&#39;ll be pursuing at the foundation and did not address recent criticism from Republicans over her handling of the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last September. She did not address a recent report that said misconduct complaints against American diplomats were improperly halted by senior State Department officials while she was at the State Department. The State Department&#39;s internal watchdog has asked outside law enforcement experts to review the cases.</p><p>The conference included sessions led by the former president; the couple&#39;s daughter, Chelsea; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and actress Eva Longoria. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 White House contender, was joining the former president on stage Friday for a session entitled &quot;Cooperation and Collaboration: A Conversation on Leadership,&quot; a nod to Christie&#39;s embrace of a bipartisan mantle as he seeks re-election in his Democratic-leaning home state this year.</p><p>For the former first lady, who grew up in suburban Chicago, the speech served as one of her most public forays since departing the administration. She has delivered a number of private speeches around the country and is writing a book about her time at the State Department but offered little indication on whether she&#39;ll run for president again. She remains the heavy favorite within the party to succeed Obama and Republicans have begun dissecting her record.</p><p>The conference was held in a hotel only about a mile away from Grant Park, where Obama delivered his victory speech in 2008 after a lengthy battle for his party&#39;s nomination against Mrs. Clinton and a general election against Arizona Sen. John McCain. The event in Obama&#39;s hometown drew a number of the president&#39;s allies, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former White House aide under Clinton and Obama&#39;s chief of staff; longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and Lew, who served as Obama&#39;s chief of staff and also served in the Clinton White House.</p><p>Later Thursday, the former secretary of state was being honored at a dinner with a Chicago-based non-profit organization founded by former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and his wife, Susan, and other parents to promote research into epilepsy. As first lady, Clinton helped organize a White House conference on epilepsy in 1999. The event was another sign of approval for Clinton among Obama&#39;s supporters, with many of the attendees coming from the top echelon of Obama&#39;s financial backers.</p></p> Thu, 13 Jun 2013 10:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/massive-storm-system-surges-toward-mid-atlantic-107674 That giant gaping hole on the Southside of Chicago? It may not be a sinkhole after all http://www.wbez.org/news/giant-gaping-hole-southside-chicago-it-may-not-be-sinkhole-after-all-106727 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/sinkhole.jpg" title="Officials survey a gaping hole that opened up a residential street on Chicago's South Side after a cast iron water main dating back to 1915 broke during a massive rain storm. (AP/File)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F88462957" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>A 40-foot hole opened up on a residential street on Chicago&rsquo;s South Side. It swallowed up three cars and a man who suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Many are calling it a sinkhole. But that might not be quite right.</p><p>Anthony Randazzo is professor emeritus at the University of Florida&rsquo;s geological science department and president of Geohazards, Inc, a business that consults on sinkhole issues all around the world.</p><p>He says that the 40-foot hole is actually a giant pothole.</p><p>&ldquo;Unfortunately, journalists don&rsquo;t like to be told what they have is a pothole and not a sinkhole because that&rsquo;s far less glamorous,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Randazzo said sometimes companies that fix these kinds of problems also misuse the term.&nbsp; &ldquo;Sinkhole&rdquo; sounds far more terrifying than &ldquo;pothole&rdquo; and so they can charge more to fix the issue.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s the real difference according to Randazzo:</p><p>Water chemically dissolves limestone, and other similar stones, over many years, forming underground caverns. If one of those caverns collapses, then you got yourself a sinkhole.</p><p>In Chicago, a water main broke, perhaps due to the extreme downpour. That physically-- not chemically which is key-- eroded the soil. The result was a pothole.</p><p>In Illinois, we don&rsquo;t have much limestone, so true sinkholes are unlikely. They are more common in places like Florida, where limestone is present.</p><p>But don&rsquo;t be deceived, said Randazzo, potholes can be a real problem for big cities.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a rapid deterioration of infrastructure in major cities,&rdquo; said Randazzo. &ldquo;You can expect to see more of this.&rdquo;</p><p><em>If potholes don&rsquo;t sound quite terrifying enough to describe the pictures and videos you&rsquo;ve seen today, feel free to tweet me your alternative titles at <a href="http://twitter.com/shannon_h" target="_blank">@shannon_h </a>or leave them in the comments.&nbsp;</em></p> <iframe src='http://embed.newsinc.com/Single/iframe.html?WID=1&VID=24744887&freewheel=69016&sitesection=cltv_localnews&width=601&height=338' height='338' width='620' scrolling='no' frameborder='0' marginwidth='0' marginheight='0'></iframe></p> Thu, 18 Apr 2013 14:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/giant-gaping-hole-southside-chicago-it-may-not-be-sinkhole-after-all-106727 Happy freaking spring http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2013-03/happy-freaking-spring-106308 <p><p dir="ltr" id="internal-source-marker_0.06758440856154846">The secret to Chicago is not getting through winter: It&rsquo;s being able to withstand spring.</p><p dir="ltr">Winter might be colder, but big picture, it doesn&rsquo;t feel that long due to the holidays. You have New Year&rsquo;s, then Valentine&rsquo;s Day, then Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and before you know it&rsquo;s March and it&rsquo;s spring. Whee, right? Lambs springing about, daffodils poking through the ground, delicious new-season produce, sunshine!</p><p dir="ltr">Not so fast.</p><p dir="ltr">You most likely live here so you know what happened the first day of spring. Something that looks like this:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/springweather.png" style="height: 198px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div></div><p dir="ltr">And ever since that day it&rsquo;s been the same, over and over again: gray and tedious, the weather equivalent of an orange you spent a lot of time peeling that turned out to be dry, bitter and tasteless.</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1695455129_a8ce7c1944.jpg" style="float: left; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Happy spring. (Flickr/Greg Timm)" />What&rsquo;s irritating is that the commercial world around us does not react accordingly. Baseball begins. The Gap advertises fun pastel jeans. Magazines start beseeching you to get your body bikini-ready. Stores want us to buy fun baskets and bright green fake grass to prepare for a beautiful sunny Easter when in reality you&rsquo;re probably going to have to wear a parka over your cute spring outfit and the eggs you found on your Easter egg hunt will chip your teeth because they&rsquo;re frozen. And then you eat 90 Cadbury creme eggs to make yourself feel better and you feel gross afterwards.</p><p dir="ltr">That gray sky is just looming two feet above your head all week long, and you don&rsquo;t want to go outside during your lunch hour because it&#39;s so gray and blah. You know you should but you don&rsquo;t get around to it and then you feel crappy for sitting on your butt in your office chair all day and you go home and it&#39;s only Wednesday.</p><p>And it&rsquo;s only March still? We probably won&rsquo;t feel the warmth of the sun until June? How is the lake simultaneously gray and brown? We don&rsquo;t get any days off work until Memorial Day? Good lord. Then you start googling the symptoms and cures for SADD.<br /><br />Winter gets a bad rap. But winter isn&rsquo;t the season that brings you down and teases you by promising something it can&#39;t deliver. Spring can eat it.</p><p><em>Follow me on Twitter @Zulkey.</em></p></p> Wed, 27 Mar 2013 09:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2013-03/happy-freaking-spring-106308 Misery loves company: What the Forbes survey of Chicago leaves out http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/misery-loves-company-what-forbes-survey-chicago-leaves-out-105810 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/chicago_ap_605.jpg" style="width: 516px; height: 280px;" title="(AP Photo)" /></div><p>Forbes recently listed Chicago as their fourth most miserable city, behind Detroit, Flint and Rockford&mdash;meaning that the states of Illinois and Michigan were having bad days overall. In part of their clearly objective calculus, they listed our high crime rate and weather as signs of our happiness deficit&mdash;because math said so. To an extent, I can see where they are coming from. If you&rsquo;ve ever watched the news, even for a second, you know that crime in Chicago is a problem, and our crime rates on the South Side have been compared to Iraq. I don&rsquo;t have to tell you about the weather. You don&rsquo;t coin the word &ldquo;Snowpocalypse&rdquo; because everything is rainbows and kittens and sunshine. The weather is terrible, but you live through it. The redness of your skin, as you fight those below-zero winds, gives it character.</p><p>In most cities, the environmental and infrastructural issues would be cause for misery. But what makes Chicago special is that Chicagoans thrive in almost any condition. When the roads overflowed with snow in 2011 and drivers were trapped on the Dan Ryan, they helped each other to safety. On a particularly blustery January day, we huddle underneath the heat lamps for warmth, bringing shared comfort to friends and strangers. We provide for each other by bringing coffee to our co-workers, who are compatriots in our seasonal agony, and working up a smile, even in the most trying condition.</p><p>This is because Chicagoans prepare for the worst. Years of bad winters and digging our cars out of yet another blizzard have made us tough and prepared for anything. Why do you think our improv scene in Chicago is so big? It&rsquo;s because Chicagoans are always ready to say &ldquo;Yes, and?&rdquo;&mdash;whether that&rsquo;s with a pile-on joke, a punchline or a shovel. We&#39;re prepared for whatever life throws at us. In most cities, they stay indoors in the snow, hiding as if the apocalypse actually were coming. Here our universities and schools stay open and our baristas show up at 5 a.m., just like always, because we are going to need that extra cup as we brave the sodden trains.</p><p>It might be an annoyance, and our students complain when school isn&rsquo;t cancelled. However, our refusal to cancel is an important aspect of our civic character. We refuse to back down, even if that means putting on another pair on Long Johns. This is what we signed up for.</p><p>And even in the most miserable conditions, Chicagoans find room not just for camaraderie but for joy. When the Snowpocalypse actually shut down DePaul&rsquo;s campus&mdash;which, as a student, was a first&mdash;students took to the quad and the streets to go sledding. The empty streets gave us unexpected freedom, and we filled them with the games of our childhood. We built snowmen (and snowwomen) along Fullerton, and the truly adventurous even made snow angels in the middle of the road. The act was reckless and could have gotten the angel maker run over, but it showed we weren&rsquo;t afraid of anything&mdash;whether nature or machine.</p><p>One of my best friends is from California, where snow is a cause for national emergency, and they don&rsquo;t share that sense of seasonal community. &nbsp;They don&rsquo;t have to worry about the skies erupting with ice or a surprise 40-degree day turning back to the dark side by nightfall, when the winter returns to haunt us. The winters are idyllic and peaceful. Chicagoans may beg for a mild season in our worst winters&mdash;which we strangely miss during those years when the cold passes us by.</p><p>Last year I spent most of the fall season in Paris, and when I came back to Chicago for Christmas, part of me looked forward to the season I had grown accustomed to. The benign drizzle of the Champs-Elysees felt improper in mid-December, as if a law of nature were being violated, and when I returned to see that Chicago was the same, I felt like I had been cheated out of something. This wasn&rsquo;t right.</p><p>When the site crashed for the Chicago Marathon last week, Chicagoans erupted in outcry, but I wasn&rsquo;t surprised that half of the city apparently wanted to sign up. Endurance is part of our life cycle, and we know that the finish line is just ahead. There&rsquo;s nowhere in the world quite like Chicago in the summer, as the city erupts in a three-month celebration of music, food and beer. Our hidden communities come out into the open. Every day is like a Pride parade, and even in 90-degree heat or sudden rain, you can&rsquo;t stop the party. However, without the winter, those months feel unearned, as if you&rsquo;ve been given a gift without doing anything to receive it. The winter teaches you to cherish the sun. When May and June roll around, you feel as though you&rsquo;ve made it. You&rsquo;re here. It&rsquo;s like Christmas.</p><p>Chicagoans jokingly blame the seasons for our high crime rate&mdash;quipping that it&rsquo;s enough to drive anyone off the edge&mdash;but they are a symbol of us. Like the winters, our city isn&rsquo;t easy to love, and sometimes when the Red Line spontaneously sends me to Howard or I&rsquo;m told the Foster bus won&rsquo;t be here for another fifteen minutes, I curse that I&rsquo;d rather live anywhere else in the world. I&rsquo;d rather live somewhere where our infrastructure didn&rsquo;t marginalize half of its residents with little public transit, while giving Lincoln Parkers every transportation option in the world.</p><p>Would it be easier to live somewhere where the schools weren&rsquo;t a mess, and I didn&rsquo;t have to ever hear the words &quot;Rahm Emanuel&quot;&mdash;whose name is approaching Voldemort status? Yes. But Chicago is my home, and the city has taught me that you fight for your home. You criticize it when it needs criticizing, and you work to improve it. A friend of mine, Wes Perry, recently referred to Chicago as an &ldquo;ensemble&rdquo; city, describing our penchant for ensemble-based performance&mdash;from Second City to Steppenwolf. However, I think that phrase describes our entire city, a series of ensembles, coming together to ensure the show must go on. To repurpose an old saying, there&#39;s no business like Chicago.</p><p>Chicago might not be the simplest city ro inhabit, but I can&rsquo;t think of anywhere else in the world I would live. It wouldn&#39;t be home.</p><p><em>Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ life in Chicago. Follow Nico on Twitter @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/nico_lang">Nico_Lang</a> or <a href="http://www.facebook.com/nicorlang">Facebook</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 28 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/misery-loves-company-what-forbes-survey-chicago-leaves-out-105810