MORRIS – Grundy County and much of the Chicago area are experiencing the longest below-zero cold wave since 1996 with temperatures reaching negative 15 Monday afternoon.
“We may get every bit as cold if not colder as we go into tomorrow,” said Matt Friedlein, meteorologist for the National Weather Service of the Chicago region Monday. “For January, when you are this far below normal for this long, it’s really striking. The last time we had any such stretch like this was back in the mid-90s.”
Friedlein said Morris’s temperatures were about 40 degrees below average on Monday and predicted the area will feel it for 36 hours before temps rise above the zero degree mark.
In 1996, the Chicago area saw temperatures below zero for 66 consecutive hours. While this week’s event is expected to let up by Wednesday, Friedlein said this is the worst cold spell the area has experienced in the last decade.
“This polar vortex – which usually stays up near the Hudson Bay area – has sort of buckled down and shifted to the Great Lakes area,” Friedlein said. “With it being so far south, it’s sending this cold air across the whole eastern two-thirds of the United States.”
The weather event was ushered in by a snowstorm that dumped 9 inches of snow in Morris, according to a report from the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency.
Monday afternoon a short power outage occurred in Morris. Just before 1:30 p.m. power went out affecting 1,425 customers, many along Route 47 and U.S. 6 west. The outage lasted about 10 minutes, a ComEd spokesperson said. The cause was an issue with a cable line.
Most businesses, schools and city government offices were closed Monday because of the snow and extreme temperatures.
“We didn’t want buses with young children on them getting stranded on a country road with emergency crews unable to get to them quickly,” said Chief Tracey Steffes of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District.
According to Illinois State Police, Interstate 55 from I-355 to Dwight Road, I-80 from Harlem Avenue to LaSalle Road and all of Route 1 still were in extremely dangerous condition Monday.
Traffic volume was much lower as people avoided facing the extreme temperatures and icy roads, said Morris Police Deputy Chief John Severson.
Severson said Morris police only responded to a handful of weather related calls on Sunday and Monday. The Grundy Sheriff’s Office aided in 20 motorists assists and four minor accidents, Sheriff Kevin Callahan said
“Without question, the biggest problem is dead car batteries,” said Beth Mosher, Director of Public Affairs for AAA Chicago. “Even a good battery in zero degrees has 35 percent less starting power. This weather really zaps the power of the batteries very quickly.”
Mosher said even those who don’t plan on driving should start their cars periodically throughout the day to help maintain the battery’s charge. Mosher added that AAA has been busy responding to emergency calls in the last 24 hours.
“We have 650 calls coming in every hour, and that’s just the Chicago and northern Indiana region,” Mosher said. “A busy day for us is normally 200 calls an hour. Most of those are dead batteries and frozen locks.”
Andrew Harris, doctor at Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers, said the hospital has only treated one or two cases of weather-related injuries since Monday morning.
“I think it’s just so bitterly cold out that people are doing the right thing and just avoiding it,” Harris said.
With wind chills as low as negative 40 degrees, hypothermia and frostbite can set in “extremely fast,” Harris said.
“Old people don’t generate heat as well as young people and infants have a relatively high body surface area, which means they can lose their heat relatively quickly. Those two groups are more at risk,” Harris said.
He encouraged everyone to avoid the cold and watch for symptoms of hypothermia, which can cause dizziness, confusion and severe shivering.
“Once you start cooling down to a dangerous temperature at about 92 degrees Fahrenheit, you will start to feel a metabolic slow down,” Harris said. “That’s something you really want to avoid.”
The warming center set up at the Grundy County Administration Building closed early Monday after no one showed up within the first six hours.
Steffes said he thinks emergency crews and officials were well-prepared for the cold wave, which helped mitigate any weather related problems.
“We put together five task forces throughout the county to help with rescues, and it actually worked out rather well,” Steffes said. “I’m happy with the public, too. We asked the public to not travel unless it was a need, and I really think, by looking at the amount of traffic on the roads, the public stepped up and heeded the warning.”
• Wear hat and gloves to keep feet and hands warm and dry
• Cover as much of your face as possible when outside. Breathe through a scarf to warm air before it enters you lungs
• Wear several layers of lightweight clothing rather than a few layers of heavy garments. The air between the garments acts as insulation to keep the body warmer.
In the car
• Allow extra time when traveling and start your journey with a full tank of gas
• Keep a winter storm kit in your car. This should include blankets, food, flares, chains, gloves and first aid supplies.
• Do not use oven as a heating device.
• Make sure cracks in windows and doors are repaired or use towels, rugs or newspapers for a quick fix.
• Have bottled water, canned foods, flashlights and batteries on hand.
Source: Grundy County Health Department