MORRIS – For the second time this month, Grundy County looked more like the Arctic Circle than central Illinois on Sunday and Monday with negative temperatures, several foot tall snow drifts and wind gusts around 53 mph.
The consecutive cold snaps have propelled Illinois into the 13th coldest winter on record in its history, according to the National Weather Service.
“Wind chills are predicted to reach 40 below [zero],” Jim Lutz, director of the Grundy County Emergency Agency, said Monday. “When it’s that cold, it’s absolutely life-threatening.”
Monday’s temperatures hovered near minus 5 degrees with temperatures forecast to dip to minus 15 degrees late Tuesday night. While the rest of the week looks warmer, it still will be cold. Temperatures are predicted to stay in the 10 to 20 degree range, except for Thursday, which will see a high of 29 degrees.
With wind blowing at 10 to 15 mph, residents are urged to stay inside to avoid frostbite and exhaustion.
Wind gusts Sunday were much higher getting around 53 mph, and caused whiteout driving conditions on Grundy County roads for much of the day. The Grundy County Sheriff’s Office responded to 73 motorist assists from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning.
“It got really bad during the day [Sunday],” Kevin Callahan, Grundy County sheriff, said Monday. “Visibility was low all over the county.”
Callahan said most of the assists involved pulling cars from ditches as drivers on county roads lost all visibility.
“In the daytime you can kind of get around, but at night it gets really dangerous because all you have are your headlights,” Lutz said. “You can completely lose your sense of direction.”
The National Weather Service reported the snow cover is helping keep the temperatures low. The snow works somewhat like a freezer, trapping and preserving the cold air before it can move on.
The snow also deflects the sun’s waves, which prevents the sun from heating the surface.
The first extreme cold front hit northern Illinois on Jan. 6, and meteorologists can’t say for sure if it will return again before winter’s end.
“We’re still in mid-January. I can’t promise anyone that we won’t see another cold snap this winter,” said Amy Seeley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Chicago. “The temperatures will probably remain cool into February, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see below-zero temperatures again.”
The stretch of below-average temperatures could cause the county, like several homeowners in the area, to go over budget on its heating costs.
Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson said the county reduced its heating budget for the administration building by $3,000 this year, not anticipating the extreme temperatures. Last year, the county budgeted $22,000 for heating the building, and this year, the county budgeted $19,000.
“We’ve only gotten the bill for December and it was about $2,000,” Severson said. “We expect January’s bill to be double that. We’re still under budget but we’re only two months in.”
The administration building also has experienced problems with heating and plumbing because of the cold temperatures, which is adding more unexpected weather-related costs to the county’s expenditures this year.
Other county buildings, such as the courthouse, dispatch building, sheriff’s office, highway department and animal control are funded by the county, as well, but come out of separate budget lines, Severson said.
“I think by the end of the year we’re going to be tight on budget,” Severson said. “We budgeted for a normal winter, but this, this is just so abnormal.”