CHICAGO – Illinoisans faced a second day of school closures and slippery commutes Tuesday, as dangerously cold conditions kept the state in a deep freeze and wind gusts created new snowdrifts and icy patches on roads only now being cleared of last weekend’s snow.
Temperatures fell to 14 below zero in the St. Louis suburb of Cahokia overnight, but no corner of the state was spared, with thermometers hitting minus 12 in the Chicago area, minus 11 in Springfield and minus 1 in Carbondale, National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Deubelbeiss said. He said temperatures were expected to climb into single digits during the day, but that the wind could make it feel much colder.
Emergency officials urged residents to keep taking precautions – and stay home, if possible – until the weather warmed and the roads were clear.
“Road conditions are improving, but the majority of roads still are snow- and ice-covered; they’re still very slick and dangerous,” Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Paris Ervin said. She said emergency workers were getting a lot of calls to assist motorists who ended up in ditches or got into fender-benders: “Motorists are just driving too fast for dangerous conditions.”
Cold temperatures and winds prevented salt from melting snow and ice from many roadways, stranding 221 travelers in Red Cross shelters throughout central Illinois overnight, spokeswoman Erin Miller said. She said some “were making the decision to go ahead and go” Tuesday, but shelters will remain open as long as they’re needed.
Chicago’s largest homeless shelter, the 155,000-square-foot Pacific Garden mission, was overflowing and “placing people anywhere we can, using classrooms, offices, auditorium, moving seats to make available floor space,” Rev. Phil Kwiatkowski told the Chicago Sun-Times.
At least seven deaths have been blamed on the extreme weather, including a 64-year-old Christian County man whose body was found in snow about a half mile from his home Monday and an 80-year-old Blue Island man who suffered hypothermia.
Dozens of commuter trains in Chicago were canceled Tuesday after equipment malfunctioned because of the extreme cold. Meanwhile, hundreds of Amtrak passengers who spent the night on board three trains stranded in northern Illinois arrived in Chicago.
Two trains were stuck near Mendota, about 80 miles west of Chicago, before passengers were loaded onto buses. A third train with 217 passengers spent the night at a BNSF rail yard in Galesburg; they were taking buses for the final 150 miles to Chicago.
The city’s two airports canceled almost 1,200 flights on Tuesday because of the cold, though temperatures were expected to reach 5 above by the evening.
The comparatively balmy temperatures Tuesday meant good news for at least one Chicago resident: Anana, the Lincoln Park Zoo’s polar bear, got to go outside.
She was kept inside Monday as the temperature dipped to 16 below, with wind chills making it feel as low as minus 50. Zoo officials said Anana doesn’t have the thick layer of fat that wild bears develop by eating things such as seals and whale carcasses.
McLean County cattle farmer Jim Fraley said his animals were able to stay outdoors because they have thick hides and grow winter coats. As long as they have a wind break and lots of food and water, he said it’s not unusual to see them with snow on their backs, unfazed.
“The first thing I do is make sure my cattle are out of the wind, bedded down with plenty of feed and water,” he said. “They need energy to keep warm.”