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Local tow truck drivers ‘swamped’ during deep freeze

Published: Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 10:53 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 11:03 p.m. CST
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Michael Driver of Marengo braves the below zero temperatures Monday as he delivers mail along Page Street in Marengo. Wind chill values from 25 to 40 below zero are expected through early Wednesday according to the National Weather Service. Blowing and drifting snow could result in blizzard-like conditions in open and rural areas.

If there’s evidence supporting the oft-repeated advice to keep blankets and warm clothes packed in your car at all times, it probably lies in the business flooding local tow truck drivers.

During a winter heavy both on snow and subzero temperatures, towing companies are having one of their highest volume winters in memory.

“We’ve been swamped,” said Patrick Blank, owner of Whitey’s Towing in Crystal Lake. “I’ve never been this busy.”

For better or worse, towing companies should expect to see another busy day Tuesday, with temperatures expected to dip to 20 below zero overnight and rise only to 2 below during the day. The overnight low on Tuesday night was forecasted at minus 9.

With wind chills expected to register at more than 36 below zero overnight, nearly all McHenry County schools had already canceled Tuesday classes by midday Monday. Most already made the decision to close for two days on Sunday. Area libraries had also closed, and some businesses were doing the same.

Snow and ice bring the typical calls for a tow truck, such as for a vehicle that has slid into a ditch. Such calls have been high this year with snow frequently hitting McHenry County.

But the extreme cold takes its own vehicular victims, particularly stressing diesel trucks.

“We do the bigger trucks, too,” said Doug Noble, who owns Union-based Noble Towing and Automotive. “So you get the diesel gelling, and you get your brakes freezing up.”

Diesel fuel can “gel,” or freeze, which means it can no longer pump through fuel lines and power the vehicle.

“You have to watch where you buy your fuel and make sure you put your additives in,” Noble said.

The wind chill warning issued by the National Weather Service is scheduled to expire at 9 a.m. Wednesday, which is the day McHenry County can expect some relief – at least from the most extreme cold.

The temperature should reach 15 degrees Wednesday and then 24 degrees Thursday. Thursday, Friday and Saturday each call for a chance of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Both Noble and Blank say they’ve been pushed to the max, but haven’t dealt with a volume of vehicles they can’t handle.

Blank said that at times, high demand has meant longer wait times for a tow truck. But the company prioritizes jobs where a driver and passengers are left in the cold over someone who has been picked up from their broken-down car.

Still, he offers the same advice to all drivers that he often directs toward his son when he’s preparing to leave the house.

“You should always pretend that your car is going to break down,” Blank said.

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