CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County is entrenched in bitter cold, and it’s not expected to warm up anytime soon.
The cold weather is affecting everything from water pipes to garbage collection schedules to bringing home groceries.
The average high for this time of year is about 30 degrees, but temperatures recently have been shy of hitting 20 degrees, said Ricky Castro, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Temperatures ranged from
10 degrees to 15 degrees Tuesday, and another cold front is expected in the afternoon Wednesday, with temperatures at 5 degrees below zero by Wednesday night.
This is the coldest air McHenry County residents have experienced since 2014, with Monday’s 1 degree high the coldest since Jan. 6, 2014, Castro said.
Residents throughout the area not only are cold, but also are seeing their pipes freeze.
Jeralynn Gosser of Lake in the Hills was putting away groceries Tuesday morning when she noticed her La Croix cans had exploded after freezing. Her garage door won’t close all the way, and it now has to be manually lifted.
“Our boys’ rooms above the garage are freezing cold, so in the spring we plan to have a contractor look into adding insulation above the garage to help with this,” Gosser said. “Their floors are so cold they almost feel wet to walk on.”
The low temperatures are expected to continue through Saturday, with a brief reprieve Sunday and Monday, when high temperatures are expected to be about 30 degrees, Castro said.
If the weather holds, the Chicago area will tie a record set in 1895 and 1936 for the most consecutive days (12) where temperatures never climbed above 20 degrees.
Hannah Mich of Crystal Lake took her 18-month-old and 5-year-old daughters to the Crystal Lake Public Library to get out of the cold.
“It’s a nice way to keep them entertained and active while also staying warm,” Mich said. “I can’t bring them outside, so this is a nice alternative. My 18-month-old loves to play with the puppets, and the 5-year-old loves playing on their computer.”
Woodstock Public Works Director Jeff Van Landuyt said he has received calls from residents with frozen pipes, and it’s a common trend to see during cold spells.
“Sometimes people get crabby and miserable, and we haven’t seen as much of that lately,” Van Landuyt said. “Most are off work, and because it’s the holidays, people are taking the cold in stride. The longer it goes on, the more we’ll get complaints.”
He said sometimes a pipe will be by a window and glass will break, or a vacant apartment might have a window slightly open and that creates problems to keep buildings warm.
“It’s harder to get our guys outside, and we want to help them get through the day, as well,” Van Landuyt said.
Using portable heating devices
Castro encouraged people to be careful and cautious of heating equipment, such as space heaters, to make sure they don’t overheat or catch fire.
The owners of Algonquin Sub Shop were trying to thaw frozen water pipes Tuesday when wood siding caught fire, Battalion Chief John Knebl said.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Kern said colder temperatures become a challenge for firefighters because the water instantly freezes on the ground, making an ice rink for firefighters trying to move around quickly.
“Firefighters are challenged by trying to stay warm once they get wet,” Kern said.
Additionally, any water not flowing into the hoses leaves a chance for the nozzles to freeze.
Last week in Woodstock, firefighters responded to a fire at an abandoned gas station. Fire Capt. Karen Bush said it appeared a homeless person had started a fire to keep warm.
Sue Rose, McHenry County Housing Authority’s community service director, said the Old Firehouse Assistance Center – a shelter that provides resources for homeless people in Woodstock – typically serves 25 to 30 people a day, but now is serving close to 50 people daily because of the low temperatures.
“It’s a frightening and dangerous time right now for people who are homeless,” Rose said.
Rose recommended that people become familiar with the location of warming centers in the area, and said they should be able to direct people who look cold to a center. Most police stations, hospitals and libraries have places where people can warm up, she said.
The winter is a hard time for anyone who is homeless because it is hard to navigate shelter space when there is a limited number of spots available, Rose said.
Most homeless people have to use PADS church sites, which are open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. During the day, homeless people need to find other locations to keep warm.
“Thank God they are available, but it’s hard going from church to church every night,” Rose said. “It’s all we have right now, and we are working on an alternative.”
The Old Firehouse Assistance Center, 120 W. South St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Garbage truck fleets out of service
MDC Environmental Services, headquartered in Marengo, saw low temperatures affecting fuel for its fleets, and the service is urging residents to keep their garbage cans out.
District manager George York said that the subzero temperatures created fuel problems, and when crews began their routes Tuesday, only 20 percent of the fleets would run successfully. Crews began working at 3 a.m., but because of the subzero temperature, the diesel fuel was “gelling up” in the trucks, York said.
“Generally, we run our fleets every day, but due to the longer weekend, the trucks sat there for two extra days, and that exacerbated the problem,” York said.
The garbage disposal company was set to grab all garbage for the Huntley area Tuesday but could not finish servicing the area. If residents did not get their garbage collected Tuesday, York said their garbage will be the first to be collected Wednesday.
York said he hopes Huntley is finished by Wednesday, and Crystal Lake and Woodstock will be finished by Thursday.
Schools keeping close eye on temperatures
Community Unit School District 300, Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, Community High School District 155, Woodstock School District 200 and McHenry School Districts 15 and 156 are on winter break until Monday.
However, students return to Huntley School District 158 on Wednesday. Dan Armstrong, director of communications and public engagement for the district, said the school monitors weather, temperature and the wind chill, with the primary concern of hosting school being bus operation and kids having to stand at bus stops in the morning.
“We don’t want students being out in the cold for too long in the morning, especially when there is a wind chill,” Armstrong said. “We have very young children in the district, and we don’t want them standing outside in extreme cold temps.”
When temperatures drop, the district has several backup buses at various points that are able to quickly respond if there is a breakdown or delay, Armstrong said.
District 158 Superintendent John Burkey has been keeping an eye on the forecast and as of Tuesday, having school Wednesday did not seem like a great concern, Armstrong said. Families should make sure their children are dressed appropriately for the weather, especially if they are standing at a bus stop, Armstrong said.
There is no specific wind chill or temperature at which schools are closed, but districts begin examining closing when the predicted wind chill is 30 degrees below zero or lower.
“We are lucky that we have relatively new and very efficient buildings, so we just make sure they are warm, sidewalks are cleared and salted, and making sure parking lots are cleared and safe [and] accessible to drive on,” Armstrong said.
With the district’s buses not moving in two weeks, mechanics began working Tuesday to turn on the buses, inspect them and get them in order before Wednesday’s morning pickup.
The buses use a winter-blended fuel that helps prevent gelling. Some of the buses were plugged in from midnight to 5 a.m. to help keep the buses warm, and covers are put on the front of the bus to keep the engines warmer, Armstrong said.
Tips to survive the cold
Dress for the weather:
• The Huntley Police Department is recommending that people wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing and to wear a hat, as 40 percent of a person’s body heat can be lost through the head.
• Limit exposure of skin, and limit duration of time outside. “While it won’t be as cold out Tuesday as it was Monday night, it’s still at the level where frostbite is possible,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ricky Castro said.
What to do when traveling:
• If traveling, keep extra clothes and blankets in the car.
• Make sure to have a full battery and a way to contact people if your vehicle has problems or you become stranded.
• Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
• If you become stranded, stay with your vehicle. It provides a temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to find you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm or freezing wind chill.
Keep pipes from freezing:
• Find and insulate pipes most susceptible to freezing. These pipes typically are near outer walls, in attics or crawl spaces.
• Seal any leaks that allow cold air inside where pipes are.
• Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets.
• Make sure you know how to shut off the water, in case pipes burst.
Safely use space heaters:
• Do not leave space heaters unattended or close to flammable items, such as bedding or clothing.
• Do not place the heater on a carpeted surface.
• Make sure your space heater has been professionally tested for safety.
Keep pets safe:
• Keep pets inside and do not let them stay outside for any longer than needed in below-freezing temperatures. If you’re unable to keep pets inside during the cold, provide a dry, warm, solid shelter against the wind.
• Provide location options for pets to sleep based on their needs for more or less warmth.
• Make noise when entering your car. Feral and outdoor cats might search for a warm vehicle engine, so check beneath your car, bang on the hood and honk the horn before starting the engine.
• Dress up pets in sweaters and coats, but make sure to have several on hand. A wet sweater can make a pet colder.
Sources: Huntley Police Department, AAA, village of Woodstock, American Veterinary Medical Foundation