Droves of McHenry County residents flooded the aisles of local hardware stores Sunday to assemble their coldest-day-of-the-century survival supplies.
It was three days before meteorologists predicted a historic cold snap would bring temperatures that feel as cold as 55 degrees below zero, transforming McHenry County into an icy land more frigid than Mount Everest.
“The place was packed,” said Brett Brandt, assistant manager of Ace Hardware in McHenry. “They couldn’t find anyone to help them.”
The coldest-day preppers raided the shelves for snow shovels, rock salt, space heaters, toe warmers, hand warmers, hats, gloves and snowblowers.
“Every snowblower sold out as of yesterday,” Brandt said Tuesday.
The rush to prepare followed a dismal forecast from the National Weather Service, where meteorologists predicted McHenry County could face the coldest day in more than 100 years Wednesday.
That forecast includes a nighttime temperature low of 31 degrees below zero with wind chills as low as 55 degrees below zero. The cold record for McHenry County is 22 degrees below zero – set in 1915.
The dangerously low temperatures are due to a high pressure system moving south from Canada.
With the blistering cold could come wind gusts as strong as 30 mph throughout Wednesday. If the predictions hold true, McHenry County residents will deal with similar conditions Thursday, when wind chill readings in the morning could reach 50 below zero.
“This is very dangerous weather,” National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Mott said.
Pooja Dewilde, a family medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, said residents should avoid going outside Wednesday and Thursday. If travel is required, residents should cover all exposed skin to avoid frostbite and hypothermia.
Although residents won’t have to deal with too much snow, any snow that falls will make driving dangerous because of high winds, according to the service.
The life-threatening cold system forced McHenry County school districts to announce schools would be closed Wednesday and Thursday to keep staff, students and families safe. Several government offices – including every office at the McHenry County Administration Building – announced they would be closed, too.
At Ace Hardware in McHenry, Brandt said staff offered advice to residents so they can take care of themselves in the cold.
“We’re making sure people are wrapping their pipes up to make sure their pipes are insulated to stop them from bursting,” he said.
Roger Henderson, manager of Ziegler’s Ace Hardware in Crystal Lake, has seen the coldest-day rush play out again and again.
“They waited until the last minute,” Henderson said.
His customers bought more salt than anything else, but their lists also included plastic to cover windows, faucet covers and furnace filters.
“That’s the problem with these types of events,” Henderson said. “People wait until the last minute.”