A dangerous cold front was expected to bring the Chicago area to a crawl Monday, with a flurry of school closings, flight and train cancellations and calls for the public to avoid temperatures expected to drop to at least 10 below zero.
Powerful, freezing winds aloft in the atmosphere will swoop into the area by Monday morning, pulling air from the Arctic, through Canada and into the city. Temperatures could fall to as low as minus-20 degrees, but the winds will make it feel more like minus-30 to minus-50, according to the National Weather Service.
“Everyday activities may not be feasible,” said Gary Schenkel, executive director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, at a news conference Sunday to detail how the city planned on handling the unusual Arctic blast. “If you can stay indoors, please do so.”
To accommodate the winter phenomenon, airlines are reducing their schedules as aviation workers vigorously clear runways, said Rosemarie Andolino, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation.
At the city’s two airports, more than 1,500 flights were canceled Sunday, and aviation officials were encouraging Monday travelers to call airlines before arriving while passing out pillows and blankets to those who were stranded.
CTA trains and buses were expected to be operating Monday, transit officials said Sunday. Metra trains were expected to be running Monday as well, but officials warned of possible weather-related delays and slowdowns. Amtrak officials said the agency would curtail service to and from Chicago.
Meanwhile, school cancellations are set to keep hundreds of thousands of Chicago-area children out of classes Monday, the same day many would have returned from winter break.
Chicago Public Schools made its announcement late Sunday, a decision that followed criticism from the Chicago Teachers’ Union about sending kids to school in dangerous conditions.
Classes were also canceled in Highland Park, Downers Grove, Naperville and other suburbs. All Catholic elementary schools in Cook and Lake counties are also scheduled to be closed, the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools announced Sunday. Catholic high schools were making their decisions individually because of governance issues, according to a statement from the office.
Many area colleges and universities also canceled classes for Monday, including the seven main City College campuses and Northwestern University.
Keeping the city’s streets clear was proving difficult for Monday morning’s commute as streets and sanitation workers battled strong winds and drifting snow, said Commissioner Charles Williams. He said crews would work overnight to deal with snow that may have blown back onto roads.
Illinois transportation officials had more than 1,700 trucks out Sunday evening to clear state roads, 90 percent of which were covered by ice and snow.
“We’ll still be playing catch-up” on Monday, said Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider of the crews’ efforts in a phone interview Sunday. “It’s going to be very difficult to see those conditions improve over the overnight hours.”
Parts of Interstate Highways 94 and 65 in Indiana and Routes 30 and 38 in Kane County, Illinois were closed Sunday due to the extreme weather.
Back in Chicago, overnight shelters operated by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services stood ready to increase the number of beds they offer, if needed, but officials said they did not expect demand to be overwhelming, said Commissioner Evelyn Diaz.
“We’re not really anticipating that we’re going to run out of space,” Diaz said. “So our message right now is no one will be turned away.”
City and private agencies Sunday canvassed the streets in search of homeless people. By 2:30 p.m., Nicholas Benedetto, director of case management services at the Chicago-based Franciscan Outreach, had yet to find anyone. “That doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
Sean and Theresa Smith, both 40, waited until darkness fell before approaching a warming center at 10 S. Kedzie Ave. in East Garfield Park, where women, men and children lounged inside a large open room inside the community service center.
Normally the couple sleep under a bridge with layers of blankets, said Theresa Smith.
“It’s so cold we’ve got to do something,” said Sean Smith, while his wife rushed inside the lobby area to warm up. “I can’t risk waking up with my wife frozen next to me.”