Chilled by choice
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media December 30, 2013 6:10PM
Commuters bundle up against subzero temperatures Monday morning while waiting for a Metra train at the National Street station in Elgin. | Paul Harth~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 1, 2014 6:16AM
ELGIN — Two types of people braved the cold outdoors Monday — and will likely feel similar temperatures through New Year’s Day: those who have to be out in the elements, and those who chose to be out.
Those who chose to go out in Monday’s single-digit temperatures, with below-zero windchill factors, included people who spent at least part of the day at Elgin’s downtown outdoor skating rink behind city hall.
Among them was Gabby Pierre-Louis, 13, of Streamwood and Lauren Mandesir, 13, of Grayslake, who were skating Monday afternoon. It was the first time on ice skates for Gabby — but she managed to stay upright for most of the excursion.
Her mother, Winda Pierre-Louis, said they chose the Elgin rink because it was both free and close to home.
During the Christmas break, the ice rink has been very busy, said Brittney Mallen, 24. She has been working in the rink’s warming house renting skates for seven years, except for two seasons ago when the rink wasn’t erected in Elgin’s downtown plaza.
“It is pretty busy today for how cold it is,” Mallen said. “It is busier than I expected.”
When it is very cold, there usually aren’t as many skaters out. But with students still being on winter break and many still having family in town for Christmas, they seem to be looking for something to do outside, Mallen added.
Those who had to brave the elements included city of Elgin employees working to salt the streets that iced up Sunday.
“It’s tough being out in the below-zero conditions for any real length of time,” said Dan Rich, Elgin’s director of public works. “Extra precautions must be taken with staff and equipment. A balance of trucks and other equipment are kept inside” to keep the machinery from breaking down, he said.
“It’s tough on both the staff and equipment being out in the cold,” Rich said. “The extreme cold always seems to bring out the very worst in public infrastructure.”
When the weather turns to extreme cold, city crews can count on additional water main breaks, sewer problems and even additional potholes from the freeze/thaw cycle — made worse by Saturday’s mild temperatures that melted snow, then immediately froze beginning Sunday.
Elgin’s fire department also takes special precautions when the weather turns to deadly cold — just as the department does in the summer when heat and humidity combine for high heat indexes.
“When we get extreme cold, it is very hard on our equipment and our personnel. We adjust personnel levels to keep equipment movement to a minimum. At times we will cancel training, we add extra personnel to ambulances, and we adjust responses to help bring a call to conclusion quicker,” said Fire Chief John Fahy.
“The shift battalion chief has the authority to make these adjustment throughout his shift as weather conditions change,” he added.
The fire department also works with the city and Elgin Police Department to set up warming locations for those in need — the homeless and anyone whose heat may temporarily be out of service.
“We work internally with the EPD to set up a warming shelter in the police department lobby, (and) we consider opening up the Hemmens (Cultural Arts Center) if we were to get a large population of people who needed extended shelter. We touch base with snow command and open up our stations to public works drivers who are out snowplowing or de-icing for extended periods of time,” Fahy said.
Jamie Enderlen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Romeoville office, said area residents can continue to expect bitter cold at least through New Year’s Day, with the possibility of snow into Thursday.
But as of Monday, the weather service still wasn’t sure if that snow would hit the Fox Valley or go south of here.
“There is a big low pressure trough sitting over us … a series of clippers (may be) coming through,” Enderlen said.
But the models on Monday morning kept flipping the snow back and forth, from northern Illinois to the south and central parts of the state.
“It is too early to say how much snow will fall,” she said.
Neither is the weather service confident about how cold or temperate the rest of our winter season may be, Enderlen said.
“The long-range models aren’t showing a clear signal one way or the other,” she said.
Staff writer Mike Danahey contributed to this report.