Fox Valley frozen solid as record low temps shut down activities; don’t forget credit card for tow bill, Sheriff’s Office says
From Staff Reports January 6, 2014 9:10AM
Elgin police said windblown snow west of the city caused whiteout conditions that led to the closing of Switzer Road between Route 20 and Plank Road late Monday morning. | Via Elgin Police Department's Facebook Page
Water issues in the cold
ELGIN — The main problem Elgin’s Water Department was dealing with in Monday’s record-breaking cold was depleted crews, according to Kyla Jacobsen, city water director.
“Water distribution crews are part of snow command, and they have been on snow plow duty for nearly a week,” she said. “We are experiencing the normal number of water main breaks, which is always a lot in the winter time. Water is denser when it’s cold, and breaks happen. Fortunately, the snow is actually acting as insulation for the ground and pipes below.”
Jacobsen said the water was flowing at the city treatment plant, thanks in part to the blending of well water.
“Well water is actually constant at about 55 degrees (some 70 degrees warmer than today’s air temperature) and that helps melt the ice that forms on the basins at the treatment plant,” she said.
A phenomenon that residents might experience in the winter is “cloudiness” in the water, Jacobsen noted.
“This is caused by the cold, dense water trapping air,” she said. “The water may look ‘milky’ coming out of the tap. It is a physical property of water and nothing to be alarmed at. If you put water in a clear glass, the water will actually clear from the bottom up as the air is dissipating.”
Jacobsen said it also is a good idea when it is this cold is to leave cabinet doors open under sinks on exterior walls, That way warmer room air can circulate. Also, leave a small trickle of water running in the faucet to keep the water moving, she said.
Updated: February 8, 2014 6:13AM
Record-breaking cold temperatures brought activities in the Fox Valley to a virtual standstill Monday.
Planes, trains, planes and automobiles — and every other mode of transportation — were impacted as arctic temps combined with strong winds socked the area. The temperature at O’Hare International Airport hit minus 16 Monday morning, breaking a record set in 1988, and wind chills dropped to minus 40.
Even colder, unofficial temperatures were spread across the Fox Valley, with some backyard thermometers registering as low as minus 21, according to residents.
Little letup was expected Tuesday. A National Weather Service wind chill warning was not set to expire until noon and area schools already have cancelled classes for a second day due to the cold and wind.
The winds were churning the recent snow into roadblocks.
Kane County sheriff’s Lt. Pat Gengler said the western part of the county was no place people would want to drive.
“Once you are west of Randall Road and don’t have the houses and the buildings to break the winds,” visibility deteriorates to whiteout conditions, Gengler said.
He went on duty at 5 a.m. Monday and had been traveling the county responding to incidents.
“An hour ago I went up (Route) 47 to get from Elburn to Silver Glen Road. In places it was down to one lane and difficult to see,” Gengler said late Monday morning.
The roads where plows had been able to get through are not as bad, but there were still spotty slick and icy spots.
“A lot of spots are frozen; there is still ice in some areas,” Gengler said.
An even bigger concern was about those who had made it to work in the morning but had to go home at night with temperatures remaining well below zero and high winds continuing.
In addition to an emergency kit in vehicles, a full tank of gas and clothing layers, drivers should plan to have a credit card with them — to pay the tow truck operator who comes to get them unstuck, Gengler said.
Busy with tows
According to AAA Illinois spokeswoman Beth Mosher, local tow truck drivers were very busy.
“We are seeing about 650 calls per hour for Illinois and northern Indiana,” Mosher said Monday morning.
That doesn’t include calls directly to the tow companies.
The chances of a driver getting stuck out in the rural area was pretty high, Gengler said.
While the main roads might be clear, “you might get to the township road that hasn’t been plowed since last night. It is too late — you are already in the drift,” Gengler said.
Local cold-weather related incidents Monday included the closing of a section of Villa Street in Elgin between Varsity Street and Route 20 shortly after 8 a.m. because of downed power lines.
All inbound and outbound Metra commuter trains on the Milwaukee District/West line, many of which already were late due to the weather, were stopped for a time shortly after 8 a.m. because of switch problems near Western Avenue in Chicago, the agency said.
Trains began moving again less than an hour later but were delayed between 50 and 76 minutes, according to Metra, which also noted that some trains were canceled because of weather-related problems.
All schools in the area along with some businesses were closed, as were the Kane County forest preserves, although courts remained open. Districts U46 and 300 also said they would be closed Tuesday as well.
Gail Borden Library was scheduled to close its Rakow Branch at 2751 W. Bowes road in Elgin at 4 p.m. and the Main Library at 270 N. Grove Ave. in Elgin at 5 p.m. It said any closing Tuesday would be posted on its website.
Spring Hill Mall was scheduled to close at 6 p.m. except for the Macy’s, Kohl’s, Carson’s and Sears anchor stores.
The Bartlett Fire Protection District was asking people to either clear snow away from fire hydrants near their homes or businesses or call their fire district or department’s nonemergency number to report buried hydrants.
The cold also was forcing scheduling changes later in the week. West Dundee said Monday afternoon that refuse and recycling collection will take place on Saturday instead of Friday; the village said Republic Services will utilize its holiday schedule this week for the safety of its employees.
Numerous flight delays and cancellations were experienced at Chicago’s airports.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s office issued a notice at 8:30 a.m. saying state government employees — except those serving in critical government functions — were instructed to stay home today.
It’s already been a tough winter for area public works employees.
Elgin public works crews were out from 2 p.m. Tuesday until 2 p.m. Friday, then again from 2 p.m. Saturday until Monday afternoon dealing with recent heavy snowfalls.
Fifty drivers split into two 12-hour shifts to cover all the snow the area has been receiving — snow that due to the cold has been light and powdery, meaning more blowing and drifting.
As of Monday afternoon, Elgin Public Works Superintendent Dan Rich said, major arterial roads plowed by Elgin crews were cleared to the pavement. That was thanks in large part to a beet juice solution Elgin crews have been using for several years that allows salt to adhere to the road and become more effective in the street-clearing process.
As for issues remaining Monday, Rich noted blowing and drifting on county roads west of Elgin’s city limits, a water main break on Larkin Avenue not far from Larkin High School, and the ComEd wires down earlier in the day near Route 20 and Villa Street.
What made this a tough period to cover was the volume of the snow, the duration of the snowfalls, and the bitter cold temperatures, Rich said. He estimated that since New Year’s Eve, the Elgin area has received about 20 inches of snow.
Staff writer and Mike Danahey and correspondent Janelle Walker contributed to this report, with Sun-Times Media reports..