Schools, Metra and senior service agencies brace for arctic blast
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media January 26, 2014 2:44PM
A woman crosses the street at Broadway and Clark in Lakeview on Sunday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times
Updated: February 28, 2014 6:26AM
ELGIN — Area school districts joined senior service and commuter rail agencies in taking precautions for brutally cold weather predicted for Monday and Tuesday, with temperatures forecast to drop to minus 22 on Monday and daytime highs to remain below zero for the following day.
Elgin School District U46 called off classes for both Monday and Tuesday. All U46 before- and after-school activities are canceled for both days, and all SAFE programs are closed both days.
Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300 also announced it would close schools both Monday and Tuesday.
Burlington-based District 301 and Barrington School District 220 announced Sunday that schools would be closed Monday and that a decision on whether to close Tuesday would be made at some point Monday.
Also, St. Charles District 303 schools will be closed Monday, and all after-school activities are canceled; added information is to be posted on D303.org or individual schools’ websites as it becomes available.
And the campuses of Elgin Community College and Judson University in Elgin will be closed Monday due to weather.
Three weeks ago, the districts canceled school due to the weather — on Jan. 6-7 — when the area was hit by a “polar vortex” that sent temperatures plummeting to double-digit subzero readings.
Other cancellations due to the newest cold forecast included the Salvation Army Golden Diners, which delivers meals to home-bound seniors and communal dining in Kane and McHenry counties. The agency said it would not conduct the meal services on Monday.
“This was for the safety of our delivery personnel and seniors who go out to the dining sites. If you know of a vulnerable senior — please check in on them,” said a Facebook message, shared by Ken Nicolai, the program director.
Metra asked riders to expect delayed trains Monday and Tuesday during the cold. When the region faced below-zero highs earlier this month, some riders were not ready for delayed trains — and neither was the rail line.
It has been 30 years since Metra trains have dealt with the current weather conditions, according to a prepared statement from Metra. “The last time the Chicago area experienced such a combination of heavy snow and severe cold were the winters of 1978-79 and 1983-84. Metra, BNSF and UP managers and employees are doing everything possible to keep the trains running,” the release stated.
“Metra will have extra engineering and mechanical personnel in the field over the weekend to keep our switches operational and have our locomotives and trains ready for service. This is difficult; work on switches and much of the routine train servicing must be performed outdoors, and the severe cold is as hard on our workers as it is on our equipment,” the rail line said.
The National Weather Service issued a 48-hour wind chill warning from 3 a.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Wednesday. Wind chill values can drop to as low as 45 degrees below zero, officials said, and frostbite and hypothermia can occur within minutes.
The area also was under a winter weather advisory until 6 a.m. Monday, with “near-blizzard conditions” possible Sunday night — from gusty winds creating significant blowing and drifting of snow, along with some added snowfall — particularly in rural areas, the weather service said.
Sunday evening, Kane County sheriff’s officials warned about hazardous travel conditions because of the weather.
“Roads in western Kane County are now experiencing significant blowing and drifting of snow,” sheriff’s Lt. Pat Gengler said in a news release just before 7:30 p.m. “The new accumulation combined with the high winds are creating whiteout conditions and hazardous travel. Only travel if it is an emergency. For those who must travel plan ahead, stay on main roads, charge your cellphone before you leave, have a complete emergency kit in your car and make sure your gas tank is full. In these conditions, it may take a significant amount of time for help to arrive should you become stranded.
“Reports from our patrol supervisor (are) he is surprised at how many cars are out in these conditions,” Gengler stated. “Sheriff Perez encourages motorists to please listen to these warning and limit their travel. The sheriff’s office will attempt to provide updates on its Facebook page over the next few hours.”
Also Sunday evening, Elgin police and fire crews responded to a report of a traffic pileup on Randall Road at Interstate 90 involving five vehicles, including one on its roof. Police said some people in the vehicles were taken to area hospitals with injuries not considered to be life-threatening, and that the road was completely reopened by 6:45 p.m. Police did not immediately indicate if the pileup was related to the weather.
Shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, the Elgin Police Department posted a good-news/bad-news Snow Command Update on the department’s Facebook page. “The good news is that the sun sneaked through the clouds this afternoon and the temperatures hit near 31 degrees. The pavement temps are up and working in our favor. Crews have been in their routes since 2 a.m. and are currently pushing back to the curb.
“The bad news is the forecast for the rest of the evening: Winds should continue to increase as we head into this evening and early night. Expect a lot of blowing and drifting snow in open areas this afternoon into Monday; gusts could exceed 45 mph. Temperatures are to turn bitterly cold later tonight. We should catch a break from the snow Monday through Wednesday, with a risk for some snow Thursday and again late Friday night and Saturday. ...”
In DeKalb County, officials announced Sunday night that county government buildings would be closed Monday but would reopen Tuesday.
Illinois State Police cautioned motorists to avoid unnecessary travel Sunday as blowing snow was creating areas of zero visibility on some roads.
The snowdrifts were making for particularly hazardous conditions in Will, Grundy and Kendall counties, including Interstate 57 and Interstate 55 south of Interstate 80, state police said.
Wind gusts of up to 35 mph were creating problems on Interstate 57 in Kankakee, Iroquois and Ford counties as well, police said.
Other areas experiencing significantly reduced visibility and dangerous ice included Illinois Routes 47 and 17, as well as any secondary roadways bordered by open areas, which police said are prone to drifting conditions.
Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this story.