Record temps a brief respite from winter chill
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org January 29, 2013 9:36PM
Dundee Public Works employee Larry Fettes III, sweeps the streets of West Dundee Tuesday, when usually he would be plowing snow this time of year. January 29, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 2, 2013 7:11AM
ELGIN — The freakishly warm temperatures early Tuesday afternoon caused a serious backup on the monkey bars at Highland Elementary School.
The monkey bars are one of the most popular recess activities at Highland, according to third-grader Malika Pacheco, 9, waiting her turn on the west-side school’s exercise playground. But not quite as popular as tag, she said. Or freeze tag.
Which reminded her classmate Jocelyn Robillard, 9, jumping down from the metal bars into a group of squealing girls, that she still was “it.”
Whatever the game, Malika said, she was happy to be playing outside after last week’s biting, single-digit temperatures. Those had kept students indoors for recess for several days, according to lunch supervisor Theresa Miller.
“There’s good air outside, and sometimes it might be raining and we can’t go outside and have fun,” Malika said.
That “good air” pushed temperatures Tuesday past the area’s previous record high temperature for Jan. 29: 59 degrees, set in 1914.
The National Weather Service reported 63 degrees Tuesday afternoon at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Since temperature record keeping began in 1872, there have only been 33 days in January with temperatures above 60 degrees, it said. The last time the temperature reached 60 degrees or higher in Chicago in January was a 65-degree day on Jan. 7, 2008, the weather service said.
Heavy rain hit late in the afternoon Tuesday, with temperatures beginning to fall that night. By Wednesday morning, a mix of rain and snow was possible.
“It’s definitely more of a springlike system,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Enderlen. “When the cold air comes back in, we’ll come back to a more typical winter setup.”
People at play
At Highland, third- and sixth-graders climbed on the school’s three playgrounds and played soccer on the blacktop during the last recess of the day. The arms of Evie Burkhardt’s pink fleecy coat waved wildly behind her as the 9-year-old raced across the soggy grass.
“They need to get outside,” Miller said. “They need to run off that energy, just to wind down for the afternoon.”
And kids weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the warmer weather across the Chicago area.
Before noon Tuesday, St. Andrews Golf & Country Club in West Chicago had about 40 reservations, according to pro shop clerk Tom Rajcan. That accommodates about 80 players, he said.
Last year’s consistently mild weather was a little better for play than this year’s up-and-down temperatures, but the course still has seen its fair share, Rajcan said.
According to the Golf Now website, other west suburban golf courses open for play Tuesday included the Resort Course at Pheasant Run in St. Charles, Whisper Creek in Huntley, Orchard Valley in Aurora and Tamarack in Naperville.
A brief respite
But the springlike temperatures and rain won’t last for long, meteorologists said. Wednesday’s high was forecast to be in the 30s.
“It’ll probably be a good 30 degrees cooler in the day on Wednesday, and we may even lose a few degrees into the upper 20s in the afternoon,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Bardou said. “It’s a brief taste of April, then going back to January.”
Wednesday also brings a chance of light snow accumulation — about an inch to 1½ inches. Northwestern suburbs and areas near Rockford could see the most snow, potentially up to 2 inches, Bardou said.
One of the many workers exposed on the frontline to these up-and-down temps is Marv Basch, who delivers mail for the U.S. Postal Service on Elgin’s west side. As he ate lunch in his truck Tuesday afternoon, he said even veteran letter carriers have never seen winter weather as weird as the last two years.
Mailmen and mailwomen “who have done this for 30 years say they have never seen anything like it,” Basch said. “I almost wore shorts today but decided not to because of the wind. But tomorrow they say it will be 30 degrees colder, so I’ll dress in layers.”
Two years ago, Basch recalled, a February blizzard hit so badly that Lake Shore Drive in Chicago was shut down and police in Carpentersville said they would arrest anybody on the streets in that village.
“I called my boss and said the police had declared it illegal to drive to work,” he recalled. “They finally declared it a natural disaster and didn’t deliver the mail in Elgin that day. Old-timers say the only other time we didn’t deliver was 20 or 30 years ago, when it was 20 or 25 below zero.”
But “being out in the cold and snow is really not as bad as you think it would be,” the middle-aged letter carrier said. “You just have to dress in layers.”
Forecasters also were warning of possible “water issues” and sewage backups because the frozen ground might not be able to soak up Tuesday’s heavy rainfall.
Sunday’s rainfall totaled .58 inches at O’Hare, courtesy of a low-pressure system and warm, moist air from the South. When the rain fell and hit ground-level objects that were below freezing, it froze on top of cars, roads and sidewalks, forming a sheet of ice that led to traffic delays.
Enderlen said the moisture levels in the air are at a near-record level for January.
“This is really off the charts,” she said. “It’s so moist outside right now with the fog and the lingering drizzle that if you actually look at the moisture in the atmosphere, it’s average for July.”
Staff writers Ann Heling, Mike Danahey and Dave Gathman contributed to this story.