Chicago Weather: Bitter cold temperatures with wind chills well below zero increase risk of frostbite, hypothermia

CHICAGO (WLS) — An extreme cold snap has moved into the area, with wind chills forecast to reach well below zero, making for a cold commute Wednesday morning.

Click here to see school closings due to bitter cold temperatures

A Wind Chill Advisory is in effect through noon Wednesday for the entire Chicago metropolitan area and until 10 a.m. for the Indiana side.


Temperatures will barely make it into the double digits Wednesday, but will eventually rise into Thursday.

Several Metra lines, including North Central Service and Milwaukee District North reported issues with switching due to the cold. Trains on both Metra lines were operating with delays up to 35 minutes Tuesday due to switching problems.

Metra is using gas burners and other heating equipment to heat the rails, and with arctic-like conditions expected in the morning, they will leave train engines running overnight.

“Everything we can think of doing, we will do,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. “And we will try and make sure that your ride is safe, comfortable, warm and timely.”

Overnight temperatures going into Wednesday morning were expected to be the coldest of the season, with temperatures going below zero and wind chills of minus 20.

The weather is particularly dangerous for the homeless men and women in the Chicago area.

“I need a heater for my tent,” said Chris Gunion. “The one I had quit on me, and someone else gave me one and it didn’t work. I’ve been without heat for almost a week now.”

The 42-year-old is one of many trying to stay warm and alive as temperatures plunge. Lana Ake said conditions are bad for anyone outside.

“I’ve got two canisters for the whole week, of propane, and one is only good for four hours,” she said.

As the freeze continues, there is concern about the dangers for unhoused people living outside, who could suffer from frostbite or hypothermia.

“This is a health concern we are worried about every time the temperature starts to fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Dr. Stathis Poulakida, Cook County Health burn surgery director.

The National Weather Service warns the bitter cold can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Officials are urging people without heat to use warming centers.

Chicago has activated six community warming centers which are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
-45 W. Wilson Ave

-4312 W. North Ave1140 W. 79th Street (79th/Racine Ave)
– 1140 W. 79th Street (79th/Racine Ave)
-8650 S. Commercial
-4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave
-10 S. Kedzie (Kedzie/Madison Ave)
The Garfield Center, at 10 S. Kedzie, is available 24/7. Libraries and park district sites are also available. To locate a center nearby, residents can call city services at 311 or visit

There are an additional 19 warming centers around Cook County, which can be found by clicking here.

Bloom Township Administrator Leticia Johnson was at the Bloom Township Center in Chicago Heights Tuesday, saying “We are here, even if it’s just for an hour or two. Again, all are welcome.”

There are some steps you can take to keep your vehicle running and your house warm:

  • To keep your car running in the extreme cold, get your battery checked and make sure you have jumper cables in your trunk.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.
  • Have an emergency kit equipped with blankets, non-perishable food, boots and extra clothing in case you get stranded.
  • RELATED: Winter Wonder: What is ‘pancake ice’ on Lake Michigan, how does it form?

    When it comes to your home, experts advise:

  • Setting your thermostat to 68 degrees
  • Have your furnace inspected to make sure it’s working safely and efficiently.
  • Replace your furnace filter if it’s been a while.
  • The Chicago Fire Department does not recommend using space heaters; however, if used, be sure they are UL-certified and at least 3 feet from anything that can ignite. The use of a space heater in children’s rooms should be monitored closely as children sometimes move them close to or into the bed with tragic results, officials said.

    If extension cords are used, they should be rated at 15 amps minimum, and never put cords under carpet. With the added demand on furnaces and boilers, CFD also reminds residents they are required by ordinance to have working carbon monoxide detectors to protect against carbon monoxide leaks from a heating system that could be fatal over time, and to keep smoke detectors in working order.

    Another big problem in the cold is busted pipes.

    To prevent this from happening:

  • Allow a slow trickle of water to flow from your faucets to help prevent pipes from freezing
  • Open doors and cabinets to allow heat to get to bathroom pipes and pipes under sinks.
  • When it comes to protecting yourself from frostbite or hypothermia, use common sense, dress in layers and always wear a hat and gloves.

    Some were braving the cold Tuesday night at Maggie Daley Park.

    “It’s fun. It’s just, it’s kind of cold. We weren’t prepared, but as you get the movement going, you get a little sweat in,” ice skater Shannon Reed said.

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