Bitter cold, sub-zero temps

For the second time in less than a month, predictions of dangerous subzero temperatures have closed many Chicago-area schools Monday, invited transportation delays and added to a general fatigue over the unrelenting chill and unusually high snowfall.

"There's times when I just don't want to go out," said Steven Chin, 24, of Buffalo Grove, who works downtown. "It's never been this cold before, and it's never snowed this much."

An arctic blast began to take hold Sunday night and was forecast to continue into early Wednesday morning, bringing temperatures as low as 15 below zero and wind chills as low as minus 34, the National Weather Service said.

The cold stretch comes a few weeks after a polar vortex plunged the Chicago area into a subzero freeze for 37 straight hours.

"It just keeps getting colder," said Jessica Olichwier, 24, of Arlington Heights. "I've never felt temperatures below zero until this winter."

The area is experiencing one of the coldest winters on record, with average temperatures since Dec. 1 at 20.3 degrees, the 12th-lowest since record-keeping began in 1872.

Chicago Public Schools called off school for its 400,000 students Monday and canceled after-school and sporting activities. Suburban districts from Highland Park to Plainfield did likewise, many closing for the third day this month.

CPS and school officials in many suburbs said they would decide sometime Monday whether to also cancel classes Tuesday, when the high may not get above zero.

Metra trains were likely to experience delays, the agency said. Trains will operate at slower speeds if necessary to reduce stress on the rails.

CTA is planning normal weekday service for buses and trains and will be monitoring weather conditions, spokesman Brian Steele said.

By Sunday afternoon, Monday's forecast had already prompted more than 250 flight cancellations at O'Hare International Airport and more than 90 at Midway, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The heavy snowfall has been good for area ski resorts, even though it caused some to close their slopes Monday.

"In the last two years, we've had days where we were closed or couldn't open completely because it was too slushy, too warm," said Peter Pope, superintendent of Villa Olivia, a ski hill in Bartlett, Ill. "Our numbers this year are great. Lots of people have been coming out."

Still, Pope said it wasn't worth staying open during the most severe conditions.

"It's going to be so extremely cold that we just don't anticipate many customers coming out, and we don't want to put our staff in that situation," Pope said.

Farther north, at Devil's Head Resort in south-central Wisconsin, general manager Joe Vittengl said this is the first year that he's seen resorts close because of extreme weather. Devil's Head will stay open through the cold front, as it did during the polar vortex earlier this month.

"We're either extremely tough or we're stupid, one or the other," Vittengl said.

All Chicago Park District facilities will be open Monday during their normal operating hours, officials said, while several area museums, including the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium, will be closed.

The Brookfield Zoo was scheduled to remain open Monday, though many animals would be kept inside heated barns, according to Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of collections and animal care at the zoo.

Zeigler said that when the zoo closed for one day this month, heavy snow and road conditions were more of an issue.

"We think that this time we're pretty well-prepared and that we can efficiently move in between buildings rather quickly if we need to without staff having to stay outside for any long period of time," Zeigler said.

At Millennium Park on Sunday morning, Chicago resident Daniel Vogel, 53, sat on a bench reading a book while his wife and two kids took laps around the ice rink.

Vogel, who has lived in Chicago for about 20 years, said that while this winter has been one of the coldest he's ever seen, it hasn't stopped him from riding his bike and going for walks along the lakefront.

"I just try to make the most of it and enjoy it as much as I can," Vogel said. "We try to go out when we can."

At times, going outside has been hazardous.

Susan Wendelborg fell and hurt her shoulder a couple weeks ago while crossing the street in Rogers Park.

"I wiped out in the middle of Sheridan Road," said Wendelborg, 47. "This winter's been pretty painful."

kgeiger@tribune.com

sbaer@tribune.com