Chicago schools to reopen, transit churning toward normalcy amid warmer forecast

Chicago Public School students will return to classes and commuters should face fewer delays with temperatures expected to rise above zero Wednesday. A winter that is one for the history books, however, is far from over.

“I’d move in a second if I could,” said Karen McNally, 52, who said she lives in the Beverly neighborhood and grew up in the area. “This is one of the worst. It seems like it’s never-ending. (I’m) tired of it already, and we’re only halfway through.”

Wednesday’s high temperature in Chicago is expected to be 16 to 20 degrees , and wind chills in the morning will be minus-20 to minus-30 in some areas, according to the National Weather Service. In the next week, temperatures are not supposed to reach the 30s, according to WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling, who has said some forecast models predict the weather pattern will continue through February.

The period from Dec. 1 to Jan. 25 had an average temperature of 20.3 degrees, that span’s 13th-coldest average since record-keeping began in 1872. The 33 consecutive hours of subzero weather that hit parts of the Chicago area Monday and Tuesday stand to make the average even colder.

After an overnight low at O’Hare International Airport of minus 11 degrees and temperatures that hadn’t risen above zero since 4 a.m. Monday, the mercury crept out of the minuses Tuesday afternoon, rising to 0 by about noon and to 3 degrees by 2 p.m..

During the cold streak, some areas in the far west suburbs posted temperatures as low as minus-14, and wind chills were as low as minus 30. Chicago’s longest streak of below-zero temperatures was 100 hours, in December 1983, according to Skilling.

Chicago Public Schools cited a return to seasonally average temperatures in its decision to resume classes Wednesday. The dangerous cold had forced the district to close Monday and Tuesday, raising the district’s number of weather-related days off this month to four.

Many other schools throughout the Chicago area were also closed Monday and Tuesday because of the weather, causing some parents to grumble about the inconvenience and the disruption to student learning while prompting others to applaud.

“When I took the trash out this morning, I was walking to the end of the driveway, and it was too cold for me,” said Bolingbrook resident Dorian Powell, who began making arrangements for his children after Naperville Unit Community School District 203 announced schools would be closed Tuesday. “The kids probably don’t need to be outside, especially if you can’t guarantee everybody is going to have enough clothes for the weather.”

Chicago-area transit also continued its churn toward normalcy Tuesday.

Metra’s biggest disruption came on the North Central Service Line when a hopper car on a 110-car Canadian National freight train derailed in Mundelein about 1 a.m. The derailment, cleanup and track repair forced Metra to cancel all 22 trains for the day, affecting about 5,800 passengers.

Metra said it expected North Central trains to be running again Wednesday morning.

The shutdown proved an inconvenience for many commuters, forcing them to take other Metra lines, drive Downtown or work from home.

“This has been a month of ghastly delays with today’s shutdown of our (Metra) line as the cherry on top of the garbage heap,” said longtime commuter Stacey Horcher of Wheeling.

Most delays Tuesday were 10 to 30 minutes long, Metra reported.

The Union Pacific West Line which was scheduled to arrive in Geneva at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday night is currently stopped in Bellwood due to mechanical problems, Metra officials said.
The train is more than 85 minutes behind scehdule officials said on its Website.

Also Tuesday evening, several outbound BNSF Line trains traveling to Aurora this evening are experiencing delays of up to 20-30 minutes due to switch problems, according to Metra.

In addition, several outbound Milwaukee District North Line trains were facing delays ranging from 15-30 minutes due to track construction.

Also Tuesday night, advance cancellations for Wednesday at O’Hare International and Midway airports were a fraction of what they had been the previous evening, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware.

The CTA reported no substantial delays Tuesday on its trains or buses and expected normal service Wednesday.

As of 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, AAA Chicago had received about 1,700 calls for assistance, according to AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher. Forty percent were related to dead batteries, Mosher said, adding that call volume picked up during the morning commute.

The number of service requests was not nearly as bad as during the “polar vortex” from two weeks ago, when the agency was receiving between 600 and 650 calls per hour.

“That was extraordinary,” Mosher said. “We called it unprecedented.”

After experiencing battery problems, Melissa Shoemaker said she spent more than two hours Tuesday morning in a “circle of frustration” between AAA’s automated phone service and its website.

“It wasn’t the most pleasant day, but it wasn’t terrible because I managed to stay warm and safe,” Shoemaker said. “I hope people who were outside and needed help got it.”

Tribune reporters Michelle Manchir, Richard Wronski, Peter Nickeas, Naheed Rajwani and Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed to this report.

mmrodriguez@tribune.com