Schools remain closed as deep freeze continues
By Dan Moran email@example.com | @NewsSunDanMoran January 6, 2014 6:36PM
Lake Forest College biology professor Sean Menke of Lake Forest with his dog, Hagrid, as he walks to work on campus. Menke said "In this type of weather I keep covered up but I'm a Minnesotan the weather is not that bad." | Thomas Delany Jr./for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 8, 2014 6:11AM
The coldest temperatures to hit Lake County in five years shut down public buildings, damaged water mains and caused roadway hazards on Monday, Jan. 6, as the mercury plunged to minus 19 in some locations during the morning commute and never rose higher than 12 below zero for the day.
In Waukegan, where a minus-16 morning low was recorded at Waukegan Regional Airport, emergency crews dealt with a string of water-main ruptures that flooded roadways and quickly resulted in ice-rink conditions.
“We had one over on Lewis (Avenue) by Target, we had one on Cornelia and Drew on Sunday, one on Ridgeland (Avenue) and another on the 1200 block of Belvidere Road,” Public Works Director Tom Hagerty said around 3 p.m. on Monday.
Ice on the roadway was reported around 9:45 a.m. at Washington Street and McAree Road, and Hagerty added that in some cases, the water-main problems had started over the weekend.
A more unusual incident on Monday was an accident at Grand Avenue at Jackson Street in which a motorist hit a fire hydrant and sent water spilling onto the pavement around 10 a.m. The intersection subsequently was closed through mid-afternoon as crews used a grader to scrape solid ice off the asphalt.
Monday’s arctic-level temperatures were the lowest seen in northeastern Illinois since Jan. 16, 2009, when the mercury dipped to minus 15 at Waukegan Harbor, minus 18 at O’Hare International Airport and minus 20 in the far northwestern suburbs.
Among the morning lows seen across the county on Monday, according to the National Weather Service, were minus 19 in Barrington and minus 18 in Mundelein. Elsewhere in the Chicago area, readings included minus 15 at Wheeling’s Executive Airport, minus 16 at O’Hare, and minus 17 at both the DuPage and Aurora airports.
The College of Lake County’s weather station at its Grayslake campus reported a low temperature of minus 15.6 degrees at 8:36 a.m., which rounds out to equal the record Jan. 6 low of minus 16, set in 1988.
CLC’s weather station at its Southlake campus in Vernon Hills reported a low of minus-15.4 degrees, also around 8:35 a.m. The noontime temperature at both CLC stations was minus 13, and wind chills ranged between minus 35 and minus 45 from 6 a.m. into late afternoon.
County school districts, many of which announced as early as Saturday that they would be closed on Monday, began announcing early Monday afternoon that classes would also be canceled on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Waukegan Public School District 60 was among those shutting down for what would have been the opening two days of school in 2014, and spokesman Nicholas Alajakis pointed out that Tuesday morning’s forecast was nearly identical to what was seen on Monday.
He added that officials determined they could not guarantee that an adequate percentage of buses would be able to start or operate on time in the extreme cold, and any outdoor exposure would be a threat to the health of students and staff.
“A big part of the decision is student safety,” Alajakis said. “With students walking to school or even standing out at the bus stop, you don’t want them exposed for any length of time in weather like this.”
With the closing of area high schools on Tuesday, that also means that Tuesday night’s high school boys basketball games involving area schools have been canceled. Makeup dates will be announced later in the week.
The National Weather Service had the entire Chicago region under a wind-chill warning for Monday through Tuesday at noon, forecasting “potentially life-threatening wind chills” between minus-30 and minus-50 on the strength of sustained 35 mph winds.
The weather service warning added that at those extreme numbers, “frostbite and hypothermia can occur in a matter of minutes.”
The deep freeze didn’t stop business as usual for Lake County Circuit Court or the County Building.
Lake County administration and circuit court officials conferred Sunday to decide whether to close the County Building and Courthouse in Waukegan Monday and made the decision to keep the facilities open.
Chief Judge Fred Foreman said closing the courts might have been more inconvenient than keeping it open for many with business there Monday.
“We decided to keep it open. We had trials scheduled to go, jurors coming in and people coming in from out of town to testify,” he said. “And they all showed up.”
However, the Lake County Clerk’s office did announce just after noon that it would close at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than usual, to allow employees to travel home safely.
In Waukegan, City Hall was not only open during the day but was scheduled to be open as an emergency warming center overnight into Tuesday. City spokesman David Motley said Waukegan officials were in contact with Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Lake County to notify individuals about the site.
“We’re hoping to identify anyone who may need shelter overnight and can’t get to a PADS facility,” said Motley, noting that the scheduled PADS site for Mondays through April 30 is Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Grayslake.
Mayor Wayne Motley volunteered to remain at City Hall following Monday’s scheduled council meeting to keep the building open.