Monday could be one for the books.
With the National Weather Service predicting the mercury won’t rise above -13 degrees Fahrenheit, the day could set a record for the lowest high temperature seen in the Chicago region since recordkeeping began in 1872.
Potentially adding to the misery is the forecasted blowing snow, which would drive the temperatures even lower.
The brutal conditions can spell trouble in a variety of ways.
“Obviously, when temperatures get like this, there is a concern for freezing pipes in residential and commercial buildings,” said Linda LaCloche, communications manager for the city of Naperville.
The city dispatches inspectors to check systems identified as potentially at risk for frozen pipes, LaCloche said, but often they burst before anyone is able to take preventive steps.
“What usually happens is that occurs after the extreme cold,” as the water begins to flow back into the still-frozen pipes, she said.
Sometimes common sense isn’t the best guide, and that precaution applies in periods of extraordinary cold. You could end up with frozen pipes.
“If you’re a homeowner, although we try to turn down our thermostats to save some money, it’s probably not a good idea now,” LaCloche said.
School in session?
Naperville Community Unit School District 203 typically will not close schools strictly due to the cold, unless there are other mitigating factors, said Director of Communications Susan E. Rice.
“The district does take the cold into consideration when planning for the day. Buses may need to be started earlier to ensure they are warmed and ready for the students. Building heating systems will be monitored by maintenance staff,” Rice said.
“On days when it is extremely cold, students are welcomed into the building upon their arrival and have recess indoors. It’s important that students prepare for the extreme cold weather by dressing appropriately with plenty of layers. Students who walk to school may require a ride to reduce their exposure time to the cold,” she said.
When weather conditions are poor, Rice said the school district is in communication with the municipalities as both groups monitor the effects of weather safety on the wider community. Should the district need to close school or call a late start, this information is released through several communication channels, including email, phone, text message and online.
District 203 disseminates closing information starting at 5:45 a.m. on the district’s website (www.naperville203.org), through the district’s Talk203 notification system that includes e-mail, phone and Short Message Service (SMS), and via Twitter @Naperville 203.
Parents will only receive notice if schools are closed, starting late or dismissing early, otherwise the day will proceed as usual.
Any student who receives transportation through Naperville School District 203, including those who attend parochial schools and out-of-district facilities, will not be transported in the event that school is closed. In such cases, students will receive an excused absence, so there is no obligation for parents to transport their students to school that day.
Instead of closing schools, Naperville School District 203 has a method in place to run a late start schedule for all schools. The late start procedure allows the flexibility to start the day two hours later, allowing time for roads to be cleared and temperatures to rise, Rice said. This alternative eliminates a situation where severe weather in the early morning leads to a decision to close schools for an entire day when it is not warranted.
In Indian Prairie School District 204, information on a school closing is posted first on the district’s website at www.ipsd.org. By 6 a.m., any closing information is announced via Twitter, a Connect-ED phone call to parents/guardians, local television and radio stations, the Emergency Closing Center’s website and a recorded message on the district’s information line at 630-375-3015.
Those in need
For those without homes and functioning furnaces, vulnerability to frigid air can be managed — but it’s more of a challenge. On particularly cold nights, DuPagePADS (formerly Public Action to Deliver Shelter) maintains a vow to put a roof over the head of anyone who needs one.
“We guarantee shelter, so we don’t turn anyone away,” said Beth Epstein, program director for the Wheaton homeless advocacy organization, noting that it occasionally means the clients and volunteers exceed the building capacities at the churches and synagogues that serve as community sites. “We want to make sure everyone’s safe.”
Usually the overnight sites open their doors no earlier than 6 p.m. and all guests must leave by 7 a.m., but the schedule has been relaxed a bit recently.
“Some of our shelter sites are opening earlier than normal to accommodate the cold,” Epstein said.
Everyone is vulnerable to injury from cold temperatures, although the hazard is magnified in extreme cold. The Illinois Department of Public Health warns that hypothermia can be particularly dangerous for babies and seniors.
“With more arctic weather forecasted for Illinois, it is important to recognize the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, how to treat these conditions and what you can do to avoid them,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, the state agency’s director, in a news release.
Potentially fatal, hypothermia can develop over a period of days or even weeks and entails a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees or lower. Even those who remain indoors can be at risk, because consistent temperatures in the low 60s can trigger the condition. Because their bodies lose body heat more rapidly than adults’, infants are at elevated risk, as are older people, whose metabolism has slowed.
Symptoms of hypothermia include forgetfulness, drowsiness, slurred speech, facial swelling, weak pulse, slow heartbeat, and slow and shallow breathing.
Frostbite hits exposed or inadequately protected skin, and can leave permanent tissue damage. Areas most prone to frostbite include the face, ears, hands and feet. Public health authorities urge gradual warming for frostbitten skin, which will appear whitish and stiff and feel numb, but not painful. The affected areas should be wrapped in blankets, coats or sweaters until medical attention can be arranged.
PADS has been requesting donations of hats, scarves, gloves or mittens and other garments that can provide protection from the cold. The agency also makes sure people who are homeless have someplace to go during the day.
“Our client service center, when it’s this cold, is open to everyone who uses our services,” Epstein said.
The nonprofit has been providing extra assistance during the cold to homeless people who don’t have cars or money for transportation.
“For those who have no income and no financial means, we will provide them with train tickets and bus passes,” she said.
Partnerships are key to keeping people safe from the bitter cold — including the small percentage of those who are homeless and choose not to use shelters.
“When the police find individuals who don’t want to use the shelter, they bring them to the shelter,” Epstein said. “Our priority is to ensure safety, and so we do that first and foremost by ensuring that nobody is out in the cold in this weather.”
PADS also is launching an outreach program to try to reach those who don’t frequent the shelters, aided by partnerships with the DuPage Health Department, all local police and sheriff departments, area municipalities and shelter site partners.
“Everybody is on the same page,” Epstein said, “working together to ensure that people who don’t have a home have a way to stay warm.”