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How Chicago survived polar vortex

This past week marked the coldest temperatures on record, with the polar vortex making the headlines all around the globe, and Chicago happened to be at the epicenter of it. The temperatures Thursday morning have plunged below 27 degrees, successfully matching the coldest ever temperature recorded in Chicago on January 20, 1985. With such a close proximity to Lake Michigan and wind gusts up to 30 mph, 27 degrees felt as low as 50 degrees below zero. Wednesday and Thursday, Chicago became colder than Antarctica, officially the coldest continent on the planet. It will be fair to say that this polar vortex will become a part of the city’s history, so here’s our brief overview of some of the most amazing things we experienced, in no particular order.

It all started with the president asking for global warming “to come back fast”

And sadly, that’s not a joke. On the eve of the polar vortex in Chicago, for the first time in almost a year President Trump has tweeted about global warming, which literally put his Twitter account on fire.

The media, the people, and the scientists showed unified outrage. One of the federal agencies, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has quickly responded and even provided the link to a great educational article, to explain yet again why cold, snowstorms and global warming are NOT contradictory

According to NOAA, one way to demonstrate that record snowstorms aren’t incompatible with a warmer climate is to look back at the historical record snowstorms and the seasonal conditions that spawned them. An analysis of such storms that took place during 49 years, between 1961-2010, showed that about 35 percent of snow seasons that produced extreme snow and cold were warmer than average, and 30 percent were drier than average.

What was affected in the city?

If you want a short answer, everything. Both public organizations and private companies have shut their doors to avoid exposure to the freezing temperatures that could easily be lethal if met unprepared.

Social Security Administration, Chicago Public Schools, Cook County Courts, USCIS offices, and pretty much all other government organizations, besides just emergency service providers, have closed their doors this week. Even USPS suspended their services in Illinois for two days, which caused stacks of mail to be delayed, with millions of postal customers hoping their mail would not be lost along the way. A number of museums and theatres have also postponed or canceled their shows, with restaurants closing their doors as well. 

Sadly, the pipes and the heating systems in Chicago were not accustomed to such a bitter cold. Frozen pipes, along with pipe bursts, became one of the most repeated emergencies, and even Union Station was not an exception, with the pipe burst happening in the midst of the evening commute on Thursday.

“Around 3:40 pm, I was waiting for my train, when I heard a loud noise and next thing I knew water was falling from the ceiling, and not even 30 seconds later the ceiling tiles fell along with a lot more water,” said Angelyn Toncray, who sent us this video.

How did Chicagoans take it?

With noble dignity! We know what cold is, we cannot be spooked by the polar vortex! That was the message across the city. Take a look at some of our picks of what was shared by our readers.

Kendall Ryan from Wicker Park took the so-called hot water challenge, showing how a water splash can quickly turn to… snowflakes.

So did Dave Brinkman from Wheaton.

Turns out when the temperature drops below -20, this is what happens when you throw boiling water… Making the most of one of the coldest days in recorded history in Wheaton!

Posted by Dave Brinkman on Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The images of Lake Michigan were especially stunning. With the “smoke” vaporing above the water, it made Chicago look like a true Winter Wonderland. Take a look at the picture sent to us by Kim Alpert (@kimmerson) on Instagram.

According to Sea Grant at the University of Maine, the “smoke” effect Chicagoans saw on Lake Michigan this week was a sensation of cold air moving over relatively warm water, and forming a thin boundary layer of warm air just above the water surface.

“When the evaporating water rises, the cold air can only hold so much moisture, forcing the liquid to condense into fog,” as it was explained in the paper issued by the university.

How is the rest of this winter looking for Chicago?

As of now, it does seem the worst is already behind us. With the average daily temperatures of 35 degrees starting already from this weekend, the lowest the temperature is expected to drop at night through the rest of the month is 18 degrees. In the meantime, Chicagoans continue to enjoy the winter thaw.

Basia and Princeton Janke with the snowman at the Belmont/Harlem area, Chicago. / Photo courtesy of Basia Janke | Feb 1, 2019

According to the forecast, it will promptly start warming up during the last week of February, with the temperature going up to lower 40s on February 29.

As The Old Farmer’s Almanac points out, after this weekend with cold and snowstorms, the weather clock will start turning to spring slowly but surely. With rain, showers, and some snow through the end of the month, the temperature is expected to be five degrees above average, with precipitation at 0.5″ above average.

There will be some snow mid-March, with April and May being warmer than average. While summer, on the contrary, is expected to be cooler and drier than normal.

Stay tuned for our weather updates and let us know what you liked or didn’t like in Chicago’s polar vortex. Share your photos and videos too!