Johnson County joined much of the Midwest on Monday and Tuesday with schools and businesses closing and activities postponed, as a polar vortex pushed temperatures to record subzero lows not experienced here for the past 20 years.
Authorities urged residents to stay home as the National Weather Service issued wind chill warnings with a Tuesday forecast for temperatures reaching 15 to 25 degrees below zero in some parts of the state.
Further north, with thousands of flights canceled and thousands more postponed, temperatures dropped to a record 16 degrees below zero at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Monday. Records also fell in Fort Wayne, Ind., where the temperature was 13 below and in Oklahoma and Texas where the region recorded wind chills of 40 below and colder.
The drop in degrees was due to a blast of brutally cold Arctic air described as a “polar vortex,” which according to USA Today is a “strong area of low pressure that usually wanders around the Arctic throughout the winter. Counterclockwise winds around the vortex occasionally push waves of intensely cold air into the USA.” The core of the vortex, which normally moves very slowly or remains stationary, slipped down over parts of the U.S. and brought with it its Arctic air.
Illinois Department of Transportation said its frontline winter road crews were working around the clock plowing and salting to keep roads clear and passable with 1,755 trucks and more than 3,700 employees throughout the state responding to the storm.
On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement announcing the activation of the Illinois National Guard to help emergency crews across the state provide assistance during the bitter cold and dangerous weather conditions, which included a hazardous combination of black ice and snowdrifts.
“I want to recognize the heroism of our state’s first-responders and emergency personnel who have been working throughout the night and day to rescue motorists and provide critical services and assistance in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable,” Gov. Quinn said.
As a dangerous combination of black ice and snow drifts developed overnight Sunday, Governor Quinn issued a statewide disaster declaration, which activated the state’s emergency operations plan and allowed him to activate the Illinois National Guard to help state and local emergency responders with the increasing volume of calls for assistance.
“With the freezing temperatures, black ice is a major concern,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann L. Schneider said. “Black ice forms on roads that appear clear and the unseen ice can be treacherous. We encourage motorists, if they must travel, to take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges and shady areas, all are prone to black ice.”
The Department of Public Health also issued a statement reminding people to reduce the chance of frostbite or hypothermia by staying dry and wearing several layers of lightweight clothing; covering their heads; wearing mittens rather than fingered gloves; wearing warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks; and covering ears and lower face.
With more snow in the forecast for the second half of the week, IDOT issued the following safety tips:
• Don’t crowd the plow, a snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see them, but they may not see you.
• Allow extra time for travel during the winter months.
• Watch out for black ice on roads that appear clear but can be treacherous. Take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges and shady areas, all are prone to black ice, which is often invisible.
• Always keep your gas tank at least two-thirds full to help prevent the vehicle’s fuel line from freezing.
• Do not travel during bad weather unless absolutely necessary – if you do have to make a trip, check the forecast and make sure someone is aware of your travel route.
• Always carry an emergency car care kit that contains jumper cables, flares or reflectors, windshield washer fluid, a small ice scraper, traction material, blankets, non-perishable food and a first aid kit.
• Carry a cell phone and dial *999 for roadway assistance.
• Always wear a safety belt.
• Motorists are urged to check travel conditions before any trip. You can get road condition information by calling 1-800-452-IDOT (4368), or online at www.gettingaroundillinois.com and click on the “winter road conditions” icon.