With Chicago on its way to tying the record for one of the longest cold snaps in more than 50 years, residents are finding everything from their commute to their home heating systems tested.
Freezing temperatures have triggered delays on Metra, with rail breaks caused by contracting steel, and trains slowing down to reduce stress on tracks. Meantime, AAA fielded 1,300 calls for service — a 73 percent increase in service requests over four weeks ago — on Tuesday morning alone, as the cold deflated tires, froze gas lines and drained car batteries.
Given the challenges of commuting, one workplace expert says the extreme weather should have managers reviewing company policy on work-from-home scenarios that could come in handy in an emergency situation. That could result in more productivity in the long run, because workers won’t be out and about and risk falling ill during the cold and flu season and parents won’t have to call off work if schools close, said Ellen Ernst Kossek, a professor at Purdue University.
“It’s an opportunity to look at how their work is organized and might help them be prepared not only for the weather but many other types of catastrophes,” Ernst Kossek said. “Let’s view this as a learning process to be effective for the future.”
There is little relief in sight. If temperatures don’t go above 20 degrees by Saturday — and forecasters don’t expect that they will — Chicago will tie a record for 12 consecutive days below 20 degrees. The only other times that has happened were in 1936 and 1895. The mercury hasn’t risen above 20 degrees since Christmas Day. While temperatures were expected to slightly climb overnight into the teens, the highs for the rest of the week won’t be above 15 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
And the snow-covered ground isn’t helping warm things up, said Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Romeoville office. Sunlight normally warms the ground as it is being absorbed, but that energy is instead reflected by the snow keeping the cold air locked in, he explained. The area is expected to see another brief dusting of snow during the Wednesday morning commute.
All of this is keeping Chicago Fire Department paramedics busier than normal as they respond to reports of frostbite, hypothermia and calls for well-being checks on senior citizens and others. On Tuesday morning, the number of available ambulances dipped into the single digits, prompting Fire Department bosses to cut short and reschedule training and service appointments to free up the vehicles, said Larry Langford, Fire Department spokesman. Additionally, the city’s 311 Center had fielded 425 calls from Friday through Tuesday from those seeking shelter and others requesting a well-being check of a senior citizen, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
For now, here’s a look at how this frigid weather is affecting our every day lives along with how to survive the next couple of days:
The bitter cold taxing home heating systems has kept workers at Chicago-based Four Seasons Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing busy with 3,000 service calls in the past week, said Jeff Vida, the president of sales for the company. That’s two to three times the volume of requests the company typically gets around this time of the year, he said.
To get the most from your heating system, Vida said furnace filters should be checked to make sure they are clean so the air circulates and the system runs efficiently. It’s also important to seal windows, doors or any spot that might let the cold air in.
Apartment dwellers should note that their landlords are required to keep the thermostat at 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees overnight, according to city ordinance. Since Friday, 626 calls have been placed through the city’s 311 line to complain about a lack of heat or related problems, according to OEMC.
If you do plan on heading out on the road, AAA says to create an emergency kit. This can include a phone charger, blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, water, a shovel, windshield scraper and battery booster cables.
Drivers should check tire pressures throughout the winter season and keep it at the recommended pressure by the car maker, according to AAA. That recommendation should be found on the driver’s door. Motorists should also keep their gas tank at least half filled to avoid it freezing.
On the Illinois Tollway, 24-hour Zero Weather Road Patrols are on guard for drivers stranded in disabled vehicles. The patrols go out whenever temperatures or wind chills fall below zero degrees. They also respond to calls that come in to *999 motorist assistance, Illinois Tollway dispatch or Illinois State Police District 15.
Those relying on public transit to get around should note that Metra has been seeing a higher than usual number of delays in the past week and a half because of the extremely cold weather, according to spokesman Michael Gillis. There are a few reasons for cold weather delays. The cold can lead to contraction of steel, which can cause the rails to pull apart. This can interrupt the circuit that goes through tracks, and usually shows up at first as a signal problem.
Track switches can also be affected by the cold. Snow and ice buildup can block and freeze a switch — which allows a train to move from one track to the other — and prevent it from working. “Our switch heaters are fully employed right now,” Gillis said. Some switches are heated by gas burners, which explains the blue flames that can be seen glowing by Metra tracks.
Also, Metra reduces the speed of its trains when air temperatures drop below zero to reduce stress on the track infrastructure. And more people ride Metra when it’s cold, which can lead to longer boarding times.
Metra riders can sign up for email or other alerts about due times for trains to avoid waiting in the cold.
If you’re riding Chicago Transit Authority trains or buses, go online and check “bus tracker” or “train tracker” before you head outdoors, said Irene Ferradaz, CTA spokeswoman. Once on an “L” platform, waiting commuters can try and warm themselves beneath the heat lamps.
The CTA hasn’t experienced any major problems related to the cold weather. To prepare for the cold, the agency uses track switch heaters. CTA buses use engine pre-heaters that circulate coolants through bus engines in cold weather so motors can be started easily and to speed up warming the inside the bus, according to the CTA.
The bitter cold also opens a window for scammers. That includes one circulating now in which someone calls claiming to be with a utility company and threatening to shut off the electric or gas unless money is wired to them within 30 minutes, according to the Better Business Bureau. But anyone getting those types of calls should be skeptical of the threat even if a phone’s caller ID states the call is from a utility company, said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois
“If anyone asks you to wire money in 30 minutes or less, that’s a scam,” Bernas said. “Unless you are buying pizza.”
And Bernas recommends consumers do their homework before hiring someone to make a weather-related repair.
“Even if you are in dire need, get three estimates,” Bernas said.
Verifying a company can be done through the BBB’s website, and they can also search online the name of the company along with the word “scam” to see what comes up. In addition, Bernas said a written contract should always be created for any services.
Anyone who suspects they’ve been targeted by a scammer can report it on the BBB’s online “Scam Tracker.”
Chicago Tribune’s Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed.
By Elvia Malagon, Mary WisniewskiChicago Tribune
Source : Chicago Tribune