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Chicago misses all-time record, but cold snap was still historic

Ice can be seen on the lakefront near 31st Street Beach as the low temperature in Chicago plummeted to 21 degrees below zero, Thursday morning, Jan. 31, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ice can be seen on the lakefront near 31st Street Beach as the low temperature in Chicago plummeted to 21 degrees below zero, Thursday morning, Jan. 31, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

After cold temperatures in Chicago set a new daily record and nearly dropped to an all-time low on Thursday, the second day of a brutal cold snap, the city is expected to see a sizable snowfall starting Thursday night.

Thursday morning temperatures dipped to 21 degrees below zero — minus 39 degrees with wind chill, according to the National Weather Service. That’s just 6 degrees short of the Jan. 20, 1985 record of minus 27, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Chicago.

“I would bet my next paycheck we are not beating the record this time,” NWS meteorologist Gino Izzi said. “It’s extremely unlikely.”

The weather service initially hinted of a possibility that Thursday morning could at least match the 1985 record.

However, the low of 21 degrees below zero Thursday did set a new daily record for Jan. 31 in Chicago, according to NWS. The previous record for the date was set in 1982, when temperatures dropped to minus 12.

And while Chicago won’t break the record for the longest stretch below zero, it’ll crack the top five. After dipping into subzero territory around 6 p.m. Tuesday, temperatures will climb back from the negatives sometime Thursday night, the weather service said.

In Rockford, temperatures reached 31 degrees below zero between 7:05 and 7:15 a.m., setting an all-time record for the coldest temperature since the city started keeping records in 1905, the weather service said. The previous record low in Rockford was minus 27, recorded on Jan. 10, 1982.

Still, when the temperature dropped to 23 degrees below zero early Wednesday, that meant the Polar Vortex that blew through Chicago this week produced the fifth-lowest temperature since record keeping began in 1871. A wind chill of minus 52 on early Wednesday was the fifth coldest since 1929.

“It’s still really, really, really cold,” said weather service meteorologist Kevin Donofrio. ” … For Chicago, we’re accustomed to things getting cold. But we’re talking about all-time cold.”

Snow on the way

Temperatures climbed to a high of minus 1 on Thursday — though windchill values were still at 43 degrees below zero, the weather service said.

About 1 to 3 inches of snow hit the area later Thursday, the weather service said. More flurries will arrive after 2 a.m. Friday, though temperatures will rise to positive digits soon after that.

The highest snow piles were expected in the southwest suburbs, where up to 4 inches is predicted, the weather service said.

The weather service warned drivers to allow for extra travel time and “possibly hazardous travel” because of accumulating snow and single-digit temperatures impeding road treatment tactics.

70-degree swing?

Chicago’s weather this weekend will likely seem tropical in comparison. Friday afternoon temperatures will climb to a high in the low 20s, while Saturday afternoon’s high is forecasted to be near 40 degrees.

Football fans can look forward to a high of 47 degrees on Sunday as they prepare to watch the Super Bowl, the weather service said. However, rain will likely hit the city starting Saturday and won’t relent until early next week — when more snow arrives.

“Say we get a 70-degree swing in a few days? That’s pretty crazy,” Donofrio said.

This week’s cold snap virtually shut the city down for a day, as everything from flights and public transit to the city’s public school system and mail delivery in ZIP codes in Chicago and around Illinois was canceled for Wednesday and Thursday.

O’Hare International Airport again saw major problems. By noon, 1,467 flights were canceled, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. At Midway International Airport, 258 flights were canceled. Delays at both airports were averaging less than 15 minutes.

The CTA operated its train and bus service as scheduled, though delays emerged on nearly all lines as rush hour began.

Signal problems at the Howard plagued Yellow, Purple and Red Line trains, according to CTA alerts.

Metra is staying on modified schedules for most of its lines Thursday. Customers are advised to expect longer travel times, as trains must operate with restricted speed when temperatures reach zero degrees or lower, Metra said.

Metra Electric trains will not run Thursday, Metra said. The CTA is accepting Metra tickets at its Red Line stations and bus routes No. 71, 26, 28, 6, J14, 2 and 1.

All Amtrak services on its short-distance trains and most long-distance service trains will also be canceled Thursday, Amtrak said.

Power issues drastically subsided by Thursday as well, with only 155 ComEd customers reporting no power about noon, according to the electric company’s power outage map. In all, some 61,000 people lost power throughout the cold streak, ComEd officials said Wednesday night.

The city also continues to operate 142 of its public buildings and facilities Thursday as warming centers.