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Bitter cold sets in after snow blankets Chicago area

Having flashbacks to last year’s dreaded Polar Vortex?

Chicagoans will wake up Wednesday to what the National Weather Service is calling “dangerously cold wind chills” that will dip below 30 degrees.

Grab that scarf, those giant gloves and hat. The already frigid temperature will slowly drop Tuesday night from 10 degrees to minus 4 degrees by midnight, according to weather service meteorologist Casey Sullivan.

A wind chill warning will be in effect from midnight until noon Thursday. That means frostbite can happen in as little as 15 minutes on exposed skin.

Strong winds also will cause blowing snow, which can reduce visibility on streets to less than 1 mile, according to the weather service.

Those frigid temperatures will remain throughout the day Wednesday and into Thursday.

Wednesday’s high will be minus 2 and the low will be minus 8. The wind chill factor could make that feel like minus 29 degrees.

Chicago will inch up to a frigid zero degrees at O’Hare by Thursday and 2 degrees at Midway, but the wind chill values will remain between 25 and 30 degrees below zero in Chicago and 30 and 35 degrees below in the western suburbs, Sullivan said.

“It’s not unusual to get wind chill values like this once or twice a winter,” Sullivan said.

RELATED: 2014 is 4th-coldest year on record in Illinois

At least there’s no more snow in the forecast for Wednesday. But there’s a 40 percent chance of snow on Thursday, according to the weather service.

If you dare go out in the cold on Wednesday, you can warm up at the Museum of Science and Industry or the Shedd Aquarium. The MSI is offering free museum entry for Illinois residents on Wednesday and all weekdays through Jan. 30. At the Shedd, general admission — with access to the aquarium’s original galleries — is free for Illinois residents on Wednesday. Discounted admission to other exhibits, including the Abbott Oceanarium and Wild Reef, is available to Illinois residents.

The DuSable Museum of African American History will be closed on Wednesday.

About 2 inches of snow was recorded at O’Hare Monday night into early Tuesday, with just under 3 inches in southwest suburban Romeoville. As the snow diminished, temperatures dropped into the single digits across the Chicago area.

There’s no doubt the weather is affecting travel. Because of the weather on the East Coast, 160 flights were canceled Wednesday at O’Hare Airport. At Midway Airport, more than a dozen flights have been canceled Wednesday, according to the city’s Department of Aviation.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced Monday afternoon that more than 100 statewide Department of Human Services warming centers would be open for those looking to escape the cold. Locations can be found at keepwarm.illinois.gov or by calling (800) 843-6154, according to the governor’s office.

Metra was seeing delays of up to an hour on some of its lines Tuesday evening because of the weather and “temperature-related speed restrictions,” according to a service alert posted on Metra’s website.

The commuter rail agency spent about $1 million on new equipment to prevent weather-related switch problems earlier this year. Switch heaters were added to the 20 most critical switches at the Western Avenue yard. Milwaukee District North Line trains were experiencing delays of up to 30 minutes because of switch problems near Western Avenue yet Metra said the problem was not related to the area which received new equipment.

Trains were being delayed up to an hour on the Union Pacific West Line because of switch and mechanical problems.

People on a sled get a boost on the hill at Wilson and Simonds Drive near the lakefront on Tuesday afternoon. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

People on a sled get a boost on the hill at Wilson and Simonds Drive near the lakefront on Tuesday afternoon. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Linda Hall cross country skis Tuesday afternoon  at Waveland Park on the lakefront. "I love it 'cause I like to ski. I like the sunshine and snow,"  she said. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Linda Hall cross country skis Tuesday afternoon at Waveland Park on the lakefront. “I love it ’cause I like to ski. I like the sunshine and snow,” she said. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Megan Culbertson runs on the lakefront path near Lawrence and Lake Shore Drive on Tuesday afternoon. "I had an urge to get outside," she said. "Running is warmer than walking." She was planning to run 3 miles. Next time, she says she's going to get a balaclava. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Megan Culbertson runs on the lakefront path near Lawrence and Lake Shore Drive on Tuesday afternoon. “I had an urge to get outside,” she said. “Running is warmer than walking.” She was planning to run 3 miles. Next time, she says she’s going to get a balaclava. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Postal worker Rafael Matos struggles a bit with his cart on the snow-covered sidewalk while delivering the mail Tuesday afternoon on Fullerton Avenue. "This is rough. It makes it a little harder for us to move," he said. It's also difficult to sort the mail while wearing gloves. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Postal worker Rafael Matos struggles a bit with his cart on the snow-covered sidewalk while delivering the mail Tuesday afternoon on Fullerton Avenue. “This is rough. It makes it a little harder for us to move,” he said. It’s also difficult to sort the mail while wearing gloves. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times