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Area grinds to halt under big chill

January 31, 2019

La PORTE COUNTY – Trains are closed; there’s no mail deliveries; roads are icy; and many businesses were closed Wednesday in Michigan City and across La Porte County. And in case you missed it, the morning temperature was 22 below zero with a high expected around -12.

The blast of frigid arctic air sent temperatures plummeting across the area. Even before 2 a.m., Wednesday had set a record low for Jan. 30, descending to 16 degrees below zero and beating a low temperature of minus 15 set in 1966.

By 6 a.m., temperatures in La Porte County were minus 22, with wind chill of 45 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service. The only lower readings in northern Indiana were a -49 at South Bend and a -51 a Fort Wayne.

And there’s no short-term relief in sight.

“Brutally cold weather Wednesday will persist as arctic air spreads over the region accompanied by gusty winds,” the National Weather Service said in its forecast discussion. “Temperatures will remain well below zero with potentially lethal wind chills approaching 50 below.”

Thursday’s high will be 2 above, and temperatures will drop back into double digits below zero Thursday night.

The U.S. Postal Service, South Shore Line and Amtrak suspended service, and schools in La Porte County and across the Midwest are closed through Thursday.

“The South Shore Line is suspending all train service effective Wednesday, and is extending the service suspension through Thursday,” spokeswoman Nicole Barker said.

“In the early morning hours, a test train encountered significant overhead wire problems, demonstrating that operations will be unsuccessful due to the extreme sub-zero temperatures throughout the day.”

The South Shore “expects” to resume normal service on Friday.

“Today’s about as cold as it can get in the Chicago area,” said Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Across La Porte County, government offices, schools and a large number of businesses were closed for the day, and many will not reopen until Friday.

“Due to the dangerously low temperatures, non-essential employees of the City of Michigan City will not be required to report to work on Wednesday and Thursday,” Mayor Ron Meer announced Tuesday.

One business that tried to open had problems Wednesday morning.

The Meijer on Franklin Street had to be shut down after a pipe burst and flooded a section of the store, according to a store employee. Shopping carts barricaded the north entrance to keep the public from entering.

All Michigan City, La Porte County, La Porte and Westville municipal offices were closed except for emergency services.

The Indiana Department of Transportation was advising everyone to stay home.

“We can’t say it enough, if you can hunker down and stay inside for the next 48-plus hours, do it. Not only is the extreme cold a danger to your body, it will also potentially lead to hazardous road conditions,” a post on the department’s Facebook page read.

“Wind chills are reaching -40 and these historic temperatures are expected to severely limit, if not negate, the effectiveness of salt and de-icers spread by INDOT crews to combat slick spots. These temperatures are also expected to cause major challenges in keeping some INDOT vehicles and plows operational.

“As a result, the effectiveness of INDOT crews will be very limited in how they’re able to fight back blowing and drifting snow and slick conditions,” the department posted.

If there are problems on the road, “it will be tough to make it better through Thursday. Please stay home, if you can. This is truly a once in a lifetime event. Treat it accordingly and heed the warnings. If you must be out, take it slow and expect hazardous conditions. Leave with a full tank of gas, pack an emergency kit, a charged phone and heavy duty winter gear.”

One rough spot was U.S. 6, just west of Westville. The road was closed Tuesday night as firefighters battled a house fire, and reopened with slick conditions where water had frozen on the pavement.

The La Porte County Sheriff’s Department reported that conditions on north/south roadways are poor.

“In large areas that are open, these north/south roadways are drifting shut because of the strong west winds. Thus, some north/south roadways are impassable and visibility is terrible.”

La Porte County remains under a Travel Watch until Thursday evening.

“If at all possible, citizens should stay home and avoid venturing out into the dangerous conditions,” the sheriff’s department posted on Facebook.

Transit Triangle County Commuter Service is suspended until Friday. MC Transit will remain open and “buses are expected to be running as scheduled, though weather-related delays may be possible, depending on conditions,” according to the Mayor’s office. Riders are encouraged to call (219) 873-1502 for the latest information.

Traffic was sparse on most area roads, and Michigan City Police Chief Mark Swistek said that was for the best.

“As we drive around this morning, we would like to thank individuals and local businesses that listened to the warnings of dangerous temperatures and either have closed their businesses or have just plain stayed ondoors,” the chief said on Facebook.

“Please check on the elderly, neighbors and friends and feel free to contact us with any issues as we will all get through this together.”

People seem to be getting the message, according to a La Porte Hospital spokeswoman.

“I spoke to the supervisor in the Emergency Department and she said they have had no diagnosis of frostbite or hypothermia or similar in the last 72 hours,” Kelly Credit said.

“People appear to be staying in and keeping warm. Traditional media and social media have done a good job of raising awareness about the dangers associated with exposure to extreme cold.”

Dr. Erik Achramowicz, Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at Franciscan Health Michigan City agreed, saying about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, “We have not had any cold-related injury in the past 12 hours that I am aware of.”

In Elmhurst, Illinois, about a dozen hearty commuters were waiting for the 5:34 a.m. train, including Donald Moore, who walked more than half a mile from his house almost completely mummified.

“I had a bunch of layers,” said Moore, who works at the CME Group, a financial company in the Loop. “The only thing cold was the slightest exposure around the eyes, but yeah, I made it here.”

Rebecca Steinmann, an emergency department nurse at Lurie Children’s Hospital, wasn’t taking any chances. She had her husband drive her to the station from her house eight blocks away, even though she was armored against the cold with thermal underwear, hand warmers and toe warmers. She was hopeful she wouldn’t see many cold-related injuries when she arrived at work.

“So far, so good,” she said. “People, at least yesterday, were being sensible.”

The temperature was expected continue to fall until about 9 a.m. Wednesday, then increase only to about minus 14 degrees by 2 p.m. with wind chills of about 39 degrees below zero, before beginning a slide expected to last into Thursday morning.

Thursday’s predicted low of 27 degrees below zero at O’Hare would match the city’s all-time record low temperature.

“If there is any day where you need to demonstrate cold weather safety to the max, it is Wednesday,” the weather service said in an alert Tuesday evening. “The Arctic air will be fully entrenched over the region. Temperatures will likely remain in the negative double digits area wide for the entire day, with record all-time cold lows and highs possible.”

All of northwest Indiana, northeast Illinois, southwest Michigan and southern Wisconsin was under a wind chill warning until noon Thursday, after temperatures reached a high of only 8 degrees — with a wind chill of 2 below zero — on Tuesday. Temperatures were not expected to return to normal highs until Saturday.

As the cold weather gripped the Midwest, the governors of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin issued a disaster proclamation to provide resources to help officials respond and recover from the bitter temperatures. Indiana had not yet issued such a proclamation.

The potentially record-setting temperatures come after the area experienced 13 consecutive days where at least a trace of snow was reported, according to the weather service.

The prolonged cold snap in much of the Midwest and East Coast is due to a disruption in the polar vortex. After one cold front moved in overnight Monday, the high Tuesday reached only 8 degrees in the pre-dawn hours. The stretch of subzero temperatures is expected to last into Thursday, with the temperature in many areas not rising about zero until early Friday.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Chicago was 27 below zero on Jan. 20, 1985. While that record isn’t certain to fall, the daily record low for Jan. 30 of minus 15 already had fallen early Wednesday and the record low for Jan. 31 of minus 12 will almost certainly be bested, as could the coldest daytime high of 11 below zero, set Christmas Eve 1983.

Amtrak canceled area service for Wednesday and expected to halt most trains for Thursday also. Metra announced the agency was honoring South Shore tickets, according to its website.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service canceled delivery service Wednesday for vast parts of the Midwest, including the Chicago area, from western Pennsylvania to the Dakotas to Iowa.

At Chicago airports, more than 1,300 flights were canceled as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, according to the city’s Aviation Department. Those heading to the airport Wednesday morning should expect delays of more than 15 minutes.

After about 1,400 flights were canceled Monday at Chicago airports because of snowstorms, about 600 were canceled Tuesday.

As of noon Wednesday, NIPSCO reported only minor scattered power outages, none in La Porte County.

Don’t be brave

Authorities are reminding people of warming centers that will be available during the historic cold wave now chilling the area.

MICHIGAN CITY

• Michigan City Police Station, 24 hours, 1201 E. Michigan Blvd.

• Michigan City Salvation Army, 24 hours through 7 a.m. Friday, with food and water available, 1201 Franklin St.

• Michigan City Fire Administration Building, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 2510 E. Michigan Blvd.

• Keys to Hope Community Resource Center, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 1802 Franklin St.

• Arise & Shine, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., 1010 W. Garfield St.

La PORTE

• La Porte Hospital, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1007 Lincoln Way

• Fire Station 2, 115 E. Shore Drive

• Center Township Resource Center, open 24 hours through 4 p.m. Thursday, with cots, mats, pillows, warm blankets, hot meals and coffee and warmth available, corner of Lincoln Way and J Street

• The Pax Center, 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 605 Washington St.

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