Chicago looks to protect residents as temperatures plummet

A person walked along the lakeshore in Chicago on Wednesday. An arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking cold.
A person walked along the lakeshore in Chicago on Wednesday. An arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking cold.Associated Press

Arctic cold brought historic low temperatures to Chicago Wednesday, where the thermometer dropped to minus 23 degrees, and the windchill was negative 52, according to forecasters.

The city was so cold that experts warned that people could get frostbite in as little as five minutes outside. The icy conditions also forced cancellations of over 1,600 flights at the city’s airports.

The weather prompted city officials to urge residents to take extreme care and caution, particularly those living on the street.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit that has been addressing the issue of homelessness since 1980, estimates more than 80,000 people in the city are without a home, with around 16,000 living on the streets or in shelters.


The city estimates that number at much less with 5,657 people either living in shelters or out on the streets and other locations in 2017.

Kim Junius, spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said residents should stay inside and keep plenty of water, food, and flashlights nearby.

“If you have to go outside, we’re advising people to dress in layers and cover as much of their face as possible when outside,” Junius said in a telephone interview.

Junius said DPH recommends avoiding doors and windows, keeping space heaters away from anything flammable, and not using an oven as a heater.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said 20 people have died since Oct. 30 in cold weather-related incidents. Natalia Derevyanny, a spokeswoman for the office, said in a telephone interview there were no deaths related to the storm as of 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Across the city, nonprofits and other organizations have been racing to protect people on the streets.

Salvation Army workers went out in the icy temperatures to give supplies, such as food, blankets, and scarves, to people across the city, according to Jackie Rachev, a spokeswoman for the organization.


“We really want them to come in,” Rachev said in a telephone interview. “It’s frigid and deathly out there.”

They were able to make contact with 40 people just Tuesday night, and even convinced 10 to go into the warming center they had set up at their Freedom Center location in Chicago’s west side, Major Nancy Powers, pastor and director of the location, said in a telephone interview.

At the warming shelter, 40 people have already set up shop to stay warm over the next couple of days. This is the first time this location has been used a warming center, Powers said.

The nonprofit expects to see an additional 50 people Wednesday night and to hit their 100 people capacity for the building, Rachev said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tweeted throughout Wednesday different information about closures, shelters that are open, and even a link to the map of more than 270 warming centers open in the area.

Students across Chicago also took the day off, as all Chicago Public Schools and various universities were closed.

“What do we do on a cold week [Belmont-Cragin Elementary School]? Drop it like it’s Hot! Hot chocolate, hats, gloves, scarves and boots for our babies. Stay warm everyone. See you next Monday,” Principal Stacy Stewart tweeted Tuesday evening.

The Chicago Park District announced they would be opening over 100 field houses as warming centers and will provide drop-in activities for children and teens from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday as a free child care program, department spokeswoman Irene Tostado said in a statement.


The statement said there is no maximum number of occupants and the park district “is prepared to mobilize staff to meet demand.”

Information from the Associated Press and previous Globe coverage was used in this report. Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch. Sabrina Schnur can be reached atsabrina.schnur@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sabrina_schnur.