fb-pixel Skip to main content

It was so cold in Chicago they had to light the tracks on fire to keep the trains moving

People in the Midwest bundled up Wednesday as a deadly arctic freeze enveloped the region, with temperatures in Chicago plunging to -19 degrees in the morning — and continuing to drop.

It’s so cold that. . .

As of 11:30 a.m. EST, Chicago was colder than Antarctica.

According to the Apple weather app, it was a balmy -12 degrees in Antarctica — compared with -17 in Chicago.

Earlier this morning, the two places were neck and neck when it came to temperature, according to one tweeter.

Getting around Chicago is very, very tough today.

The record-breaking cold temperatures led to more than 1,600 flights from Chicago’s airports being cancelled (1,300 of those at O’Hare International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest), and also prompted Amtrak to cancel all trains into and out of the Windy City.


Major attractions are closed because of the bitter cold, including the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Art Institute, and the Field Museum, according to the Associated Press.

In fact, Metra train tracks near Chicago were literally flaming earlier this week after workers warmed the metal with fire.

Gas-fired switch heaters on the Metra rails kept the ice and snow off the switches near the Metra Western Avenue station in Chicago on Tuesday.Kiichiro Sato/AP

It feels 73 degrees warmer in Los Angeles than Chicago.

Since the comparison between L.A. and Chicago — 56 degrees and -17, respectively, according to the Apple weather app — is as of 11:30 a.m. EST, that gap could widen as the sun sets in Chicago, but continues to warm up California.

The difference is even more marked in Australia: As of around noon EST, Sydney is forecast to reach a high of 95 degrees Thursday — about 112 degrees warmer than the temperatures in Chicago.

Even Iceland was markedly warmer than Chicago a few days ago.

Chicagoans who are 34 and younger have never experienced temperatures so cold.

Chicago’s low temperature Thursday morning was forecast to be close to its lowest ever: -27, which was recorded on Jan. 20, 1985.


One forecast model — the European — predicts that Chicago will hit -29 this week, according to The Washington Post.

You can get near-instant frostbite in some areas.

With the temperatures in Chicago hovering between -15 and -26 on Wednesday, people who step outside with any exposed skin could see frostbite in as little as five minutes, one expert told The New York Times.

That’s one way to fend off against frostbite. Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Frostbite results in the loss of feeling and color in parts of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Frostbite is no joke: It can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.

Victims are typically unaware of frostbite, since their tissues are numb. The CDC recommends getting out of the cold at the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area.

“Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes — this increases the damage,” CDC officials wrote.

Beer deliveries are affected in some places.

The cold weather was even affecting beer deliveries, with a pair of western Wisconsin distributors saying they would delay or suspend shipments for fear that beer would freeze in their trucks, according to the Associated Press.

Even the mail is canceled.

A popular saying goes: ‘‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat ...’’ will stop the mail from being delivered. But extreme cold will on Wednesday.


The US Postal Service issued a rare alert, saying it will not deliver mail in all or parts of five Midwest states (Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and western Illinois) because of the dangerous Arctic air blast.

Yes, boiling water is freezing before it even hits the ground.

Wire material from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.