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Chicago Extreme Cold: Weather in 'Chiberia' Colder Than South Pole

By  Emily Morris and Erica Demarest | January 6, 2014 8:07am | Updated on January 6, 2014 9:05pm

 A record-setting temperature of 16 degrees below zero was recorded at O'Hare Monday, meteorologists said.
Chicago Extreme Cold
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CHICAGO — The wind chill hit 40 degrees below zero Monday morning at O'Hare Airport, and the extreme cold is expected to stick around for the next couple of days, meteorologists said.

For updates on Tuesday's (very cold) weather, click here.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday issued a statewide disaster declaration, which activated the state's emergency operations plan and the Illinois National Guard.

"We are facing a dangerous combination of low temperatures, black ice and snow drifts," the governor said in a statement. "The state of Illinois has mobilized all resources to keep residents safe."

At midnight, the temperature at O'Hare — the area's official National Weather Service recording site — was 3 degrees below zero. By Monday morning, it had dropped to 16 degrees below, said meteorologist David Beachler.

That breaks Chicago's record of 14 below zero set twice on Jan. 6 in 1884 and 1988, Beachler said. In recent years, the coldest temperature the city has seen was 18 degrees below zero on Jan. 16, 2009.

Monday's temperatures in Chicago were colder than those recorded at the South Pole in Antarctica, where it was 11 degrees below zero at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station about 8 a.m. It's summer there.

Chicago was also colder than Novosibirsk, a city in southwest Siberia, which was 6 degrees below zero, according to the Weather Channel.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Chicago by the National Weather Service was 27 degrees below zero on Jan. 20, 1985.

As of about 11 a.m. Monday, airlines had canceled more than 1,600 flights at O'Hare Airport, while airlines at Midway Airport canceled more than 85 flights, according to the Department of Aviation.

As forecasters warned the city of the potentially life-threatening cold, Chicago was dubbed "Chiberia," with many using the hashtag to illustrate their weather-related woes.

In the past week, Chicago has seen two major snowfalls. Total accumulation from the 30 hours of snowfall from Saturday to Sunday amounted to 11.7 inches at O'Hare, said meteorologist Matt Friedlein.

That is the largest amount from a snowfall event since the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, Friedlein said.

Chicago deployed all of its more than 280 snow plows and salt spreaders, city officials said, and focused its efforts on main thoroughfares. As of Monday afternoon, many side streets had yet to be plowed.

The YMCA, usually a haven for kids and families seeking relief, announced Monday morning that all centers in the city and suburbs would be closed. They were expected to open again at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

All Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago will be closed as well, the organization announced.

Six community service centers and six regional senior centers will act as "warming centers" until Tuesday. Most are open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and one center — the Garfield Center at 10 S. Kedzie Ave. — will operate 24 hours.

City officials ask anyone who needs assistance — including a warm place to stay or a well-being check for an elderly relative — to call 311. On Sunday night, as many as 10 concerned citizens called to check on the homeless, a call center supervisor said.

The Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and Chicago Children's Museum were closed Monday, as well as the Chicago Skydeck at Willis Tower.

And after promising for days that schools would stay open despite the extreme cold, Chicago Public Schools announced that classes were canceled Monday and Tuesday.

Those looking for a ride to work should avoid Divvy, which is temporarily shutting down again due to the cold, the bike-sharing program announced Sunday.

Commuters who opted for public transportation faced major delays and temporary suspension of the Purple Line due to the cold weather. Metra canceled more than two dozen trains Monday night and delayed many more, causing a rush hour frenzy.

Doctors in Near West Side emergency rooms said they were pleasantly surprised Monday when they reported only a small number of weather-related injuries. Most were broken bones from ice slips.

“I think most people have been smart enough to stay inside, which is really surprising. I didn’t expect it,” said Dr. Lisa Gehm, an attending ER physician at University of Illinois Hospital.

Also staying inside Monday was Anana, the Lincoln Park Zoo's lone polar bear, who hasn't developed the insulating layer of blubber she would in the the wild.

On Tuesday, the high is expected to be near 5 degrees, with wind chills reaching as low as 37 degrees below zero.

"Southerly winds will try to bring some warm up here. The problem is you have snow cover here [and] that snow cover is acting like a freezer and quickly cooling that air," Friedlein said.

On Wednesday, there's a slight chance for more snow, and the temperatures could rise to the mid-teens.