PEORIA — On Wednesday, Peoria will be closer in temperature to the South Pole than it will be to Nome, Alaska.
The high at the South Pole, according to the National Weather Service, on Monday night was -27 degrees.
"And it's summer there," quipped Chris Geelhart, a meteorologist with the weather service's office in Lincoln.
The high in Peoria on Wednesday morning, after the polar vortex plows through the region, will be about -14. And Nome? It's a balmy 16 degrees. Kodiak, Alaska, where the U.S. Coast Guard often launches search and rescue missions when crab fishermen get into trouble, is going to be around 40 degrees Wednesday. Heck, that'll seem like the tropics.
The impending arrival of anticipated record cold temperatures has caused many area schools to shutter and other services to hold off out of safety concerns.
The arrival Tuesday evening of sub-zero temperatures and even colder wind chills has led Illinois State University, Bradley University and Knox College to all cancel classes and activities beginning Tuesday evening and into Wednesday and Thursday. Peoria Academy near the intersection of Willow Knolls and Allen Road has canceled school on Wednesday and Thursday due to the frigid temperatures.
Peoria Public Schools has canceled school for Wednesday.
Geelhart said the cold snap starts on Tuesday, when the high temperature will be about 7 degrees. Tuesday's low is going to be around -19 degrees. Wind chills will be in the -30 to -35 degree range. The cold should hit around mid-afternoon and by 7 p.m., wind chills could be in the -20 range. Actual air temperatures will drop to 19 below zero.
Wednesday is going to be worse. The high of -14 — again, not a typo — could break a record set more than 130 years ago for the all-time, coldest day ever in Peoria. That came on Jan. 5, 1884, when the high temperature was -16.
Wednesday starts off cold, at about -22, and then we'll warm up to -14 or so by mid-afternoon. That's easily the coldest Jan. 30 ever. The previously coldest high was 3 degrees.
Strap in, folks, it gets worse. Winds of 20 to 25 mph are going to push the wind chills down to about -45 on Wednesday.
But don't worry. The warm-up begins Thursday, when the mercury will climb almost 26 degrees from the overnight low. It'll be 4 above.
The reason for our misery is the polar vortex, a huge mass of Arctic air that has drifted south as the jet stream drifted south. Peoria has experienced this in the past but not to this level in years.
The frigid air will leave the area, Geelhart said, by the weekend. For the Super Bowl, temperatures here are expected to around 48. Again, perspective.
Sunday's high will be 62 degrees above the high temperature on Wednesday.
Accidents and icy roads
From 6 a.m to 2 p.m., Peoria police had responded to 26 accidents — more than one every 20 minutes. Department spokesman Amy Dotson called that rate higher than normal, with most of the wrecks happening in late morning as the temperature nosedived from 37 degrees at 10:15 a.m. to 21 degrees at noon. The accident total includes cars sliding off roads as well as collisions, she said.
However, the total might have been higher. With the city under a collision alert, drivers have 36 hours to report non-injury wrecks in which vehicles remain drivable.
Meanwhile throughout the area, police dispatchers were busy Monday regarding cars and trucks (including semitrailers) involved in accidents, including reports of vehicles sliding off roadways and sometimes into ditches. As a busy Tazewell County Sheriff's Office dispatcher told the Journal Star, "Which roads are icy? All of them."
In Peoria County, the sheriff's office was eying rural roads as potentially troublesome.
"We're having white-out conditions on some of the roads, with the wind blowing the snow already there," said Chief Deputy Joe Needham. "It's kind of wicked."
In Woodford County, some roads started becoming particularly slick around 12:30 p.m., according to the sheriff's office. Over the next hour, the county experienced five accidents — one on Interstate 39, three on state routs and one on a county highway — involving vehicles sliding off pavement, said Chief Deputy Dennis Tipsword.
The lobby at the Peoria Police Department, 600 SW Adams St., is open around the clock, said Amy Dotson, a police spokeswoman, for a warming center for those who need a place to get out of the cold.
Additionally, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Tuesday through Friday, the Salvation Army Corps Community Center, 2903 W. Nebraska Ave. will be open as a warming center. The Salvation Army will have snacks available as well as bathroom facilities.
Peoria Disposal Co. canceled trash and recycling pickup on Wednesday due to the predicted temperature being around -14 degrees that morning. And it'll be a lot colder with the wind chill.
"PDC will resume operations Thursday, January 31 and run the rest of the week on a holiday schedule. Wednesday customers will be picked up Thursday, January 31. Thursday customers will be serviced Friday, February 1 and Friday customers on Saturday, February 2," the company said in a news release. "The regular pickup schedule for Peoria households resumes next week."
Additionally, CountyLink, the county's rural transit service, canceled all services on Wednesday as well.
Gov. JB Pritzker announced an Emergency Preparedness Plan in anticipation of the record-breaking cold weather approaches the state.
"This is a potentially historic winter storm that will bring extreme cold to our state and all Illinoisans must prepare,” he said in a news release. “Our administration putting into place an Emergency Preparedness Plan with key state agencies as well as warning residents about these life-threatening conditions. We will continue working with local officials to make sure they get the help they need to keep their communities safe.”
The Ready Illinois website is a one stop shop for emergency resources. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has a list of identified warming centers in Illinois, listed by county. If there is not a warming center nearby, call your county emergency management agency for additional assistance. Additionally, all Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) offices serve as warming centers during regular business hours for anyone looking to find a safe, warm place during the cold.