News Local/State

Arctic Air Mass Shuts Down Much Of Central, Northern Illinois

Outdoor thermometer in Champaign.

An outdoor thermometer in Champaign registers a temperature just below zero on Tuesday night. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

A blast of cold air driven by a polar vortex has shut down schools, courts and government buildings throughout the upper two-thirds of Illinois.

Classes were cancelled Wednesday at the University of Illinois’ Urbana, Chicago and Springfield campuses, due to temperatures and wind chills forecast to stay below zero until sometime Thursday.

Urbana campus spokesperson Robin Kaler says the cancellation of classes was notable because there’s no snowstorm involved.

“This is the first time that any of us can recall or any of us have been able to research and find, that we’ve closed because of extreme cold temperatures, and extreme cold wind chills,” said Kaler.

Kaler said that while classes were cancelled, the campus was still open. She said students were still living in the residence halls, and university employees were expected to report to work.

Along with the U of I’s cancelled classes, other central and northern Illinois college campuses cancelled classes for Wednesday, including Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University, Millikin University and community colleges Parkland College in Champaign, Danville Area Community College, Richland Community College in Decatur and Lake Land College in Mattoon.

Schools  cancelled Wednesday classes, including public school districts in Chamnpaign, Urbana, Danville, Decatur, Charleston, Mattoon, Monticello and Clinton. They were joined by closures at private schools and public libraries, courthouses and other government buildings, with the exception of essential services such as police and fire departments.

Illinois Public Media maintains a list of weather-related closings on its website

Closures were reported in Illinois from South Beloit at the Wisconsin state line to as far south as Mount Vernon.

The frigid weather also prompted Amtrak to cancel all passenger train service in and out of Chicago, including trains passing through Champaign and Normal.

An Amtrak spokesperson said short-distance and long-distance, overnight trains are cancelled for Wednesday. Short-distance services were also canceled on Thursday, and most long-distance services to or from Chicago were also not expected to operate Thursday.

While mail is to be delivered in much of Illinois Wednesday, the U-S Postal Service said that mail delivery would be suspended in western Illinois due to especially low temperatures and wind chills. Mail delivery was also suspended in Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

Some buildings and services are to stay open on Wednesday. The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District announced that bus rides would be free of charge on Wednesday, and that a “warming vehicle” would be parked at the Round Barn Road Transfer Point, Wednesday from 6 AM to 8 PM, to provide a warm space for passengers waiting for their connecting bus.

And at the University of Illinois Urbana campus, spokesperson Robin Kaler says many buildings will stay open Wednesday, even though classes have been cancelled.

“The recreation centers will be open,” said Kaler. “The library will be open. We thought it was important to have as many buildings open as possible, for people who do have to be out and about, so they can duck into a building, if they were out for more than a few minutes.”

The Multicultural Community Center in Rantoul announced it would be open on Wednesday starting at 5:30 AM, although it was likely to close early. The MCC provides services to migrant and other agricultural workers, and their families.

In Champaign, C-U At Home, a non-profit agency providing help to people who are  homeless has expanded hours this week at its Phoenix Drop-In Center at the corner of Washington and Market in Champaign, giving a warm space during the day until nighttime emergency shelters open up.