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Chicago prepares for historically cold temperatures

Maggie Hussein was at Walgreens in Tinley Park Tuesday afternoon shopping for gloves ahead of the record-breaking blast of cold that was set to hit the Chicago region overnight. The children would be off from school for two days, and Hussein said she didn’t plan to leave the house either.

“I am not only looking to get more warm clothing for us, but I am also looking to get something to entertain them” said Hussein, a 43-year-old loan officer and mother of four.

She ticked off the list of things she needed to do before she headed home.

“I need to go to the bank and take care of a few things there, and I have to go to Walmart to get groceries,” she said, noting that she will work from home. “But with my children home as well, it will be harder. My kids always complain when it gets too cold that they’re bored, so I am buying them a few board games to play while I work.”

The Chicago area is preparing for the historically cold day, as temperatures are expected to dip as low as -30 in some parts of the city. Wind chills will make it feel even colder, with some places seeing temps as low as -50. The frigid air is the result of a polar vortex,  which is bringing arctic air down into the Midwest.Government officials warned about the severity of this event on Tuesday and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation for the entire state.

Dozens of warming centers around the city will be open to help people stay out of the cold, including 62 park district field houses.  With schools closed, the park district is also offering free drop-in play camps for children ages six and up at dozens of parks around the city. Police stations and public libraries will also be open for people who need them.

Chicago Public Schools will be closed both Wednesday and Thursday. Many area colleges and universities called off classes for Wednesday as well. Some businesses will also be closed.

Hero Coffee, which has seven locations in the Chicago area, is giving employees the day off and is also helping the community by providing donations.

“We are partnering with a non-profit organization to help warming shelters,” said employee Enrique Orosco. “Our Dearborn and Chicago locations have been collecting blankets and coats for the last few weeks, and all of those will be donated.”

Coffee shops are not the only businesses choosing to send employees home or give them the day off. Construction worker George Fuchs and his coworkers were off the job by 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re being sent home,” Fuchs said. “It’s just a company rule for safety.”

Not all local employees will get unexpected time off as many public services must remain operational.

On Twitter, the CTA announced that service on most lines will function normally and that crews across the city are prepared to act quickly to address any delays. Public transit is necessary for many residents who will have to face the cold Wednesday.

Derek Hanson, bell captain at Hilton Chicago’s downtown location, is in charge of making sure employees remain safe while doing their jobs over the next few days. The hotel has encouraged that bellhops and employees who work outside only go outdoors when necessary. The chain also provides assistance for employees most affected by the low temperatures.

“A lot of our employees use public transportation, so when the weather is this bad, if they can’t get home, we allow them to stay at the hotel since right now we are only at 70 percent occupancy,” Hanson said.

The Broadway Youth Center in Uptown, a drop-in center for transgender and non-conforming youth of color, has been heavily preparing for the impending vortex.  Alexis Abarca, 29, said queer youth of color are some of the most under-served in the city.

“We’ve been restocking a lot of jackets, restocking scarves and anything you could use to keep warm,” Abraca said.

Many people are not prepared for this sort of inclement weather. John Dittmer, an Elk Grove resident, admitted that he is not ready for the blistering cold.

“I don’t have a blanket or an emergency kit in my car,” Dittmer said.  “I don’t even know what would happen if my car broke down.”

Some residents plan on making the most out of an unexpected day or two stuck indoors.  DePaul University student Mary Davorak, 21, said she was taking the frigid temperatures in stride.

“I plan on drinking copious amounts of alcohol and making a lot of food,” Davorak said. “I just want to hang out and play games with a bunch of friends.”

Louise Netz, Betsy Morici, Ethan Anderson, Lizzie LeBow, Isabella Eliopulous, Yasmeen Qahwash and Yasmeen Sheikah contributed to this report.

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