Updated 01/07/14 – 1:17 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A more than 36-hour stretch of subzero temperatures came to an end early Tuesday afternoon, but the frigid conditions and heavy snow still on the ground from last week continued to create problems for drivers, commuters, and air travelers.
Temperatures first dipped below zero sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight Sunday night, and fell as low as 16 below zero on Monday — a record for Jan. 6 — and did not return to zero until shortly before 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
A wind chill warning that had been in effect for Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties in Illinois; and Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties in Indiana ended at noon Tuesday. A wind chill warning remained in effect until 6 p.m. Chicago time for LaPorte, Pulaski and Starke counties in Indiana.
Among travelers stranded by the cold, snow, and ice were nearly 500 Amtrak passengers who were stuck on trains overnight in downstate Illinois, while on their way to Chicago.
Two trains – one coming from California, the other from downstate Quincy – were stopped about 75 miles west of Aurora Monday afternoon. After being forced to wait on the train up to 14 hours, the 300 passengers from those trains boarded buses in Princeton for the final leg of their trip, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. They were expected to arrive midmorning.
A third train, also from California, was stopped in Galesburg around 7 p.m., and those 217 passengers were expected to take buses or another form of transport for the final 150 miles to Chicago.
The extreme cold also created plenty of headaches for Metra and the CTA, causing switches and tracks to freeze in the Chicago area.
A day after dozens of Metra trains were delayed by the cold – in some cases, up to 2 ½ hours – the commuter rail service has canceled 26 trains on Tuesday, and modified the schedules for several others due to the extreme cold.
Switching problems also led to delays on many CTA train lines on Monday, with riders having to wait 10 to 15 minutes longer than normal for trains to arrive.
Delays likely were to continue on some CTA train lines on Tuesday, with more subzero temperatures through the evening.
Though no fresh snow has fallen since Sunday, subzero temperatures have rendered road salt ineffective, and even some de-icing chemicals haven’t done enough to clear streets of packed snow and ice.
Some roads might look clear, but there is plenty of black ice – hidden slick spots – leading to spin-outs and crashes on area roads.
Especially on overpasses and bridges, patches of ice can form on what otherwise appear to be dry and safe roads, leading to spinout crashes if drivers are not especially careful.
Illinois State Police said at least 60 crashes had been reported on Chicago area highways so far on Tuesday. Hundreds more crashes and spinouts were reported statewide on Monday, with state police assisting at least 2,500 stranded motorists.
Meantime, at the airports, many air travelers have been stuck, in part because of problems with refueling planes. American Airlines said fuel pumping equipment was frozen, or did not work properly.
On Monday, airlines canceled at more than 1,600 flights at O’Hare International Airport, and more than 85 flights at Midway International Airport, due to the extreme cold, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. On Tuesday, more than 1,000 flights were canceled at O’Hare, and more than 180 were canceled at Midway, as of 11 a.m.
Dozens of stranded passengers who had nowhere else to go, because local hotels were booked, slept anywhere they could find a spot at the airports overnight.
Lourdes Ledesma and her family have been stranded at O’Hare International Airport for nearly 24 hours, after spending two days in New York trying to get a flight back home to Mexico. They were supposed to get back home Friday, but were still waiting for a flight early Tuesday morning.
Ledesma had tickets for a flight to Mexico on Tuesday, but wasn’t confident it will actually fly.
“I don’t know. This is the third one,” she said.
Temperatures should rise above zero sometime Tuesday afternoon or evening, and get above freezing by the end of the week, possibly allowing some thawing of heavy snow that has blanketed Chicago since the middle of last week.