CHICAGO (CBS) — This Jan. 20, 2020, it was chilly enough to warrant a layers and a hat – with temperatures in the 20s dropping to the teens at night.
But compared with the conditions 35 years ago Monday, those temperatures sound downright tropical.
On Jan. 20, 1985, the temperature dropped to 27 below zero, with wind chills around 70 below.
That day, a CBS 2 report on the effects of the weather began with two men trying in vain to push a stalled out car down the street. As the camera focused on the men, CBS 2’s Jim Avila said, “There are days in the middle of a Chicago winter when it is best to just give up.”
But not everyone had that option. Firefighters had to deal with the lethal combination of fire and ice no matter what the temperature read.
Over the night leading into that Sunday, Chicago firefighters fought frost bite and frozen water lines as they confined a major blaze to three apartment buildings on South Morgan Street.
That fire displaced 13 people, and one firefighter was treated for frostbite. Meanwhile, on a call on South Honore Street, a hook and ladder truck froze to the street and got stuck.
The busy shopping junction of Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street looked stark – as most people stayed inside. And medical professionals said they had seen a lot of frostbite from people who did not properly bundle up.
Frostbite can happen before you even know it, doctors cautioned. First, the body numbs so you don’t feel the pain of frost until it’s too late.
And the city staffed a phone bank for those who could not get warm inside their own homes – whether a lack of heat, a broken boiler, or busted water pipes. The phone bank got a record 2,000 calls that day.
A shift in the polar vortex was to blame for that bitter cold – though that term wasn’t in wide common use at the time.
And while that day in 1985 remains the all-time record for cold in Chicago, we came within 4 degrees of it on Jan. 30 of this year – when a shift in the polar vortex sent the low temperature at O’Hare International Airport plummeting to 23 below.
#1 -27° January 20, 1985
#2 -26° January 10, 1982
#3 -25° January 16, 1982
#3 -25° December 24, 1983
#5 -23° January 30, 2019
#5 -23° December 24, 1872
#5 -23° January 17, 1982
#5 -23° January 19, 1985
#8 -22° January 21, 1984
#9 -21° December 22, 1872
#9 -21° February 9, 1899
#9 -21° December 23, 1983
#9 -21° January 18, 1994