Monday, January 6, 2014

We got a warning; will we follow it?

All the winter weather forecasts we have received in recent days have made me think back to July of 1995 – specifically that five-day period in mid-month when the weather became so hot that the number of heat-related fatalities shot up significantly.

What I remember of that heat wave was one particular pundit describing it as an anomaly in which – for a few days – weather conditions shifted to the point where Chicago became Saudi Arabia.

AS IN FOR those days, we had the kind of heat they routinely experience in the deserts of the Middle East. There, the locals know how to cope with it.

In Chicago, we were caught off guard – resulting in the 485 official fatalities due to the heat (and the city Health Department estimate that some 739 people in excess of the norm had died).

Now what does any of this have to do with the extreme cold we’re expected to suffer through in coming days?

For all I know, some people are looking at the prospect of a “20-below” temperature (as in Fahrenheit, not Celsius) and wishing they could have a blast of 100-degree-plus heat. The Chicago Teachers Union on Sunday was already demanding that the Chicago Public Schools be closed, and schools officials complied late in the afternoon.

BUT MY POINT is that we’re getting a jolt of weather that usually isn’t typical for this part of Planet Earth. I’ve seen the term “Chi-beria” used to describe what Chicago will experience (as in Siberia), while others are saying we will have temperatures lower than the Arctic Circle.

As in the North Pole.

No wonder Santa Claus makes a point of rushing around the world to give away presents. He’s freezing his red-clad butt off the rest of the year.

We’re going to be cold. We’re being advised to stay indoors as much as possible. A brief trip to the supermarket on Saturday saw me having to deal with endless lines – even though I was just trying to use the “express” to pick up a couple of items.

I WASN’T ALONE in wanting to NOT have to make the trip (which in my case can be as short as a one-block walk to a Jewel, longer if I choose to shop at a different store) in the potential chill of 10-below.

Let’s only hope that people have not only been paying attention to these advance reports, but that they’re taking them seriously.

I’m sure we’ll have a few people who are convinced that the weather reports are a whole lot of hype, and will say to themselves, “How cold could it actually get?” If too many people take that kind of attitude, that is when we have the potential for the body count to increase.

Although I’ll be willing to concede the one significant difference between the two situations.

MUCH OF THE body count in 1995 was among elderly people who lived “shut-in” type lives who should have got out of their inadequately-cooled homes and found some place cooler to pass the time.

The coming days will be a case where we all will be encouraged to live the “shut-in” lifestyle. So long as we don’t get some sort of outage that causes people to lose heat, we should be capable of coping.

Except that in severe weather, there’s always the possibility of an outage – and the fact that the inclement weather will interfere with emergency crew efforts to rectify the problem.

The real question might be whether we experience a record low – bottoming, so to speak, the conditions of Jan. 20, 1985. That was when a 27-below temperature combined with 25 mile-per-hour winds for a wind chill of 77-below.

WE GOT THROUGH that blast (also from the Arctic that swept its way across the nation, just like what’s happening this week). I’m sure we’ll make it through this one too -- and hopefully without any record-setting for fatalities.

Even if it means we’re going to have to put up with exaggerated stories for decades to come from people feeling the need to prove their fortitude by telling us of how they braved the cold of the coming days.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Take your pick. It's thoughts of "Summertime" coming in just a few months that will get me through the next few days! Or, you can consider Gov. Pat Quinn's advice for coping with the next few days.

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