Yes, the weather outside is expected to be frightful as we move into the Christmas weekend.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for Evanston from noon on Thursday, Dec. 22, until 6 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 24. The agency is saying the snow may not accumulate as much as expected in a blizzard, but temperatures will be dropping and the wind will be blowing – dangerously – gusts as high as 55 mph are forecast.

“Falling and blowing snow may result in white out conditions with zero visibility at times, making travel extremely difficult, if not impossible,” according to the weather service, which notes that there’s a risk of power outages caused by the strong winds.

The RoundTable has gathered as many resources as possible from the City of Evanston, local nonprofits and city officials, to help you weather this storm. And one of the key reminders is that being a good neighbor this holiday weekend may literally save people’s lives.

Snow plows and road treatment

The Public Works Department and Fleet services are ready for the upcoming snow storm, said Public Works Department Director Edgar Cano. The city has been keeping a close eye on the changing snow storm, Cano said. The cold temperatures and wind remain a concern, but the predicted snow accumulation has dropped to just two to three inches, as opposed to the 10 to 12 inches of snow forecasters initially estimated, Cano explained.

The city won’t be anti-icing the streets for this storm, Cano said. Because the temperature is forecasted to be below 15 degrees, anti-icing, which is the practice of pretreating the roads with brine, poses the risk of the brine freezing on the streets. This practice is best used for temperatures 25 degrees and above, he explained. The streets still have residual brine on the ground from a previous storm.

“With these really cold temperatures, too, we have to be cautious of using it,” Cano said in reference to anti-icing. “That’s why we’re not doing it right now. We feel that there’s enough residual on the ground from the last storm we had that should be able to assist in preventing that bonding of the snow and ice onto the pavement.”

It’s fortunate the storm is forecast to start in the daytime, Cano said. The Public Works Department is fully staffed during the day and will be able to react to the storm. The city is running a full day shift of 18 people from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and a night shift of six people from 12:15 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. The bulk of the city’s plow trucks and other equipment are in good condition, Cano said.

There are some ways the community can help make dealing with the snow easier for the city, Cano said. The city code requires property owners to clear a 36-inch wide path on the sidewalk adjacent to their property. If you’re able to move your car from street parking, Cano said that will speed up clearing the snow process for the city. Another way to assist is to be patient, Cano said.

“We have a tremendous, tremendous staff that’s working really hard,” Cano said. “They’re very dedicated and devoted to what they do. I really think that’s one of the reasons why we won the 2022 Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Award from the American Public Works Association award.” 

The city urges drivers to avoid parking on snow routes and has announced free parking options to facilitate snow clearing operations.

Warming centers, coats, blankets and more

In a news release published Wednesday, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department announced that two warming centers will be open during the day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for anyone in need of a safe and dry place to stay. The locations and hours are:

  • Robert Crown Community Center, 1801 Main St.
    • 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday
    • 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
  • Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.
    • 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday
    • 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday

“If someone is at the center for warming center service and needs something to eat, we will feed them. If they don’t have a coat, we will find them a coat and/or blanket,” Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson said in an email to the RoundTable. “Our parks and rec team is at the buildings and outreach team is on call to staff the buildings if there is an abundance of individuals who come to the centers.”

Local nonprofit Connections for the Homeless also operates a daily service center at Hilda’s Place, 1458 Chicago Ave., where a large clothing closet with coats and blankets is available. Plus, Interfaith Action of Evanston operates a hospitality center and warming center at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and a rotating emergency overnight shelter with 20 beds.

People in need of immediate assistance can also check out the Facebook page for Back on Their Feet, which helps collect mutual aid for Evanstonians in crisis.

Betty Bogg, executive director of Connections for the Homeless, told the RoundTable on Wednesday that she and her team deal with these kinds of issues every day of the year, whether it’s zero degrees and snowing or 45 degrees and raining. So while the issue of homelessness gets more attention during extreme weather events, many people are experiencing some sort of housing instability – evictions, doubling up with a friend, riding the train overnight – all the time.

And unfortunately, most shelters like the Margarita Inn, which is operated by Connections, are already at full capacity with long wait lists.

“The real solution to this is that we need more shelter all the time, so that we’re not just shuffling people between different dangerous situations,” Bogg said. “And people who are extremely unstably housed are extraordinarily resilient, and will do what they have to do to survive. … The real systemic issue is that there’s a lack of places for people to go.”

Anyone in crisis or in need of emergency shelter can also call or text Evanston 311 at 847-448-4311, and the city will help strategize a short-term solution to get you the resources you need, Bogg said.

In the meantime, if you see downed power lines or other emergencies, call 911. Contact ComEd to report power outages, as well.

Property owners and occupants are also responsible for clearing sidewalks within 24 hours of any snowfall. Evanston has a Snow Shoveling Assistance Program that connects seniors and residents with disabilities to volunteers who can help out.

And lastly, Bogg asked for anyone who sees someone in need of clothes, food or a place to stay to consider assisting them by connecting them to local services.

“What these people need more than anything else is kindness and to be seen as human beings and not otherized,” Bogg said. “So if anybody sees someone, and they need a blanket, we’re not the only place you can get a blanket. If you have a spare blanket, give it to someone who needs it.”

School notices

On Thursday, Evanston/Skokie District 65 announced that Friday, Dec. 23 “will be an E-Learning Day and all District 65 schools and centers will be closed for in-person learning.”

“Based on the extreme cold with windchills reaching -35 below, high winds, and blowing snow, travel is expected to be hazardous,” said the notice, sent in the name of Superintendent Devon Horton. “This decision was made with safety in mind and to provide as much notice as possible so that the necessary arrangements can be made.”

Students and families can check the e-learning plan web page for more information. E-learning days, unlike full snow closures, do not need to be made up at the end of the year.

District 65 has also canceled all afternoon activities and afternoon child care programs on Thursday, Dec. 22. School dismissals on Thursday will take place at the normal times, according to a Wednesday notice.

Meanwhile, Evanston Township High School has announced it will cancel in-person classes and activities entirely on Friday, Dec. 23. Unlike District 65, though, all ETHS activities and sports practices are currently on as scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

“Students should check their school email for asynchronous (self-paced) e-learning activities,” ETHS said in an online announcement Wednesday. “Online forms, assignments and activities will be used to take attendance. Students should also look for individual updates from teachers about expectations for the day. For more information about e-learning days, please visit the ETHS website.”

Council member confident

“We’re used to storms like this,” said Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward Council member. 

Based on information from city staff, he said,  “I don’t think this one is going to be as bad as we thought it might be.”

Nieuwsma said Evanston and the Chicago area can expect around 4½ inches of snow at the most Thursday through Friday, not unusual for the region this time of year. The more serious issue, he said, are the frigid conditions, however.

“Low temperatures can be hazardous, especially to senior citizens or folks who are struggling to pay utility bills,” he said.

Despite concerns over the storm, Nieuwsma remained optimistic over the city meeting the challenge.

“This is just gonna be a regular winter snow storm, something that we’re prepared to deal with,” he said. Nieuwsma touted the city’s snow plowing program and said he is confident in the city’s ability to tackle the snow.

However, with the holiday weekend and people traveling for Christmas,  “I would like to urge folks to be very, very careful if they’re out and about,” he said.

Staying safe outdoors

The Health and Human Services Department recommends the following preventive measures for those who must venture outside:

  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Wool offers good protection from extreme cold and moisture.
  • Don’t forget to wear a hat, gloves and scarf. In extreme cold, frostbite can occur within 60 seconds or less. Make sure to cover all exposed skin.
  • Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes that provide maximum traction.
  • Restrict outdoor exposure for infants, children and pets.
  • Keep your cell phone charged in case of emergency.
  • Seek medical attention if you notice symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite, such as skin stiffness, slurred speech, slow heartbeat, drowsiness, weak pulse, or slow or shallow breathing.

Staying safe on the road

  • Don’t run your car or truck in your garage, even if you leave the door open, and make sure the tailpipe is clear of snow, ice and other debris.
  • Ensure antifreeze levels are sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Maintain a full tank of gas.

Prevent water service lines from freezing

  • During extreme cold weather, property owners should take precautions to prevent their water service line from freezing.
  • Insulate or wrap UL-listed heat tape around water pipes.
  • Keep cabinet doors open under kitchen and bathroom sinks overnight to help prevent frozen water pipes, and insulate water pipes in unheated spaces, like garages, basements and crawl spaces.
  • Run water at a small trickle. 

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

Susy Schultz

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

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