Twenty-Seven Below (1-20-1985)

It was cold.

In the British Isles, January 20th was the Eve of St. Agnes, traditionally the frostiest day of the year.  That tradition was reinforced in Chicago at 6:18 a.m. on January 20, 1985.  The temperature was officially logged at -27.  That made this the coldest day in the city’s recorded history.

By the way, with a 21-m.p.h. wind, the wind chill was calculated to be -78.

The winters had been getting colder in Chicago.  The previous record low temperature had been -26, posted only three years ago.  A new Ice Age seemed to be on the way.  Both Time and Newsweek had predicted it in cover-stories.

Some experts claimed that Chicago temperatures weren’t really setting records.  In 1970 the city’s official weather station had been moved from Midway to O’Hare.  Everyone knew that the readings were usually a few degrees lower at O’Hare.

Luckily, today was a Sunday.  Most people could stay home.  Those who had to work made adjustments.  One news vendor on Sheridan Road simply moved his papers into the lobby of a nearby hotel, and put a sign on his stand to tell customers where he was.

Emergency repair crews had been having a busy night.  Commonwealth Edison and Peoples Gas had called in extra men.  City sewer workers were on the job fixing hundreds of leaks.  Telephone service was holding up well, though there had been some scattered problems.

As always, the severe weather was straining the hospitals.  Dozens of frostbite cases were treated, and a few patients were admitted with hypothermia.  So far, no one had died from the cold.  In 1982, the frigid temperatures had claimed 11 lives.

Montrose Avenue

The day moved on.  By noon the mercury had climbed to -17.  Now more people were venturing out.  A young man on State Street was heading for a movie.  “I got tired of staying in,” he said.  “What can you do except watch reruns on television?”

It was hard to get around, even if you wanted to.  The Chicago Motor Club was deluged with 2,000 calls from members whose cars wouldn’t start.  The CTA was running slow.  Cabs were few and far between.  The doorman at the Ambassador East admitted that the shortage of cabs made people rude.  “They think it’s my fault when there are no cabs,” he said.

Finally, Chicago’s coldest day ended.  The next morning, the temperature was a balmy -8.  And now the calendar said that spring was only two months away.




4 Responses to “Twenty-Seven Below (1-20-1985)”

  1. 1 Ralph January 20, 2015 at 11:33 am

    I woke up that Sunday morning early, jumped into my truck and started jump starting cars that were stranded. It was Super Bowl XIX that day and I was suppose to be at a party in the afternoon. Once I stopped to jump start a car, everyone came out of their houses and waited to get their car started. I never made it to my party. I worked into the night. The day before, Saturday it hit 23 below. What a cold weekend that was. After this weekend I decided to sell the truck and find a warmer job. I was lucky not to have an accident that year. Two of friends had batteries blow up on them. They were OK. Broken wrist and some burns.

  2. 2 benson January 20, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    It was about a year later, but I remember the temps being well below zero for the Bears’ buses carrying the champs in their triumphant return to the city from New Orleans.

  3. 3 J.R. Schmidt January 24, 2015 at 8:11 am

    It was also cold in Washington, D.C. that day–they had to move the presidential inauguration ceremonies indoors.

  4. 4 chicagoconcertman January 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    Reblogged this on Jens Jensen's Chicago Ash trees and commented:
    It was so cold, that outside lights were dimmed. Thankfully no wind chill factor was given out on newscasts yet at that time.

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