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10 tips for surviving Chicago's latest polar vortex

Written by
Jonathan Samples

Winter doesn’t officially start until December 21, but tell that to the more than 6 inches of snow that fell across Chicagoland this past weekend. Official snowfall totals from this most recent (non-winter) winter storm were 7.8 inches at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

Now, the National Weather Service is predicting excessive cold temperatures Tuesday through Sunday across all of northern Illinois. This latest hazardous weather outlook is predicting low temperatures at or below 0 degrees Wednesday and Thursday, with windy and blustery conditions making it feel much cooler.

Although winter is still coming, most Chicagoans have already begun implementing their winter survival plans. But for those readers still rocking a windbreaker and ignoring the harsh (bitterly cold) reality, here are our tips for surviving the winter season.

1. Plan your commute. Wanna spend as little time as possible waiting for the bus? Two words for you: “transit tracker.” The Chicago Transit Authority offers this nifty service, which gives riders real-time arrival predictions for CTA buses and trains.

2. Leave no skin uncovered. Seriously, head to toe! Take our advice and make sure you own these winter accessories: hat, scarf, gloves, wool socks, long underwear, balaclava and (why not) snow goggles.

3. Avoid the wind as much as possible. This means large open areas, narrow passages and anywhere within a half-mile of Lake Michigan.

4. Watch where you park. If you drive in Chicago during the winter months and haven’t been towed, just give it time. The city’s winter parking ban went into effect December 1, which means you’ll want to pay very close attention to where you park (whether there’s snow on the ground or not).

5. Set a Google alert for ‘polar vortex’. We mean it. If you get a notification that one of these upper level low-pressure areas is heading your way, run to your home and stay there for as long as it takes. 

6. Get familiar with ‘dibs’. A lot of people who live in Chicago utilize this annoying survival strategy, which involves using lawn chairs or garbage lying around your home (the larger the better) to save a parking space that’s been cleared of snow for later use. It's an antiquated tradition, but if you value your relationship with your neighbors, you should probably respect it.

7. Leave faucets dripping. Buildings in Chicago have been around for a while, and old buildings means old pipes. When the temps drop too low, prevent your pipes from freezing by letting cold water drip from the faucet.

8. Kick the habit. If you are a smoker and the negative effects to your health aren't enough to stop, perhaps freezing your ass off is.

9. Assume the worst. Thanks to Lake Michigan, any significant winter storm in Chicago comes with some risk of lake-effect snow. Although not as severe as the lake-effect storms in Michigan and Indiana, Chicago's lake-enhanced snow is usually good for a few additional inches of the white stuff. So, be prepared.

10. Think warm thoughts. At the end of the day, everyone who lives or works in the Windy City has a miserable three to four months ahead of them. Don't let it get the best of you, and try to keep your cool. Spring will be here before you know it.

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