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    Posted January 8, 2014 by
    Urbana, Illinois
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Wintry weather 2014

    East-Central Illinois Tundra


    There are over 100 trucks stranded on an eight-mile stretch of highway from my town to a town that is usually a 12-minute drive away.


    Cars covered in snowdrifts and overturned trucks line closed-down highways.


    The air is so frigid that the chemical reaction allowing salt to melt ice does not work and every sidewalk and road is covered in a layer of ice.


    Emergency rooms teem with cold-related illnesses and injuries, but if you are trapped on the road you can succumb to hypothermia before an emergency vehicle can reach you.


    If your house catches fire, you can expect delayed response times from the fire department and once they arrive, the water lines may not work. That is, if 911 works at all.


    And oh, yeah…it stopped snowing two nights ago.


    Here in East-Central Illinois, extreme cold and wind has kept us…well…frozen. I’ve watched the Illinois Department of Transportation website religiously for the past few days and followed as the red lines indicating “snow or ice covered” highways slink back towards my city of Urbana and stop. The police scanner for Champaign county yields call after call of vehicles stuck in the snow, and the response time can be hours. No blowing bubbles and watching them freeze here: the strong winds whisk them away and the only indication that they are frozen is their strength as they climb toward the sun.


    I went outside wearing thermals, sweatpants, and three pairs of jeans and expected to have the wind knocked out of me by the wind or the chill. Instead, it just started seeping its way into my clothes. My glasses fogged up and iced over in less than a minute. I didn’t realize the full extent of the cold until I got back into my apartment and started peeling off layers—the cold had seeped into three of my layers in the few minutes I’d been outside and they were difficult to touch with bare hands.


    And yet, it is beautiful. You can’t hate extreme weather if you love science. The polar vortex is one of the most amazing meteorologic phenomena of my life so far. I stayed up late on Sunday night waiting for the moment when the windchill approached -40: the first time in my life I remember Fahrenheit equaling Celsius. And while standing outside on Monday morning, I closed my eyes and briefly imagined I was an Arctic explorer. My friend and I toasted the temperature being lower here than in the northernmost city in Alaska.


    Stuck on an island with cancelled trains, a dark airport, and closed-off highways, my community is coming together with churches and truck stops opening up to shelter stranded drivers and people without access to heat. Despite being shut down on Monday, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District supplied busses to pick up stranded travelers on the highway. The American Red Cross is bringing help to those in danger and the National Guard is helping to clear roads. Incredible men and women are working multiple shifts to clear snow and tow stranded vehicles, risking their safety to help others. And of course I have to thank the wonderful police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers who have worked tirelessly throughout the course of the storm and its aftermath.


    Tomorrow or the next day, our roads will be clear. We will no longer be an East-Central Illinois island, but the memory will stay with us for quite a while. If freshly-plowed Chicago is Chiberia, we are the Tundra, untouched and beautiful if only for another few hours.


    (Photo property of Illinois Department of Transportation website)

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