The students at the University of Chicago experience subzero temperature. (Photo by Sarah Mancina)

Sarah Mancina, ’11, experiences 32 degrees below zero at University of Chicago

Early in the week the Plains and the Midwest experienced abnormally low temperatures because of a kink in the polar vortex.

The vortex—an elliptical-shaped pattern of frigid winds blowing west to east and centered on the North Pole—is usually very stable, but the kink developed in the vortex’s winds is forcing warm air out and delivering arctic air.

Sarah Mancina, ‘11, is currently at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Ill., where temperature dropped to as low as 16 degrees below zero—42 degrees below zero with wind chill. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Chicago by the National Weather Service was 27 degrees below zero on Jan. 20, 1985.

Mancina shares what it’s been like dealing with the cold.


Q: How cold did it get in Chicago?

A:  In the middle of the day on Jan. 6, it was 10 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit)—32 degrees below zero  with wind chill. It was even colder earlier that day!

 Q: How has the cold affected the university?

A: We had classes cancelled on Monday, Jan. 6. I received several emails and even a phone call from an automated warning service telling me that they were canceling classes and “all non-essential University services.” A lot of students couldn’t come back to school until Wednesday, Jan. 8, because of flights and trains being cancelled, which means they missed a day of class on Tuesday.

Q: How has the cold affected you? What are you (or others) doing to stay warm?

A: My apartment can’t heat itself up enough to compensate for the weather. The max heat it could reach last time I checked was about 50 degrees, which is actually illegal in Chicago. (Our apartment must be able to heat itself up to 68 degrees during the day.) My roommates all bought space heaters, which was smart of them—luckily we don’t have to pay utility bills! I’ve been wearing a lot of layers. I usually wear a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, and then my intense Lands End jacket, which is certified to keep me warm in up to -40 degree weather! Also I wear a hat and a scarf to cover my face, but since the scarf covers my nose, the moisture I exhale fogs up my glasses and then freezes to them, so it is very hard to see outside. I try to stay indoors most of the time.

Q: Are there any upsides to the freezing cold? Downsides?

A: Upsides are that you feel like an awesome arctic explorer. Downsides, it hurts to be outside. I want to go for a run, but I can’t.

Q: Has Chicago ever been this cold while you’ve been there? Any regrets about going to a school that’s so cold?

A: It has never been this cold. It usually gets pretty cold, like near 0 °F a couple of days each winter, but not this cold. The past two winters have actually been fairly warm for Chicago standards. I do not really regret coming to a school that’s this cold. They superheat the buildings (except my apartment), so if you spend most of your time inside, you will be fine.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the cold?

A: I guess one funny thing is that people’s cars get stuck in the snow all the time. I’ve seen countless numbers of people pushing cars or digging out their cars. Also since people put so much effort into digging their cars out of their parking spots, they will mark their spots with chairs to keep them for when they come back. Otherwise someone else may steal the spot!

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