Outside the Reynolds Club, Meghan Smith anxiously awaits the 171 CTA bus back to her Stony Island apartment. Sporting an insulated winter jacket and a blue wool-knit hat, she periodically peers down the street to catch an early glimpse of the bus."This is the coldest winter I've had in Chicago," Smith, a fourth-year in the College, says. "It helps not to think about it."
Inside the lobby of the Reynolds Club, third-year in the College Teresa Svart stands among the myriad restless students waiting for the bus to arrive. "Wear lots of layers, a wool scarf, two pairs of gloves," she advised.
Svart and Smith share a consensus with most of the U of C community: it is extremely cold. Chicago reached its first sub-zero January temperature in three years last week, the longest sub-20°F streak in January in seven years. Last Thursday's high, 12°F, was 18 degrees below the average high for January.
Meteorologists attribute the cold streak to the jet stream dipping farther south as a result of El Niño and a cross-polar flow of cold, bitter air from Siberia bringing more arctic cold air from the Polar regions into the United States.
Some students are taking the cold conditions in stride. "For Chicago, it [isn't] that bad. It's all about layering," said Peter Borden, a second-year in the College.
Borden took advantage of the cold to go ice climbing outside of Green Bay last Saturday on a frozen 70-foot waterfall in an area called the Ice Pit.
"I went through two pairs of gloves. The first one wasn't waterproof, and it definitely felt like my hands were going to fall off," Borden said, describing the painfully cold experience as tolerable only because it was fun.
The biting temperatures have also affected the health of the student population. Maureen Mitchell, a nurse at the Student Health Care Center, said the center saw approximately 120 students just last Thursday, including add-on appointments."Anytime it's really cold, we can always expect an increase in students," Mitchell said.
However, the cold has had its benefits. According to the South East Chicago Commission (SECC), crime is down.
"It has had a wonderful effect on the crime rate. The only good thing to come out of winter is usually we find the cold weather puts a damper on crime, especially street crime," said Bob Mason, executive director of the SECC.
Among the economic benefits, campus coffee shops have seen more people come in for things to warm them up. "More people have been asking about our hot drinks lately," said Katherine Hill, a second-year in the College who works at the Cobb Coffee Shop.
A group of students from Coulter House at Burton-Judson, who asked to remain anonymous, shared their secrets to facing the weather.
"Have all your extremities covered," said one Coulter resident. "Cover your face, and wear layers, so that you can take them off once you get inside. Also, learn the bus schedule."
Another Coulter resident joked: "We're nearing completion on the tunnel underneath the Midway by Spring 2004."
"Walking through the big wind tunnel, also known as the Midway, adds a little kick to walking so you have to walk really fast," said another Coulter resident. "Also, walking in groups is okay, because that way you can sacrifice people on the outside and use them as a windshield."
With predictions of the temperatures reaching into the 40s by next week, they may have to postpone construction on that wind tunnel.