weather


WGN Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling predicts the temperature will drop to -10 degrees in Chicago tonight, which means this will be the coldest night here since January 2009. That also means it’s time to think warm thoughts, so let’s talk baseball …

Let’s start in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are trying to sign Albert Pujols to a long-term contract before the superstar player’s self-imposed Feb. 16 deadline. I’m not sure if the Cardinals will convince Pujols not to test the waters of free agency, but today SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the two sides “are so far apart there is virtually no chance for a deal” by the Feb. 16 deadline — so right now I’m in the camp that thinks a deal WILL get done. But I hope I’m wrong and Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2011 season, then signs with the Chicago Cubs.

Let’s transition from baseball’s best hitter to one of baseball’s worst starting pitchers. Last season Ross Ohlendorf went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA for the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates (whose record was a major league-worst 57-105 in 2010) — so naturally he won his arbitration case, netting a pay raise from $439,000 to $2,025,000. For winning one game in 21 starts last season, Ohlendorf will get more than four times his 2010 salary this year! I suppose if he wins more than four games this year, the Pirates can consider him a bargain.

If the average American worker earned pay raises based on similarly mediocre performances, our country’s economy would be tanking worse than it has the past few years. But we can’t end on that sour note …

Less than a week left before pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training! (If that doesn’t give you a warm feeling, you’re not a baseball fan.)

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The Blizzard of 2011 turned out to be Chicago’s third-biggest snowstorm on record, with 20.2 inches of snowfall measured at O’Hare Airport. (Does anyone know why the official measurement for Chicago comes from O’Hare instead of Midway or elsewhere? I tweeted this question to Tom Skilling and WGN, but so far I’ve received no response.)

About the same amount of snow reportedly fell in the Ottawa area, where I reside. According to the La Salle NewsTribune, the highest snowfall measured in Ottawa previously was 14 inches on Jan. 23, 1898. This morning, three different snow depths were measured in Ottawa: 20 inches, 16.5 inches and 14.5 inches. The problem, however, is that there was so much blowing and drifting that it is difficult to get an accurate measurement. (For example, there is a 40-inch-tall snow drift behind my garage, but I can still see the grass in another part of my backyard.)

Now begins the big dig-out throughout the Midwest.

* * *

I noticed, while watching various press conferences Chicago officials have held about the blizzard, that I bear a passing resemblance to CTA President Richard Rodriguez — well, at least the beard and the short stature. Now if I can just get ahold of one of those red CTA caps he’s worn at every presser, I can complete the look and have my costume ready for Halloween this year.

I’m writing this during the calm before the storm – the major snowstorm predicted to be one of the 10 biggest in Chicago history.

During today’s noon newscast, WGN chief meteorologist Tom Skilling predicted 12 to 20-plus inches of snow throughout the area by the time the snowstorm ends Wednesday morning. For La Salle County (where I reside), his forecast called for 9.5 inches of snow to fall by 9 p.m. Tuesday and 18.3 inches by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Some light snow is expected overnight tonight, but most of the snowfall will come courtesy of the storm expected to reach this area Tuesday afternoon. Whiteout conditions are expected to arrive around rush hour, with 40-55 mph wind gusts adding to the heavy snowfall, which could come at a rate of 1-3 inches an hour at the peak of the storm.

Since I don’t have to drive in the storm, I’m looking forward to it. This supposedly will be one of the biggest snowstorms to hit Chicago since winter records began being kept in 1884-85. Here are the five biggest snowstorms in Chicago history:

1. January 26-27, 1967: 23 inches

2. January 1-3, 1999: 21.6 inches

3. March 25-26, 1930: 19.2 inches

4. January 13-14, 1979: 18.8 inches

5. March 7-8, 1931: 16.2 inches

I clearly remember the 1999 snowstorm, especially the part where I went sledding with some friends in Elmhurst. I also vaguely recollect the 1979 snowstorm, when I was a couple months shy of my 4th birthday. I remember the snow piled way above my head in the front yard, and the giant icicle that formed on the side of our house. My dad took down the icicle and held it next to me while my mom snapped a photo of us. (I tried to include the photo here, but had trouble posting it. Maybe I’ll be more successful later.)

So what will be the main memory I take away from this snowstorm? Only time will tell — but I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a pleasant one.

Newmatilda.com, an independent news Web site based in Sydney, Australia, quoted The Bread Line in an article about the future of print media. It is a lengthy article that examines the issue from numerous angles.

Speaking of Australia, a story in today’s Los Angeles Times says climate scientists believe the island continent is “an early cautionary tale for the rest of the world” regarding global warming. Australia’s climate change-induced problems reportedly include “prolonged drought and deadly bush fires in the south, monsoon flooding and mosquito-borne fevers in the north, widespread wildlife decline, economic collapse in agriculture and killer heat waves.”

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that White House officials are looking at using geoengineering technology to purposely cool the Earth’s climate as a last-ditch option to combat global warming if it worsens dramatically. President Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, told the AP there are two possible geoengineering options:

• Shooting sulfur particles (like those produced by power plants and volcanoes, for example) into the upper atmosphere, an idea that gained steam when it was proposed by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2006. It would be “basically mimicking the effect of volcanoes in screening out the incoming sunlight,” Holdren said.

• Creating artificial “trees” — giant towers that suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it.

The first approach would “try to produce a cooling effect to offset the heating effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” Holdren said.

But he said there could be grave side effects. Studies suggest that might include eating away a large chunk of the ozone layer above the poles and causing the Mediterranean and the Mideast to be much drier.

I’m sure this revelation will become an anti-Obama talking point for conservatives who deny climate change is occurring. I’m sure they will say Obama is going to destroy the planet by shooting sulfur particles into the atmosphere. At least one fringe commentator is bound to say this is evidence that Obama is the Antichrist.

That is why it is worth repeating that Holdren says geoengineering is only being considered as a last resort. It would be foolish not to at least consider all the possible options, even the ones that may never see the light of day. A well-informed decision is always better than a haphazard one.

Saturday was a beautiful weather day in Indianapolis, where I am for a Society of Professional Journalists conference. After the conference ended at 5 p.m., I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was 63 degrees in downtown Indy. I read for awhile in University Park (I’m reading The 27s, which examines the rock & roll myth of death at age 27) before spending a couple hours exploring downtown Indianapolis by foot.

There are a lot of great sites to see in downtown Indianapolis (as evidenced by the 125 or so digital photos I took during my walk). I was most impressed by the American Legion Mall, where there are several war memorials surrounded by attractive federal buildings. Near the mall are University Park and the ornate Scottish Rite Cathedral.

Also worth seeing is the Indiana State House and the Indiana Repertory Theater, which are located near each other. If you like sports, you can walk just a few blocks south to see Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. A few blocks from there is Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates. You can complete the Indianapolis sports tour by visiting Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the NBA’s Indianapolis Pacers, and the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500 and other races.

The 100-year-old Murat Shrine Theater is another ornate building worth seeing. It is located across the street from the Athenaeum, where the SPJ conference was held.

One site I won’t get to visit during this weekend trip is the President Benjamin Harrison Home because it closes at 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and is open on Sundays only in June and July. But I’m sure it is worth your time to visit if you are interested in history and/or politics.

It is 6 degrees at 6:30 p.m. in Chicago. The temperature may drop to zero by the time the Bears-Packers game begins at Soldier Field an hour from now. Wind chills may bring the “real feel” temperature down even lower to 10-20 degrees below zero. Brrr! I’ll be glad to watch the game on television at home rather than in person at the stadium.

Despite the unbearable cold, you know some drunken, shirtless fool will be shown on TV tonight. I hope he enjoys his hospital stay while getting treatment for hypothermia.

According to WGN-TV, the coldest-ever game at Soldier Field also featured a matchup of the Bears and Packers, on Dec. 18, 1983. The game-time temperature was near 5 degrees. The Bears won that game 23-21.

UPDATE: The temperature at kickoff tonight was 2 degrees, according to WFLD-TV meteorologist Amy Freeze, who reported it on the Soldier Field Jumbotron.

Today my wife and I drove down to Bloomington-Normal to finish our Christmas shopping. It wasn’t an optimal time for travel since it snowed much of the day, but she didn’t work today and we figured the stores would be less crowded on a weekday than the weekend before Christmas.

We were pleasantly surprised to find Interstate 39 almost completely clear of snow during both legs of our day trip. The Illinois Department of Transportation should be commended for that, especially when the same couldn’t be said of the Twin Cities’ main shopping corridor. The two or three inches of snow that fell this afternoon came down much faster than it was cleaned up there. Then freezing rain started to give the snow a dangerous glaze as we headed back home.

It could’ve been worse, I suppose. In the Chicago area, the snowstorm caused traffic delays of up to three hours on the expressways. Good thing we didn’t decide to shop up there.