By SAMANTHA PIDDE
Mount Carroll has the Arctic air mass known as the polar vortex to thank for the city reclaiming a statewide weather record.
Last Thursday morning, Jan. 31, Mount Carroll Water and Sewer Supt. Bill Zink, a trained weather observer, recorded a temperature of minus 38 degrees.
If officially confirmed by the National Weather Service, the bone-chilling number will be a new state record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in Illinois.
The current record for the lowest temperature is minus 36 degrees below zero set on Jan. 5, 1999, in Congerville, which is about 25 miles east of Peoria.
Previous to that, however, Mount Carroll held the official state record of minus 35 degrees for nearly 69 years — from Jan. 22, 1930, to Jan. 5 1999.
"I ran down this morning (Jan. 31) ‘cause I just wanted to see how cold it was," Zink told the Mirror-Democrat, adding with a chuckle, “I went back home and got my glasses because I wanted to be sure what I had seen.” The record-low reading was taken at 7:15 a.m.
Weather-recording equipment certified by the National Weather Service is kept in a small structure just outside the water and sewer plant next to Point Rock Park.
Zink said he knew the current record was minus 36 degrees, but did not know if any other communities had a reading of minus 38 that day.
"It was cold everywhere," Zink noted.
Zink and fellow city water and sewer department employees Greg Kloepping and Jon Armstrong are responsible for collecting daily recordings of Mount Carroll’s weather information (temperature and precipitation) and electronically sending the data to the National Weather Service.
Two officials from the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities visited Mount Carroll on Friday, Feb. 1, to verify that the weather-recording equipment at the water and sewer treatment plant is accurate.
Although the minus 38 temperature will not be "official" for another week or so, Zink said the National Weather Service officials indicated the equipment was believed to be accurate. Zink said he was comfortable saying "unofficially" that the new record low temperature will stand.
Zink's grandfather, Levi Zink was the official National Weather Service observer in Mount Carroll for many years in the 1960s and ‘70s and he would often fill in when his grandfather was ill.
According to some sources, including Wikipedia, Rochelle recorded a temperature of minus 37 degrees on Jan. 15, 2009, as the lowest temperature in Illinois. However, the National Weather Service said that observation came from a small airport station designed for aviation purposes and was not part of the climate network in Illinois. As a result, the data were not always archived and no quality control procedures were applied to the data.
Everything came to a virtual standstill last week as the polar vortex swept across the Midwest from Tuesday night, Jan. 29, through Thursday night Jan. 31. Carroll County schools were closed Tuesday through Thursday and the courthouse was closed Wednesday and Thursday, along with many other businesses and offices. One Savanna resident had a reading of minus 35 Thursday morning.
Temperatures took about an 80 degree swing over the weekend, getting as warm as the low 40s, resulting in lots of melting snow and thick fog. Winter-like temperatures are expected later this week, along with an ice storm predicted for mid-week.
Coincidentally on the record-setting frigid morning of Jan. 31, Mount Carroll resident Earl Gilliland was looking out his front window on South Mill Street and was surprised to see what he deemed “a demented robin" sitting in a cedar tree across the street from his home. He later mused on the irony of witnessing this sight on the same day Mount Carroll set a new record for the coldest day in Illinois.
"It was flying around, enjoying itself," Gilliland said about the robin.
The retired schoolteacher was looking at his own bird feeders in his front yard when he spotted the bird across the street on the John and Thelma Swiech property. Thinking the bird resembled a robin, Gilliland grabbed his binoculars to confirm what he had seen. He watched the bird fly away from the tree twice, only to come back each time.
"If he's not demented, it might mean spring is coming," said Gilliland, with a laugh, adding, "Personally, I think he's demented.
Whether or not this robin is a sign of spring, it cannot be argued that Thursday, Jan. 31, was the epitome of winter in northwestern Illinois, with Mount Carroll's low temperature of minus 38 degrees setting a new record for the state of Illinois.
And Gilliland has the distinction of being the first person in 2019 to call the Mirror-Democrat with a robin sighting.