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Severe cold, record rain, December tornadoes: 2018 closes out a year of unpredictable weather

Illinois residents are accustomed to hunkering down and expecting the worst from the weather in all four seasons, but 2018 delivered some brutal punches.

From the first day of the year, the state saw record-setting cold. That was followed by debilitating heat, flooding and a cluster of year-end tornadoes.

Here are some of the extreme weather highlights from 2018:

A new year and a record-setting cold snap

As Illinois bid farewell to 2017, a bitterly cold air mass that arrived the day after Christmas continued to linger over the northern part of the state, settling Chicago and Rockford into a deep freeze well into the new year.

Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 6, temperatures in Chicago remained below 20 degrees, a 12-day cold snap rivaled only twice, in the winters of 1936 and 1895, according to the National Weather Service. The freezing temperatures triggered delays on Metra, with rail breaks caused by contracting steel and trains slowing down to reduce stress on the tracks. Calls for roadside assistance climbed sharply as the cold deflated tires, froze gas lines and drained car batteries.

READ MORE: Extreme weather dangers often overlooked as Cook County reports 26 cold-related deaths in 2017 »

The most grueling stint of the prolonged cold snap took place from New Year’s Eve to Jan. 2. On New Year’s Day, the high temperature was 1 degree, the coldest daily high on record. The low was minus 9.

As awful as the temperatures appeared on daily weather forecasts, they felt even worse. With the wind, it seemed as cold as minus 25 degrees.

The temperatures were frosty enough to cancel the annual Polar Plunge in Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach.

By the end of the month, at least nine people had died from cold exposure.

Coldest April in 111 years disrupts baseball season

Though the severe cold eventually let up, winterlike weather was hard to escape.

April ranked as the fourth-coldest on record in Chicago and second in Rockford. For both cities, it was the most bitter April since 1907.

A frigid air mass settled over much of the Midwest and Northeast, making for a bone-chilling start to the Major League Baseball season.

The cold and snow contributed to 28 games being postponed that month — an all-time high. There were 10 days on which temperatures were 40 degrees or lower, tied for the second-most on record. For MLB at large, there were 35 games played in April when temperatures at first pitch were 40 or lower, compared with only two for all of 2017, according to MLB.

READ MORE: As heavy rains, heat waves become more common, fans could see more baseball games postponed »

On April 9, the date of the Chicago Cubs’ home opener, the city received about 2 inches of snow. The game was postponed, so instead of baseball, a lighthearted snowball fight ensued between Cubs players at Wrigley Field.

While snow and icicles were a familiar sight, one of the most notable hallmarks of the month was missing: thunderstorms. This was the first “thunderless” April since 1952.

Wettest May thanks to Alberto

Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall May 28, rocking the Florida Panhandle with strong winds and driving rains.

Within 48 hours, the spiraling remnants of the tropical storm moved into Illinois, bringing diminished yet still potent weather conditions. In DuPage and Cook counties, heavy rain of 2 to 5 inches inundated stormwater systems and roadways.

Flooding was the worst in Addison, Barrington, Hoffman Estates, Elmhurst and Villa Park, according to the weather service.

Though the weather service’s station at O’Hare International Airport only saw nine-tenths of an inch, that contributed to what already was an monsoonlike month. The monthly precipitation of 8.21 inches recorded at the airport made it the wettest May on record.

Triple-digit heat indexes leading up to the Fourth

Heat blanketed Chicago over the weekend leading up to July Fourth. The city baked under three straight days of 90-degree temperatures and triple-digit heat indexes that peaked at 110, according to WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling.

The city’s official 93-degree high at O’Hare International Airport on July 4 made it the hottest Fourth since 2012, when the temperature soared to 102.

By September, the heat was still hanging on. The city recorded the third-warmest period from May 1 through Sept. 20 and the warmest September in four decades, and the 93-degree high on Sept. 20 broke the record for that date, Skilling said.

High winds in October stir up 15-foot waves on Lake Michigan

In northern Illinois and northwest Indiana, a snow squall and driving winds created a fearsome spectacle along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Wind gusts Oct. 21 were recorded as high as 61 mph at O’Hare, and up to 65 mph at a coastal platform in Michigan City, Ind., where prolonged northwesterly winds agitated waves up to 15 feet, according to the weather service.

The blustery conditions in tandem with a mix of snow and rain created near-whiteout conditions in some areas, according to the weather service. They also downed trees and power lines, causing widespread blackouts.

String of tornadoes in December

On Dec. 1, a band of strong storms unleashed 28 tornadoes across central and southern Illinois — the largest outbreak in December since 1957, according to the weather service.

The largest and most powerful of the bunch was a twister a half-mile wide and packing estimated peak winds at 155 mph that blazed a nearly 13-mile path through Christian County. The tornado plowed through the heart of Taylorville, a city of 11,000 residents.

At least 22 people were hurt in the storm, but no one was killed, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. More than 500 homes were affected, including about 100 that suffered major damage or were destroyed.

Gov. Bruce Rauner declared Christian County a disaster area. In conjunction with local governments, the state is assisting with disaster recovery, providing heavy equipment and personnel to clear debris.

Twitter @_tonybriscoe

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