Corey Wolf figures he has the greatest job, but on a day like Wednesday, it was not so great.

Wolf is a bicycle messenger and in the summer he gets to ride his bike all day. And in the winter he still gets to ride his bicycle every day.

On Wednesday, when wind chills plunged to minus 47 and most schools, businesses and governments closed their doors, mail wasn’t delivered, flights were canceled, Amtrak shut down and most sane people did not venture outdoors, Wolf traversed the mostly empty streets of downtown Milwaukee picking up packages and making deliveries.

“We have the best job in the world when it’s sunny and nice out,” Wolf said as he wolfed down a slice of pepperoni pizza before pulling on goggles and a winter jacket to pick up a package at a law firm and deliver it to a bank.

“But we have the quote unquote worst job when it’s this cold out.”

The deep freeze smacking Wisconsin in the face will stick around another day, which means another day off for many workers and students. Milwaukee County government will remain shuttered Thursday and the U.S. Postal Service announced mail will not be delivered for another day in Wisconsin, though post offices will be open. Many students, including those attending Milwaukee Public Schools and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will get another day off.

In Milwaukee, the 4:30 a.m. temperature Thursday was minus 19 with a wind chill of minus 39. The forecasted low Thursday is -26 at 6 a.m. but then things should begin the gradually warm until we break back above zero early Friday morning. The downside to the forecast – more snow. Just an inch or two, but it may arrive in Milwaukee in time for the evening commute. Given the temperatures, that could turn the interstates into skating rinks.

Wind chills on Wednesday hit minus 58 in Darlington in southwestern Wisconsin, minus 56 in Wautoma, minus 53 in Sheboygan and Port Washington, minus 52 in Waukesha and minus 47 at Timmerman Field in Milwaukee early Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

The wind chill warning — the first in five years issued by the weather service in Sullivan — continues through noon Thursday.

Furnace repair workers were busy, numerous cars parked at Mitchell International Airport needed jump starts and business at towing companies was hopping as engines balked in the brutal cold.

One week ago, Action Heating and Cooling in Milwaukee handled eight calls for broken-down furnaces. On Wednesday, the company had gotten 32 calls “and it’s only 3 o’clock,” said company vice president Tanya Sanborn.

Action Heating and Cooling offers 24-hour emergency service and the firm’s six technicians were busy fixing furnaces and restoring heat.

“We’ve had some weird weather recently. It’s been warmer than average for Wisconsin, so today we’re kind of making up for it all at once,” said Sanborn.

Christina Yendrzeski of Quality Heating & Sheet Metal Inc. in Brookfield said technicians started at 7 a.m. Wednesday and were booked straight until 9 p.m. “It is absolutely crazy.”

Many of the problems were related to motors in older furnaces, Yendrzeski said. “We’re seeing a lot of units that are 30 to 40 years old that are finally giving out.”

At Mitchell International Airport, where numerous flights were canceled because of the weather, Interflight Parking employees were busy handling cars left with the valet service that started right before Christmas, as well as helping people jump start their cars. Fleet manager Jose Marrero helped half a dozen people get on their way in just one hour before noon.

Charles Moreno was not one of them. Moreno had just finished working a six-hour shift for Delta. Normally he would have started up his 1994 Toyota Camry in the employee parking lot and headed home. But his Camry had other ideas.

Holding up his hood so Marrero could attach jumper cables, Moreno said, “I love these guys with a passion. They always help you out. I’m just hoping my fuel line isn’t frozen.”

“OK, give it a try,” said Marrero.

Moreno turned his key. Nothing. Marrero revved his engine and asked Moreno to try again. After a couple of fruitless minutes, Marrero told him it likely wasn’t the battery. He offered to give Moreno a lift back to the terminal in his warm pickup truck, which Moreno gratefully accepted. 

Then Marrero backed his truck a few feet to where a gray Focus driven by airport employee Tim Merkel was comatose. After attaching the cables, Merkel hit the ignition and his engine sprang to life, dark gray exhaust shooting straight out. Then it was on to the next dead car for Marrero.

Jeff Plewa, an employee of Interflight Parking, works at the valet parking drop-off/pickup location at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. Besides parking and retrieving customers' cars, he also jump-starts cars in the airport ramp and parking lots.

Buy Photo

After helping jump-start a car, Jeff Plewa  walks to another car that needs a jump-start at Mitchell International Airport.

Buy Photo

Tim Merkel is all smiles after Jeff Plewa jump-started his car at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

Interflight Parking employee Jose Marrero tries to jump-start the car of Delta Airlines employee Charles Moreno at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

Interflight Parking employee Jose Marrero tries to jump-start the car of Delta Airlines employee Charles Moreno at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

Delta Airlines employee Charles Moreno (foreground) helps Interflight Parking employee Jose Marrero jump-start his car at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

Delta Airlines employee Charles Moreno helps Interflight Parking employee Jose Marrero jump-start his car at Mitchell Airport International Airport.

Buy Photo

A bicycle messenger on North Water Street is one of the few people outside in downtown Milwaukee. Temperatures are well below zero and a blustery wind made it feel even colder.

Buy Photo

A man made his way to his car in the 300 block of West Kilbourn Avenue in downtown Milwaukee in the bone-chilling cold.

Buy Photo

Two men hustle across North Water Street in downtown Milwaukee on their way to a sandwich shop, only to find the door locked and a closed sign hung on it.

Buy Photo

A bike messenger riding along West Kilbourn Avenue was one of the few people on the street in downtown Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

Cars made their way along Highway 60 in Slinger, in this view looking east.

Buy Photo

With temperatures well below zero and a blustery wind making it feel even colder, there was only one way to travel comfortably in downtown Milwaukee as demonstrated by this man sipping a hot beverage in a vehicle at a stop light.

Buy Photo

A man covers his face as he heads into the wind along West Kilbourn Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer Mike De Sisti demonstrates how boiling water reacts to the cold when shot through a Super Soaker in Bayside on Wednesday.

Buy Photo

Soda and beer cans explode in the cold.

Buy Photo

Ice volcanos, or Icecanoes, are formed on Lake Michigan at Big Bay Park in Whitefish Bay on Wednesday.

Buy Photo

Oscar Benitez and his wife Juliana, visiting from Atlanta, GA take a selfie on the shores of Lake Michigan near Bradford Beach in Milwaukee on Wednesday. The couple were supposed to fly out today, on Wednesday, but their flight was canceled due to the cold weather.

Buy Photo

A thermometer reads 17 degrees below zero at the BMO Harris bank on West Silver Spring Drive in Whitefish Bay.

Buy Photo

Circular ice formations resembling lily pads are formed in Lake Michigan at Big Bay Park in Whitefish Bay.

Buy Photo

Margo Dryden of Milwaukee shields her face from the cold as she heads to the bus stop on North Oakland Avenue just south of East Capitol Drive in Shorewood.

Buy Photo

Israel Montelongo, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student from Delevan, shovels out his car on North Oakland Avenue just north of East Hartford Avenue in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

John Byrd of Milwaukee takes a photo of himself on the shore of Lake Michigan near Bradford Beach in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Buy Photo

The shores of Lake Michigan are covered from steam rising near ice formations on Bradford Beach in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

The Breakwater Lighthouse is engulfed in steam on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.

Buy Photo

A home on Ridgeline Trail in Menomonee Falls was the scene of a fire on Wednesday.  Firefighters had a portion of the neighborhood blocked off as they remained on the scene pouring more water on it at times.

Buy Photo

A home on Ridgeline Trail in Menomonee Falls was the scene of a fire Wednesday.  Firefighters had a portion of the neighborhood blocked off as they remained on the scene pouring more water on it at times.

Buy Photo

A passerby photographs vapor rising off the lighthouse at the Milwaukee Harbor on Lake Michigan. A polar vortex brought extremely cold weather to Milwaukee with temperatures in the minus 20s and wind chills between 40 below and 50 below over the next 24 hours.

Buy Photo

Ducks gather at a small warm patch of water at the mouth of the Milwaukee River where it empties into the harbor of Lake Michigan. A polar vortex brought extremely cold weather to Milwaukee with temperatures in the minus 20s and wind chills between 40 below and 50 below over the next 24 hours.

Buy Photo

Ducks gather at a small warm patch of water at the mouth of the Milwaukee River where it empties into the harbor of Lake Michigan. A polar vortex brought extremely cold weather to Milwaukee with temperatures in the minus 20s and wind chills between 40 below and 50 below over the next 24 hours.

Buy Photo

Breakaway Bicycle Courier messenger Corey Wolf was still at work making deliveries despite the frigid weather in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Buy Photo

Breakaway Bicycle Courier messenger Corey Wolf was still at work making deliveries despite the frigid weather in downtown Milwaukee, Wis.

Buy Photo

Breakaway Bicycle Courier messenger Corey Wolf was still at work making deliveries despite the frigid weather in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday

Buy Photo

A pedestrian on E. Mason Street covers her face as she braves the frigid weather in downtown Milwaukee, Wis.

Buy Photo

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Business was brisk for AAA Wisconsin as technicians responded to calls throughout the state, mostly for dead batteries, said spokesman Nick Jarmusz. Compared with the same date a year ago, AAA Wisconsin handled 291 percent more calls for service on Wednesday.

“When you get subzero temperatures, batteries can lose up to 30 percent of their charging power,” said Jarmusz. “It doesn’t matter whether you have a new or old car, the real issue is the age of the battery.”

Auto experts said a car’s battery should be replaced no later than every five years — and sooner to be safer.

“If you notice it’s turning over a little slow in 30 degrees, it probably won’t start when you get down to this weather,” said Greg Griswold of Griswold Automotive Inc. in Brookfield.

Dan Patrick, service manager at Lutter’s Elmbrook Automotive Inc. in Brookfield, said this week’s hyper-cold weather “will take an OK battery and turn it into a 10-pound weakling.”

The biting cold made it difficult to fight fires and respond to water main breaks.

Milwaukee firefighters responded to 121 calls for service between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday, said Mayor Tom Barrett. The city’s public libraries will reopen Thursday from 1 to 6 p.m., and city health clinics will be open from 1 to 6:15 p.m.

Barrett and other city officials urged people to call 211 if they need a warm place to stay or sleep, and to make use of free Lyft rides to warming centers. About 175 people took advantage of emergency warming rooms around the city Tuesday night

At a 2 p.m. news conference at City Hall, the mayor said only two water main breaks had occurred so far.

“I hate even saying that, because my fear is that that’s like talking about a no-hitter, that we’re going to get a lot more calls,” Barrett said. “But we are certainly expecting that number to increase over the weekend as the thawing occurs.”

Indeed, warmer weather is just around the corner. The National Weather Service is forecasting slowly rising temperatures on Friday, with highs in the teens, in southeastern Wisconsin, followed by 30s on Saturday and possibly even 40 on Sunday.

All Amtrak Hiawatha trains between Milwaukee and Chicago were canceled for Thursday but are expected to resume Friday.

While quite a few parents grappled with child care difficulties because schools were closed, some school employees — substitute teachers and hourly workers, for example — are bracing for a financial hit because they won’t be paid for the days they didn’t work.

Some sidelined by the cold are taking on side gigs to offset those losses.

“I’m driving Lyft right now,” Alex Brower, a long-term substitute teacher, said Wednesday.

“I totally agree with closing the schools. The safety of our kids has to be our first priority,” Brower said. “But it does make it harder to budget. There’s going to be a lot of people struggling.”

RELATED:Bitterly cold, once-in-a-generation temperatures expected in Wisconsin this week 

RELATED:Cold forces school cancellations across southeastern Wisconsin; often it’s a ‘no-win’ call for districts

RELATED:Mummified skin, hypothermia: What happens to your body in minus 50 degree wind chill?

RELATED: Show how you spent the coldest day of the year, send your photos and video 

MPS said all full-time salaried staff, including teachers’ aides, children’s health aides, building service helpers and some food-service staff, will be paid for the five days school was canceled. However, some hourly and temporary employees will not. But they will have an opportunity to make up hours when classes resume.

Other districts reported similar policies.

At Arrowhead Unified High School District, salaried teachers will be paid for the days missed but may end up working without pay on any makeup days that are scheduled, said Superintendent Laura Myrah.

Woodlands School in Milwaukee will pay hourly employees for the canceled days, without requiring them to use their accrued time off.

Animal shelters responded to animals in distress from the weather.

Donn Jacobson, a Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission animal control officer, was called to a home on the city’s north side for a complaint of dogs being kept outside. Jacobson responded to the home along with Milwaukee police and examined a small shed where 10 dogs, mostly beagles and one German Shepherd, barked repeatedly Wednesday afternoon.

Jacobson noted that the dog owner had heaters in the water bowls so the animals had access to water and there was enough shelter for the pups, though he recommended providing more bedding.

Jacobson donned warmer boots Wednesday because of the cold. And he kept his MADACC truck running.

“It’s 80 degrees in my truck right now. Well, maybe not 80, but my heater is running all the time,” said Jacobson.

The weather service Wednesday morning tweeted an image showing the impact that the cold has had on Lake Michigan.

Here is a little different take on the ongoing cold. There has been a rapid expansion of ice in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan the last several days. The ice will continue to expand the rest of the week due to the persistent frigid cold. #swiwx#lakemichiganpic.twitter.com/LLTvgcoDH4

— NWS Milwaukee (@NWSMKX) January 30, 2019

“There has been a rapid expansion of ice in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan the last several days,” the weather service said. “The ice will continue to expand the rest of the week due to the persistent frigid cold.”

Back at Breakaway Bicycle Courier, dispatcher and rider Kyle Lewis sent home two of the three bicyclists and one of the two motor vehicle drivers, because business was slow. The business averages 80 to 100 runs each day and Wednesday only a dozen had come through by the lunch hour.

Still, Lewis and Wolf were surprised there were even that many considering how many of their customers, including law and financial firms banks, and courthouses, were closed Wednesday.

Wolf rides a one-speed fixed-gear bike with no brakes — the pedals are fixed to the wheels — which helps on slippery winter streets because hitting the brakes can cause his ride to slide, he said. He uses the same bike year-round, and although some riders prefer studded or fat tires in the winter, Wolf sticks to his skinny tires which roll right over ice and snow or slice through snow drifts.

Wolf wore warmer clothes on Wednesday and added an important accessory — ski goggles. 

“Because you can’t have your eyes freezing,” said Wolf. But no hand warmers. “I went to get some yesterday, but I must have waited too long because I couldn’t find any.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Jesse Garza, Mary Spicuzza, James B. Nelson, Paul Gores and Annysa Johnson contributed to this report.

Read or Share this story: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2019/01/30/some-workers-continue-brave-cold-do-their-jobs/2725544002/