Sunday 23 November 2014

America's coldest day of the century: Cities shut down by life-threatening temperatures of -52C

Tim Walker

Published 07/01/2014 | 12:10

Laborers shovel the snow off of a footpath in the midtown neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan

THE coldest weather conditions for two decades show little sign of relenting in parts of America, as forecasters predict freezing temperatures could make today the coldest on record in the 21st century.

It sounds like a plot device from a bad disaster movie, but for vast swathes of North America, the weather phenomenon known as a “polar vortex” has become all too real, bringing misery to millions across the US and Canada, along with the lowest temperatures seen in almost twenty years.

More than 3,000 flights had been cancelled across the region by 10am yesterday morning. A further 3,700 had already been cancelled during the weekend. Schools were closed in major cities such as Chicago and St Louis, and residents advised to remain indoors.

Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland, told Bloomberg today could beat 16 January, 2009, the coldest day of the century.

The Governor of Minnesota closed all the schools in his state, while the mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, banned driving except in emergencies – the first time the city has issued such a strict travel warning since 1978. Mr Ballard said: “This extreme cold poses a serious health and safety risk and for that reason the city is asking people to proactively prepare.”

In many areas, particularly in the Midwest and Northern Plains, the cold was considered life-threatening. Hypothermia is a major risk at temperatures of below -25C, while frostbite can take hold in less than 10 minutes at -37C. At  45C, uncovered skin could freeze within five minutes. The windchill in Comertown, Montana, close to the border with Canada, is expected make temperatures feel as low as -52C.

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 07:  Passengers heading into downtown wait on an
Passengers heading into downtown wait on an "L" platform for the train to arrive in below zero temperatures on January 7, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Platforms were crowded and trains were delayed because doors on the trains kept freezing open. Chicago is experiencing its third consecutive day of below zero temperatures.
Icicles hang from a fountain along Canal Street as temperatures in the area plummeted below freezing on January 7, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Highs are expected be in the upper 30's in metro New Orleans. A "polar vortex" carrying Arctic air and wind gusts of up to 50 mph has engulfed much of the Northeast making for life threatening weather conditions.
A family braves the cold to take photographs along the icy shore of Lake Michigan as temperatures remain in the negative digits on January 7, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A 'polar vortex' of frigid air centered on the North Pole dropped temperatures to the negative double digits at its worst.
Bundled up in their coats people wait for the Street Car on Canal Street as temperatures in the area plummeted below freezing on January 7, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Highs are expected be in the upper 30's in metro New Orleans. A "polar vortex" carrying Arctic air and wind gusts of up to 50 mph has engulfed much of the Northeast making for life threatening weather conditions.
A passenger waits on an "L" platform for the train to arrive in below-zero temperatures on January 7, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Many trains were delayed on the system because doors on the trains kept freezing open. Chicago is experiencing its third consecutive day of below-zero temperatures.
Commuters prepare to catch a bus after waiting on a frozen sidewalk in below zero temperatures on January 7, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago is experiencing its third consecutive day of below zero temperatures. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A passenger heading toward downtown waits on an "L" platform for the train to arrive in below zero temperatures on January 7, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Trains were delayed on the system because doors on the trains kept freezing open. Chicago is experiencing its third consecutive day of below-zero temperatures. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A wrecked semi truck sits in the ditch on the eastbound side of I-74 west of St. Joseph, Ill., on Monday Jan. 6, 2014. Monday morning found east central Illinois encased in bitter cold, sub zero temperatures and blowing snow. (AP Photo/News-Gazette/John Dixon)
Daryl Daugherty clears the sidewalk in front of his home, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Carmel, Ind., as temperatures dropped lower than 10 below zero. More than 12 inches of snow fell on Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Lee Tuttle, 66, takes a break from blowing snow off of his driveway to pose for a portrait on Sunday, January 5, 2014 at his home on Miller Road in Flint, Mich. He said he hadn't really noticed the icicles forming in his beard. (AP Photo/The Flint Journal, :Michelle Tessier)
A woman pushes her daughter and their groceries through blowing snow in the Kroger parking lot in Green Acres Plaza on State Street in Saginaw Township, Mich., Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Bitter cold air and blowing snow moved into the area Monday. (AP Photo/The Saginaw News, Jeff Schrier)
In an imagge made with a fisheye lens, Marguerite Johnston uncovers her car in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Michigan residents are preparing for diving temperatures as they dig out from more than 15 inches of snow in places. .(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
A barge moves up a steamy Ohio River, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, past downtown Cincinnati. Temperatures in the area dipped below zero. Frigid, dense air swirled across much of the U.S. on Monday, (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
A man carrying a snow shovel walks along Market Street in Champaign, Ill., on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Icy, snow-covered roads and high winds made travel treacherous from the Dakotas and Michigan to Missouri as much of the nation braced for the next winter wallop: a dangerous cold that could break records. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Holly Hart)
Allan Umscheid, owner of Yards By Al in Lawrence, Kan, feels the bitter wind and catches drifting snow on his face as he runs a snow blower early Sunday morning, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Journal-World, Mike Yoder)
Sunlight streams through the windows of a building which caught on fire in Plattsmouth, Neb., Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, and the water sprayed on it by fire fighters froze. Much of the American northeast and the midwest are suffering from sub-freezing temperatures. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
A man prepares to remove his plow stuck in a snow bank as snow and wind swirls around Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in St. Louis. Snow that began in parts of Missouri Saturday night picked up intensity after dawn Sunday with several inches of snow on the ground by midmorning and more on the way. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Three brothers, from left, Trevor, Connor, and Austin Bartz built this 16 foot high snow shark in the front yard of their New Brighton, Minn. home, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. It took them around 95 hours of work and they gathered the snow from houses in their neighborhood. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)
A person struggles to cross a street in blowing and falling snow as the Gateway Arch appears in the distance Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in St. Louis. Snow that began in parts of Missouri Saturday night picked up intensity after dawn Sunday with several inches of snow on the ground by midmorning and more on the way. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
With temperatures at about 22 below zero with a -50 windchill, it was hard to find the beauty in the brutal weather in Bismarck, N.D., Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Sundogs, a ring of light visible around the sun or moon when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere, are quite beautiful along Highway 83 north of Bismark ND. (AP Photo/The Bismarck Tribune, Brian Peterson)
Gary Warrington, of Atlantic City, digs out his car out on Arctic Ave, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 in Atlantic City, N. J. New Jersey had a snow day Friday as schools, government offices and businesses closed for a winter storm that dropped up to 10 inches of snow in some areas and ushered in bitterly cold temperatures rarely seen in the region. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Edward Lea)
John Brower snow in his eye lashes after running to work in the frigid -20 weather Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 in Minneapolis. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended Monday into much of the U.S. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores)
A truck moves cautiously through blowing snow in I-74 eastbound through Urbana, Ill., on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Icy, snow-covered roads and high winds made travel treacherous from the Dakotas and Michigan to Missouri as much of the nation braced for the next winter wallop: a dangerous cold that could break records. (AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Holly Hart)
Four homeless men warm themselves on a steam grate by the Federal Trade Commission, blocks from the Capitol, during frigid temperatures in Washington, Saturday, January 4, 2014. A winter storm that swept across the Midwest this week blew through the Northeast on Friday, leaving bone-chilling cold in its wake. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Chris Tinney, 41, removes snow in front of Racquets Downtown Grill and Drs. Gundersen and Zuker's optometrist office on West Western Avenue in Muskegon, Mich., Monday morning of Jan. 6, 2014. Tinney works for Schultz Landscape Construction, Irrigation, and Snow Removal of Muskegon. "If you dress for it you are okay," Tinney said about the cold. (AP Photo/The Muskegon Chronicle, Ken Stevens)
Nick warms himself on a steam grate with three other homeless men by the Federal Trade Commission, just blocks from the Capitol, during frigid temperatures in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. A winter storm that swept across the Midwest this week blew through the Northeast on Friday, leaving bone-chilling cold in its wake. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Daryl Daugherty clears the sidewalk in front of his home, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Carmel, Ind., as temperatures dropped lower than 10 below zero. More than 12 inches of snow fell on Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Greg Rohde has an ice and snow encrusted beard after commuting to work at the University of Minnesota by cross-country skis along West River Parkway in the frigid -20 weather, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores )
Cars are covered with snow after a snowstorm in front of the George Washington Bridge, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 on Riverside Drive in the Manhattan borough of New York. (AP Photo/Northjersey.com, Carmine Galasso)
A woman walks back to her car in the long term parking lot at Indianapolis International Airport, Monday Jan. 6, 2014. The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the Midwest and pushed toward the East and South on Monday, closing schools and day care centers, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Joe Vitti)
In this Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 photo, Ron, a bison at Brookfield Zoo, is covered in snow and doesn't seemed phased by the frigid temperatures or snow blowing through the Chicago area. The zoo was closed Monday, Jan . 6 due to the snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures and plans to reopen Tuesday. It was only the fourth time in Brookfield Zoo's history dating back to 1934 that it has closed due to severe weather conditions. (AP Photo/Chicago Zoological Society, Jim Schulz)
Megan Spencer, 14, and Brooke Spencer, 9, front, test out a snow fort on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at their home in Grand Blanc, Mich. More than 13 inches of snow was reportedly recorded for the Grand Blanc area. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Michelle Tessier)
Brooke Spencer, 9, makes a face after eating some snow on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at her home in Grand Blanc, Mich. Grand Blanc recorded more than 13 inches of snow. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Michelle Tessier)
Laborers shovel the snow off of the sidewalk in the midtown neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan January 6, 2014. A blast of Arctic air gripped the vast middle of the United States on Monday, with the coldest temperatures in two decades threatening lives, forcing businesses and schools to close and canceling thousands of flights. The polar vortex, the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere that hovers over the polar region in winter but can be pushed south, was moving toward the East Coastwhere temperatures were expected to fall into Tuesday. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Megan Draper of Noblesville, Indiana covers her face to stay warm after stopping at a rest stop on Interstate 65 north of Indianapolis, Indiana January 6, 2014. A blast of Arctic air gripped the vast middle of the United States on Monday, bringing the coldest temperatures felt in two decades, causing at least four deaths, forcing businesses and schools to close and canceling thousands of flights. The polar vortex, the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere that hovers over the polar region in winter but can be pushed south, was moving toward the East Coastwhere temperatures were expected to fall into Tuesday. REUTERS/Nate Chute
A woman is bundled up against the cold weather in Indianapolis, Indiana January 6, 2014. A blast of Arctic air gripped the vast middle of the United States on Monday, bringing the coldest temperatures felt in two decades, causing at least four deaths, forcing businesses and schools to close and canceling thousands of flights. The polar vortex, the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere that hovers over the polar region in winter but can be pushed south, was moving toward the East Coastwhere temperatures were expected to fall into Tuesday. REUTERS/Nate Chute

Chicago’s National Weather Service office reported that Monday’s low of -26C at O’Hare International Airport beat a record set in 1884 and equalled in 1988. In Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota, temperatures sank below  35C. Motorists were advised in that state and its neighbour South Dakota to carry survival kits and a charged mobile phone in case they found themselves stranded in the perilous weather.

At least 13 people are thought to have died as a result of the extreme conditions already, including several road accidents, a man who succumbed to hypothermia in Wisconsin, and a worker crushed by a massive pile of road salt at a storage facility in Philadelphia. An elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer from rural New York state wandered out into the snow; she was later found dead from the cold, around 100 yards from her home.

The arctic freeze only exacerbated the problems caused by a weekend of heavy snowfall that had covered parts of Canada and the northern US in up to 60cm. In Detroit, where 25cm fell, the heavy snow was thought to have caused a roof to collapse, though no one was killed in the incident.

Meanwhile in St Louis, shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants and several major tourist sites were shuttered, including the zoo and the city’s famous Gateway Arch. Even a nearby ski resort, Hidden Valley, was forced to close its slopes.

In Newfoundland, Canada, a power outage on Sunday left 90,000 homes without electricity, a pattern repeated in several locations across the US. Though northern states were the worst affected, record-breaking low temperatures were also expected as far south as Atlanta. While farmers in South Dakota worried about keeping their cattle alive through the dangerous chill, down in Florida, citrus farmers were reported to be equally concerned about the effect of a prolonged freeze on their crops.

There was at least one good news story to emerge from the bad weather, however. The family of a missing New York man, 20-year-old Nicholas Simmons, found him sleeping rough on the streets of Washington, DC, thanks to a newspaper gallery illustrating the effects of the polar vortex.

Mr Simmons reportedly left his home in upstate New York last Wednesday evening. His family reported him missing and set up a Facebook page to plead for help in finding him. Then, on Sunday, a photograph of a young homeless man warming himself on a Washington steam grate, taken by the Associated Press photographer Jacquelyn Martin, appeared in a photo-spread in USA Today.

The young homeless man was Mr Simmons, whose mother spotted the image and contacted Ms Martin and Washington DC police, who found the young man still in the area where he had been photographed. He was taken to hospital and later reunited with his parents.

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