Wednesday 26 June 2019

In pictures: US so cold, Hell has frozen over as temperatures drop to -32C

  • UK faces its coldest temperatures of the winter so far
  • In the US, polar vortex in the Midwest led to the deaths of at least 21 people
  • Subzero temperatures will give way to milder, snow-melting temperatures in the Midwest this weekend: 'It'll feel like a heatwave'
  • People share 'crazy cold temperature' videos on social media, showing just how cold it really was
A view of frozen Lake Michigan during the polar vortex is seen from an airplane in Chicago, Illinois Photo: Twitter
A view of frozen Lake Michigan during the polar vortex is seen from an airplane in Chicago, Illinois Photo: Twitter

Caitlin Doherty

While the UK faces its coldest temperatures of the winter so far, in the US, Hell has literally frozen over.

The polar vortex that locked the U.S. Midwest in sub-zero weather and led to the deaths of at least 21 people will give way to milder, snow-melting temperatures this weekend.

But residents of Hell in Michigan have experienced temperatures as low as minus 26C (minus 14.8F), according to the National Weather Service, as northern states are gripped by the Polar Vortex.

According to a town Facebook page, they have not had as much snow as during other winters "but we are much colder".

Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan before sunrise, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Chicago. The painfully cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze was expected to ease Thursday, though temperatures still tumbled to record lows in some places. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan before sunrise, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Chicago. The painfully cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze was expected to ease Thursday, though temperatures still tumbled to record lows in some places. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
A view of frozen Lake Michigan during the polar vortex is seen from an airplane in Chicago, Illinois Photo: Twitter
Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan before sunrise, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Chicago. The painfully cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze was expected to ease Thursday, though temperatures still tumbled to record lows in some places. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
Icicles form on the walkway at North Avenue Beach of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
Ice and water flows over the American Falls, viewed from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (Tara Walton/The Canadian Press via AP)
Ice covers the observation deck at the base of Horseshoe falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (Tara Walton/The Canadian Press via AP)
Steam is seen above Lake Michigan during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit IRSHAAD GOEDAR/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
U.S. Coast Guard members work on a boat used as an ice breaker along the Hudson river between the towns of Kingston and Poughkeepsie during a polar vortex in New York, U.S., January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

"Yes, Hell has frozen over."

The cold snap has been felt across a number of northern states, with temperatures reportedly feeling as low as minus 45C (minus 49F) with wind chill.

Chicago could have experienced its lowest ever temperature on Thursday as it dropped below the minus 32C (minus 25.6F) recorded in 1985, according to the National Weather Service.

The Illinois city was colder than the Canadian village of Alert, one of the world's most northerly inhabited places.

Classes were cancelled for Wednesday and yesterday for students across the Midwest, including Chicago, home of the nation's third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways.

In a rare move, the US Postal Service appeared to set aside its credo that "neither snow nor rain ... nor gloom of night" would stop its work as it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.

The polar vortex is an icy cap of air that usually swirls over the North Pole. Changing air currents caused it to slip down through Canada and into the U.S. Midwest this week.

"The cold air isn't pushing off anywhere, it's just sort of evaporating," said Brian Hurley today, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

"So we're going from 21 below zero (Fahrenheit) in Chicago Thursday morning to near 50 above on Monday," he said. "It'll feel like a heat wave."

Temperatures in the Upper Midwest will reach well above zero F (minus 18 C) on Friday, with highs making it into the teens and low 20s. By Saturday, highs will be in the 30s and even low 40s. The central Plains will be in the low 60s, nearly 20 to 25 degrees above normal, the weather service said.

More than 40 cold-temperature records were broken Thursday, the coldest morning since the polar vortex moved in late on Tuesday. The mass of arctic air had clung to a swath of the U.S. from Iowa and the Dakotas across the Great Lakes region and into Maine for days.

The coldest recorded temperature was minus 56 in Cotton, Minnesota, on Thursday, the weather service said.

Officials across multiple states linked numerous deaths to the frigid air.

The death toll rose after at least nine more people in Chicago were reported to have died from cold-related injuries, according to Stathis Poulakidas, a doctor at the city's John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

Deaths

At least a dozen deaths related to extreme cold weather have been reported since Saturday in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to officials and media reports.

Illinois State Police officers rescued 21 people stranded in a charter bus that broke down in sub-zero temperatures along Interstate 55 near Auburn after the vehicle's diesel fuel turned to gel in its engine.

In Detroit, a 70-year-old man was found dead on a residential street, a Detroit police spokeswoman said. About 24km south in the community of Ecorse, a former city councilman in his 70s and dressed only in sleepwear was also found dead.

A University of Iowa student was found dead outside a building at the campus early on Wednesday. The death of Gerald Belz, a pre-med student, was believed to be weather-related.

Streets in Chicago were nearly empty, with few people walking outside in the painfully cold air as temperatures hovered around -28C.

"It's terrible!" Pasquale Cappellano, a 68-year-old waiter, said as he smoked a cigarette while waiting outside for a bus on Chicago's North Side. "I gotta pick up my medication at Walgreens or else I wouldn't be out the door."

Brutal

In Minneapolis, chilled to -26C, Brian Pierce ventured out to "embrace the elements" and found himself watching cars slipping on the roads.

"The roads sound really weird, it seems there's a lack of grip," he said. "And my teeth hurt."

A forecast for warmer weather by this weekend offered little comfort to those enduring icy conditions, brutal winds and temperatures as low as -34C.

"We have some dangerous wind chills," Andrew Orrison, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, said.

In Minnesota and Upper Michigan, temperatures hit 29C and parts of North Dakota were at -30C.

The bitter cold was caused by displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole but whose current was disrupted.

It pushed eastward and states including Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania experienced bitterly cold temperatures.

The overnight low yesterday in Boston was -21C.

Videos this week showed boiling water freezing as it was tossed in the air in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and transit workers in Chicago setting fire to train tracks to keep them from locking up.

More than 2,500 flights were cancelled and more than 3,500 delayed yesterday morning, most of them out of Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway International airports.

General Motors Co suspended operations at 11 Michigan plants and its Warren Tech Centre after a utility made an emergency appeal to users to conserve natural gas after extreme cold and a fire at a compressor station.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also cancelled a shift yesterday at two of its plants.

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