Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Record-breaking cold snap as US faces coldest day of 21st century

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) MANDATORY CREDIT
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) MANDATORY CREDIT
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) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT MBO (REV-SHARE)
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 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) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT.
Chris Griesmeyer dons ski goggles and a mask to protect him from the harsh wind chill as he walked in the sub-freezing temperatures on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Arlington Heights, Ill. Temperatures were expected to plummet further Monday, bringing dangerous cold to parts of the U.S. (AP photo / Daily Herald, Mark Welsh ) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT
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) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT.
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Mist rises from Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Ice builds up along Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Ice builds up along Lake Michigan as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Ice builds up along Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Ice builds up along Lake Michigan as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Ice builds up along Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Mist rises from Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Mist rises from Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach as temperatures dipped well below zero on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
*** BESTPIX *** DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 6: Alison Mueller skies to work through several inches of snow along Woodward Avenue as the area deals with record breaking freezing weather January 6, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan and most of the Midwest received their first major snow storm of 2014 last week and subzero temperatures are expected most of this week with wind-chill driving temperatures down to 50-70 degrees below zero. A "polar vortex" weather pattern is bringing some of the coldest weather the U.S. has had in almost 20 years. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

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’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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