Polar vortex blamed for at least eight deaths as deep freeze grips US Midwest

January 31, 2019 12:25 AM

A blast of icy polar air brought dangerously low temperatures to the US Midwest on Wednesday, causing at least three more deaths while halting mail deliveries and forcing residents who pride themselves on their winter hardiness to huddle indoors. Classes were cancelled for Wednesday and Thursday 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. Michigan said all state offices would remain closed through Thursday. 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. At least eight 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 who were 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, according to the agency. Cold front: Temperatures held at below -20C in Chicago, Illinois. The city's record low, -33C, was registered in 1985 Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images In Detroit, a 70-year-old man was found dead on Wednesday on a residential street, a Detroit police spokeswoman said. About 15 miles (24 km) south in the community of Ecorse, a former city councilman in his 70s and dressed only in sleepwear was also found dead on Wednesday, police there said. A University of Iowa student was found dead outside a building at the campus early on Wednesday, the school said in a statement. 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 minus 28 Celsius. "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." US weather: Polar vortex threatens record low temperatures, in pictures In Minneapolis, chilled to minus 26 Celsius, 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." Wind-chill temperatures in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged as low as minus 41 Celsius  in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and minus  35 Celsius  in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The frigid winds were headed for the US East Coast later on Wednesday. Normally, the #PolarVortex �� swirls around the Arctic, trapping cold air near the Pole. Recently, this pressure system has been less stable, spilling colder air south & bringing record-low temperatures �� to parts of the continental U.S. https://t.co/PS83gEo5u0pic.twitter.com/zQP4sYS2Kh- NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) January 30, 2019 More than a thousand flights, close to two-thirds of those scheduled, were canceled on Wednesday into or out of Chicago O'Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. Amtrak canceled all trains in and out of Chicago on Wednesday. At the Morning Joy Farm in Mercer, North Dakota, Annie Carlson said her horses and sheep were doing fine. "They can go into the barn if they wish," she said. "They're snuggled in, warm and toasty." Her chickens, ducks and guinea hens were enjoying the 21 Celsius climate inside their greenhouse-like hoop house, she said. Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the NWS, said some of the coldest wind chills were recorded in International Falls, Minnesota, at minus 48 Celsius. Even the South Pole in Antarctica was warmer, with an expected low of minus 31 Celsius with wind chill. Out in the cold: goggles weather for Minneapolis residents Jen and Aaron Brackman Credit: STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images Temperatures in Chicago will drop again "quite precipitously" on Wednesday night, Orrison said, potentially breaking the record low of minus 33 Celsius on January 21, 1985, the day of Ronald Reagan's second presidential inauguration. Banks and stores closed for business. Waste Management Inc , a major trash collection company, said it cancelled pickups in counties across the Midwest on Wednesday and Thursday. The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south. Officials opened warming centres across the Midwest, and in Chicago, police stations were open to anyone seeking refuge. Five city buses were also deployed to serve as mobile warming centres for homeless people, while city police handed out hats, jackets and blankets. In Ontario, Canada, steam rises from the frozen Niagara Falls Credit: LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images The Chicago Police Department said it could encourage people to get out of the cold. "But we will never force someone," police officer Michael Carroll said. US homes and businesses will likely use record amounts of natural gas for heating on Wednesday, according to energy analysts. Some residents just to the north and northwest of the Twin Cities in Minnesota were asked by Xcel Energy to dial down their thermostats 16C because of the strains on its natural gas supply system. The Michigan Agency for Energy said the state's utility companies had agreed not to shut off gas or electric supplies to delinquent customers for the rest of the week. Continue Reading


There are no signs of severe drought in California this year, but the state legislators continue to move down the road of water wasting mindset prevention. As a reminder to those residents and businesses who have gotten a little lazy and are back to using as much water as before the drought, water legislations are passing on through eight phases of the mandatory water conservation program. It's Murphy's law: "Just when you think things cannot get any worse, they will." But there is also some good news for Californians. Minimum wage is going up to $11-$12 per hour depending on company size. Women are getting more protection. Illegal businesses of the past are making into respected taxpayers.


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It's the season when some of us might feel pressure to give more than we really can afford. For some people, it's tough to find a perfect gift for a woman who loved, self sacrificed and helped you grow into a person you are today. For others, it's time to accept that it's okay not to have mother's love, all of us need the most. Our brain is remarkably complex, but the gift-giving works wonders, especially when you give a lot of thought in choosing gifts that can help people become more healthy and prosperous.


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Fall injuries, scrapes, and cuts are not a typical picture of having fun. When it comes to our children's safety, we always want to remove challenges as much as we can. Pain is an inevitable part of life, but suffering is optional. You can't control the weather, but you can save a few scraped knees. You can't stop kids from being impulsive, but you can give them a soft place to fall.


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