Stories from the storm: America's big freeze makes the headlines

From fire engines coating burning houses in ice to talk-show hosts pelting smug Californians with imported snowballs, the recent extreme weather has brought a touch of the absurd to the daily news in America


As the polar vortex swirled over North America on Tuesday, all 50 states in the US recorded freezing temperatures – even Hawaii, which saw a low of around -8C at the summit of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea.

The Smithsonian magazine noted that in some areas it was colder than the surface of Mars, which is 78 million miles further from the Sun. As low-temperature records tumbled, more than 11,000 flights were cancelled over the four days of the freeze and at least 21 deaths were reported nationwide as a result of the perilous conditions.

Some were killed in car accidents, at least five collapsed while shovelling snow, and several homeless people failed to make it to shelter, simply freezing to death. In New York City, the temperature fell below -15C, but felt even colder due to wind chill. By Wednesday, however, the thaw appeared to have set in; the mercury is expected to be above 10C by the weekend.

The storm caused chaos for many, and confusion for others, as these stories from the storm attest to:

Burn after reading

In several Midwestern states, temperatures sank so far below freezing that you could toss boiling water into the air, and it would come back down as snow. Several TV reporters tried the trick, and others, including meteorologists, posted their own examples on YouTube.

Jason DeRusha, a local news anchor in Minnesota, encouraged his Twitter followers to try it out, writing, “Threw a pot of boiling water in the air. Kids thought it was awesome. Do it, people.”

Yet not everybody had quite such an enjoyable experience. The Los Angeles Times found at least 50 people on social media who said they had scalded themselves or others while attempting the trick, and some even had to go to hospital for burns treatment.

DeRusha later returned to Twitter to apologise to those who’d tried it in insufficiently low temperatures. “Sorry that anyone got hurt!” he said. “I look forward to the post on all the Minnesotans who did this safely!”


Let me back in!

Robert Vick was nearing the end of a six-year sentence for burglary and criminal possession of a forged document when he escaped from the minimum-security Blackburn Correctional Complex in Kentucky on Sunday night.

Yet after spending the night a few miles away in an abandoned, unheated house, where his socks froze solid, on Monday morning Vick, 42, decided to turn himself in. He went to a nearby motel in Lexington, where he asked the manager to call the authorities. The shivering escapee was suffering from frostbite due to the -25C wind chill. Motel guests gave him hot chocolate as they waited for the local police.

Left conspiracy?

Naturally, the conservative right would not be convinced that the polar vortex had anything to do with climate change. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh even claimed that “the left” had dreamt up the phrase “polar vortex” simply so as to link the cold weather to “the global warming agenda”.

The name “sounds like a crappy science fiction movie,” Limbaugh said, accusing liberals of “perpetrating a hoax.” Speaking on his popular syndicated show, Limbaugh said, “We are having a record-breaking cold snap in many parts of the country. And right on schedule the media have to come up with a way to make it sound like it’s completely unprecedented.

“They’ve got to find a way to attach this to the global warming agenda, and they have. It’s called the ‘polar vortex’.  The dreaded polar vortex.”  Meteorologists pooh-poohed his claims.

LA continental

While the rest of the country suffered, Los Angeles remained under a blanket of smug this week. In Southern California, the weather warnings were not about the chill, but about the possibility of wildfires due to the above-average temperatures.

On Monday in downtown LA, the temperature climbed to more than 25C, some five degrees higher than normal for this time of year. On the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica, many were wearing swimsuits. Late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel sent a camera crew to interview some of the more scantily clad beachgoers – and then pelted them with snowballs.

Fire and ice

If boiling water froze instantaneously in the cold air, it’s little surprise that fire crews should find the same thing happening to the spray from their hoses.

Over the weekend, a crew tackling a blaze in Minneapolis, Minnesota – where the temperature dropped below -20C – found their efforts had coated the smouldering house, not to mention the nearby trees and pavements, in a thick layer of ice.

Dumb luck

In another cold-weather trick gone awry, 12-year-old Maddie Gilmartin from New Hampshire stuck her tongue to a frozen metal flag-pole, à la Dumb and Dumber.

She was stuck for around 15 minutes until her parents noticed her flailing her arms beside the pole in their front garden, and used warm water to set her free. According to local news station WMUR, Gilmartin was taken to the emergency room and told the swelling in her mouth could last up to six weeks.

Frozen assets

The widespread cold snap could cost the US economy around $5bn, according to Planalytics, a firm which tracks the weather’s effect on businesses.

Road closures and cancelled flights left hundreds of thousands of commuters unable to travel in the adverse conditions, while retailers and restaurants saw custom dip as people chose to stay at home rather than brave the chill.

Next month, businesses also fear a knock-on effect as people save their pennies to pay for the bumper energy charges incurred this week. Not every business suffered, however: cold weather outfitters enjoyed a hot streak.

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape