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

A A A

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.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

Year 5 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We work with a number of schools ...

Early Years Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Early Years supply teachers neede...

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?