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.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Business Analyst - London - Banking - £400-£450

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Banking - London...

Application Engineer - Flow Metering

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Application ...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on