By Nick Carey and Kim Palmer
CHICAGO/CLEVELAND, Ohio Jan 6 A blast of Arctic
air gripped the vast middle of the United States on Monday,
bringing the coldest temperatures felt in two decades, causing
at least four deaths, forcing businesses and schools to close
and canceling thousands of flights.
Shelters for the homeless were overflowing and the weather
threatened to briefly curtail some oil production in the severe
cold described by some meteorologists as the "polar vortex" and
dubbed by media as the "polar pig."
Temperatures were 20 to 40 degrees F (11-22 degrees C) below
average in parts of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota,
Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, according to the
National Weather Service.
More than half the flights at Chicago's O'Hare International
Airport were closed as fuel supplies froze, leaving crews unable
to fill aircraft tanks. The afternoon temperature in Chicago was
minus 12 Degrees Fahrenheit (minus 24 degrees C), making it
colder than in areas of Antarctica, parts of which hovered
around 32 F (0 C) during the southern hemisphere summer.
The Arctic air was moving toward the east coast where
temperatures were expected to fall throughout Monday as low as
0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 degrees Celsius) in some areas on
Tuesday. The coldest temperatures in years and gusty winds were
expected as far south as Brownsville, Texas and central Florida,
the National Weather Service said.
The northeast saw unseasonably mild weather and rain, but
authorities warned travelers to expect icy roads and sidewalks
At least four weather-related deaths were reported. In
northwest Missouri, a one-year-old boy died Monday when the
vehicle he was riding in crashed into a snow plow on an icy
highway, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
In Indianapolis, firefighters found the body of an elderly
woman outside her home early on Monday.
"It appeared she had been there for a while," said Captain
Michael Pruitt of the Wayne Township Fire Department.
A 58-year-old man died on Sunday in northeastern Oklahoma
after he lost control of his car on icy roads, the Oklahoma
Highway Patrol said. In Chicago, a 48-year-old man died of a
heart attack while shoveling snow on Sunday night.
In oil fields from Texas to North Dakota and Canada, the
severe cold threatened to disrupt traffic, strand wells and
interrupt drilling and fracking operations.
It also disrupted grain and livestock shipments throughout
the farm belt, curbed meat production at several packing plants
and threatened to damage the dormant wheat crop.
LIFE-THREATENING WIND CHILLS
In Cleveland, Ohio, where the temperature was minus 3
degrees F (minus 19 degrees C) and was forecast to drop to minus
6 degrees F (minus 21 degrees C) overnight, homeless shelters
were operating at full capacity. Shelter operators had begun to
open overflow facilities to accommodate more than 2,000 people
who had come seeking warmth.
"There are also going to be people that won't go into the
shelters," said Brian Davis, an organizer with Northeast Ohio
Coalition for the Homeless. Frostbite can set in within minutes
in such low temperatures, according to experts.
The National Weather Service issued warnings for
life-threatening wind chills in western and central North
Dakota, with temperatures as low as minus 60 F (minus 51 C).
The U.S. cold snap mirrored or outdid freezing weather in
parts of the world as Almaty, Kazakhstan where it was minus 8
degrees F (minus 22 C), Mongolia, where temperatures reached
minus 10 degrees F (minus 23 C) and Irkutsk, in Siberia, where
it was minus 27 degrees F (minus 33 C).
Some 4,392 flights were canceled and 3,577 delayed,
according to FlightAware.com, which tracks airline activity.
Many airlines could not allow their ground crews to remain
outdoors for more than 15 minutes at a time. There were hundreds
of cancellations by airlines including United, Southwest
, and American.
"The fuel and glycol supplies are frozen at (Chicago O'Hare)
and other airports in the Midwest and Northeast," said Andrea
Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines Group. "We are
unable to pump fuel and or de-ice."
After five days of scrambling to catch up from storm delays,
JetBlue said it would halt operations at three airports
in the New York area and Boston Logan International Airport from
5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) Monday until 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on
Tuesday to give crews time to rest.
The bitter cold combined with blowing snow was complicating
rail traffic as well. Union Pacific, one of the largest
railroads and a chief mover of grains, chemicals, coal and
automotive parts, warned customers on Monday that the weather
was causing delays up to 48 hours across Illinois, Iowa,
Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Following last week's storm that dumped up to two feet (60
cm) of snow on parts of New England, some shoppers opted for the
comforts of home rather than venturing out to shop.
Many people did not have the luxury of staying home.
In the western Chicago suburb of Geneva, Beth Anderson, 38,
was shoveling the remains of Sunday's snow from her driveway
before sunrise on Monday while warming up her pickup truck for
the short drive to her job at a mall.
"I just wish I could get the day off too but it would take
more than a bit of weather to close down the mall where I work,"