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article imagePolar vortex: Midwest deep freeze disrupts business, travel, life

By Angela Atkinson     Jan 7, 2014 in Environment
As an arctic blast bore down on the U.S. Midwest this week, residents experienced the coldest temperatures the area has seen in 20 years.
The frigid weather has caused at least four deaths and forced businesses and schools to close — plus thousands of flights have been cancelled, leaving travelers stranded, AccuWeather.com reports.
Homeless shelters were overflowing thanks to the severe temperatures that some meteorologists have described as the “polar vortex,” and called the “polar pig” by some members of the media.
Nationally, more than 187 million people could be affected by this weather system before it departs at the week’s end, WITN reported.
Parts of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin have seen temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit below average, the National Weather Service reports.
The coldest recorded temperatures on Monday came from Babbit, Minnesota, where meteorologists reported temps of minus 37F — that’s colder than it has been on Mars in recent days.
After all, NASA’s Curiosity rover reported a high temperature on Jan. 2 of minus 32F.
This polar vortex has caused more than half the flights out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to be cancelled when fuel supplies froze and left crews unable to fill their tanks — thanks to the minus 12F temperatures reported on Monday.
The polar vortex reportedly moved toward the East Coast and was expected to cause temperatures to fall on Tuesday. The National Weather Service said the cold air mass originated over Siberia.
The Northeast saw unseasonably warm weather and rain, but were told to expect icy roads and sidewalks Tuesday. An Amtrak spokesperson said the company would operate its trains on a reduced schedule throughout the Northeast corridor on Tuesday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency and closed parts of the New York State Thruway in Western New York.
So far, four weather-related deaths have been reported, including an elderly woman who was found outside her home in Indianapolis on Monday morning, and a 48-year-old Chicago man who had a heart attack while he shoveled snow Sunday.
Cleveland, Ohio reported temperatures of minus 3F and meteorologists predicted it would reach as low as minus 6F overnight. Homeless shelters were operating at full capacity, and operators were forced to open overflow facilities for more than 2,000 people who needed a warm place to sleep.
Experts say that frostbite can set in within minutes when the temperatures get this low.
Safety Tips in Frigid Temperatures from FEMA
1. Avoid driving if possible, but if you must drive, don’t go alone. Be sure to keep your loved ones informed of your route and schedule, and stay on main roads. Back roads and shortcuts are often left unplowed in extreme weather.
2. Be careful to ventilate properly if you’re using kerosene heaters, and make sure to refuel them outside and keep them away from flammable objects.
3. Beware of hypothermia. Signs include exhaustion, uncontrollable shivering, disorientation and memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness and incoherence. If you or someone you know shows signs of hypothermia, you need to get to a warm location, remove wet clothing and warm the center of the body first with warm, non-alcoholic beverages if possible. Then, when you can, get the victim some medical help.
4. Beware of signs of frostbite. Signs include loss of feeling in your extremities, including toes, fingers, earlobes and the tip of your nose. They may also appear white or pale. If you experience these signs, you need to get medical help right away.
5. Don’t overexert yourself when you’re shoveling snow. This can cause a heart-attack, a common cause of death in the wintertime. If you need to shovel, be sure to warm up and stretch before you start, and take frequent breaks to rest and warm up.
6. If you’re leaving home for an extended period of time during cold weather, don’t turn the heat off in your home; set the thermostat to at least 55F to save yourself from expensive damage to your pipes and home.
7. If your pipes freeze, remove insulation and wrap pipes in rags. Then open your faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where you suspect they were primarily exposed to the cold.
8. Stay dry by changing your clothes if they get wet. This way, you can prevent a loss of body heat.
9. Stay inside when possible. If you must go out, wear layers and change often.
10. Walk carefully and take tiny steps when on icy walkways to avoid injuries.
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