It's a new world of weather these days and good old-fashioned terminology just isn't cutting it. Severe snowstorms are now called snowicanes and an unprecedented bitterly-cold front will forever be coined as a polar vortex, a name of such vast and disturbing proportions no doubt Hollywood is busy writing the script. Despite the fact we are all trying to head into spring here in North America, many of us are still reeling from the devastating effects that this weather system created across states and provinces of the US and Canada in early 2014.
To put it into perspective, during the polar vortex the temperatures in the US were on par with those of the coldest places in the world including Siberia and Mongolia. The cause of the polar vortex is likely up for debate between those who do and don't believe in climate change but the facts are simple. The surge of frigid Arctic air that froze houses, pipes, highways, and even Hell (read on...) was the result of a cold front that surged our way, thanks to dark open ocean water near the North Pole that is no longer covered by sea ice. These new conditions are believed to have helped propel the jet stream down into an unsuspecting US, when it usually just stays around Canada where they're all prepared for extremes. As to why the sea ice melted away? That's a difficult one for the climate change non-believers...
The aftermath of the polar vortex was severe, with fatalities and destruction left behind in its icicled wake. It affected 380 million people in the US and Canada, setting record levels of snowfall, freezing rain, wind chills and bleak temperatures in almost all 50 US states, including -6C in Hawaii. Here are some of the biggest and most bizarre media stories of 2014's epic winter blizzard.
10 A Chicago Polar Bear Stays Inside
In Chicago, which was coined "Chiberia" during the freeze, residents likely realized the severity of the situation when their zoo's resident polar bear, Anana, refused to even step outside. Despite its namesake, the polar bear in captivity had less insulating fat than it would have had if it had been living in the wild. So this little fella stayed in his heated enclosure and went out only briefly for a breath of super-fresh air when the thermometer dropped to -27 C.
9 Deep Freeze Man
When temperatures in Fargo beat out those at the North Pole, one man took to his freezer for some respite. Kevin Stoick, a frozen food manager in the city, decided to take a cosy break in the cold room at the back of his store, where the -10C was a break from the -40C wind chills outside.
8 Jailbreaker Turns Himself In
In downtown Louisville, Kentucky, wind chills took hold at -22C, with snow falling up to 7.5 centimetres and freezing rains making it difficult for anyone to be outside for any period of time. And by anyone, that includes escaped convict Robert Vick. Vick, who managed to break free of a Kentucky prison in January, entered a hotel and asked the clerk to call the police and arrest him. He was simply too cold to continue on his journey of freedom. Shortly thereafter, the jail breaker was picked up by Lexington police. After getting checked by paramedics he was deposited back to Blackburn correctional complex where the inmate likely curled up happily on his cell cot until the reality of his ill-fated adventure set in.
7 Freezing Football Game
In Wisconsin, an NFL playoff game between The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers was one of the coldest ever played in the US. Wind chill temperatures of -26C must have been tough to bear out for the players on the field, but was nothing a whole lot of booze couldn't mask for the die-hard fans in the stadium.
6 Grounded Flights in the 1000s
January 2014 was not a time to be hopping on a plane. Over 4,000 flights were canceled because of dangerous runway and air conditions. In New York, after a Delta Airways plane skidded off the runway at JFK Airport, more than 1,500 flights were cancelled out of the area's airports. The Cleveland airport cancelled 144 departure flights in one day as the temperature dropped below zero for the 10th time this year, setting a record for the greatest number of sub-zero days in 30 years. Roughly 152 flights were cancelled out of the main airports in Chicago and in Canada, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority declared a “ground stop” at the Pearson International Airport, which lasted for hours after -24C temperatures froze the runways into sheets of ice. Over 185 flights were cancelled out of Toronto airports.
5 Travel Ban Makes Driving Illegal
In Indianapolis, where temperatures reached below -40C, Safety-First champion Mayor Greg Ballard took the weather seriously enough to enforce a bylaw and issued a temporary travel ban for the city, which made it illegal for anyone to drive the black-ice roads except for in emergency situations.
4 Amtrak Passengers Stranded Overnight
In northern Illinois 500 Amtrak passengers were left on board three trains for the night, stuck in snow. While food was scarce the heat at least continued to work, although there was, no doubt, a bit of friendly stranger-snuggling employed to get through the tense night. The next morning passengers were bussed out, while the snow drifts and ice kept the train tracks impassable.
3 300+ Car Pile-Up
Authorities in southern Illinois used 10-tonne military vehicles called wreckers to clear away the massive number of chain-reaction accidents that resulted from semi trucks that had jackknifed along the snow-covered interstate highways. The crash left roughly 375 vehicles stranded but happily not a single accident or injury was reported. This was due in large part to the huge rescue efforts that brought drivers and passengers to nearby emergency warming centers.
2 Massive Power Outages and a Powerless Wedding
Power went out for over 40,000 residents and businesses in Indiana, 16,000 in Illinois and 2,000 in Missouri during January. Meanwhile, the tiny coastal province of Newfoundland, Canada received some of the worst of the polar vortex's wrath. Blizzards bringing winds of 110 km/h and 40 centimetres of snow caused a fire that resulted in the loss of power for 190,000 residents. 65,000 of those residences stayed cold and dark for two days as utility companies worked overtime to restore power. It didn't stop one hearty Canuck couple from saying their "I dos" and moving forward with a wedding, tying the knot despite being unable to see their own breath during the nuptials.
1 Hell Literally Freezes Over
No, we don't mean figuratively speaking. Hell really did froze over in January. Journos had a great time with headlines when the small town of Hell, Michigan hit temperatures of -20C, while local residents were forced to plow their way through foot deep snow that left many vehicles stuck and stranded across roadways. The probably sent many individuals who had uttered "it will be a cold day in hell" oaths into paranoid hiding.