It's just mid-January, and North America has already lived through 2014's first large-scale climatic anomaly. Any attempt to define a polar vortex is bound to be a bit "sciency" and complex; essentially, it’s a large cyclone of cold air that makes the environment so frosty it's almost beyond comprehension for those who've yet to experience it. In January 2014, the polar vortex was truly Mother Nature’s enigma as North Americans experienced some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded. Unless you were in California - or mercifully outside of the North American continent - you would have been subject to a biting cold that rendered dangerous the simple act of exiting your cosy car or heated building. The world bore witness to the phenomenon, as photos of Lake Michigan turning into an ice rink, Niagara Falls freezing in mid-flow, and videos of hot water turning into snow became globally reported news. Towns were practically shut down from the freezing cold due to the impossibility of exiting a heated space. Although, many Americans seemed to enjoy the excuse to cosy up at home; amusingly, Pornhub.com reported a huge spike in viewers during the Polar Vortex - of almost 50% in some areas... The vortex also evoked dreams of sunnier climes for many, with a Boston-based research company reporting a spike of over 50% in Chicagoan's searches for flights to Cancun in Mexico!
The Southern states like North Carolina hit temperatures below even those of Canada and Alaska. Those who experienced the Arctic blast of the polar vortex had a brief - if protected - idea of just how cold the wilds of the North Pole can be. Not only were the temperatures freezing, but the wind chills made it feel even colder than what was reported on the thermometer and stepping outside was a risk due to the possibility of hypothermia or frostbite.
Of course, some of our readers who are habituated to the extreme cold seasonally may be rolling their eyes, calling out the Americans as wimps, but when cold like this hit the United States many were simply not prepared and so the polar vortex had the potential to be a major disaster. The total estimated cost of the climate crisis - taking into account airline cancellation losses, water pipe damages and a heavily reduced workforce - has so far been estimated around the $5 billion mark.
And of all the cities in America to fall victim to the crazy January climate, which were the most extremely affected? We've compiled a list of the ten coldest places in the United States during the January 2014 polar vortex - along with some shots of the stunning winter wonderlands the vortex created.
10 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: 0° F
Harrisburg is no stranger to low temperatures, especially since their record low was at 5 degrees in 1942. But during the polar vortex, wind chill advisories were more active than ever with the wind chill 'felt' temperature at -9 and wind gusts going as fast as 26 miles per hour. Luckily, the record-breaking temperature only lasted for less than a day, and then the temperatures “warmed up” to the mid teens early twenties. Schools were closed and many stayed home from work so that they could remain safely indoors.
9 Asheville, North Carolina / Kingsport, Tennessee: -1° F
January is always the coldest month for Asheville, North Carolina, but the polar vortex made it just that bit colder. However, the weather enigma didn’t exactly break Asheville’s coldest recorded temperature of -17 in 1985, but it was still one of the coldest places in the U.S. Asheville was not alone in hitting the high negative figures - they were joined by Kingsport, Tennessee at -1°F temperature. There’s no doubt that the wind chill made the record low feel even colder and the towns were affected by not only the cold and wind, but heavy snowfall as well.
8 Williamsport, Pennsylvania / Blacksburg, Virginia : -5° F
The polar vortex only affected the United States for about 36 hours, but cities far north as Williamsport, Pennsylvania and as far south as Blacksburg, Virginia were greatly affected with frigid temperatures of -5° F intensified by gusty wind speeds. Ice paved the roadways and any sign of moisture was quickly transformed into ice. Williamsport previously saw a record low of -2° F and Blacksburg’s record low was at 1° F, so the polar vortex represented a record-breaking low for the unsuspecting citizens of these two cities.
7 Columbus, Ohio / Morgantown, West Virginia : -7° F
Columbus previously had a record low of -5° F, while Morgantown previously had a record low of -4. Because of the only slight differences between previous record-breaking temperatures and those of the temperatures in the polar vortex, some meteorologists and even politicians were arguing that the polar vortex was exaggerated or being used for a political agenda... No doubt that the further north you go, the colder it gets, which is probably why Columbus and Morgantown saw temperature drops that weren't entirely shocking.
6 Bluefield and Lewisburg, West Virginia : -8° F
With Morgantown, Bluefield, and Lewisburg hitting record lows, there's no denying January in West Virginia was just plain cold! Some brave souls in these areas began posting videos of hot water being turned into snow with super soakers - thank you, internet! Lewisburg, with a previous record low of 7° F, saw a huge drop of 15 degrees and Bluefield saw a drop of 8 degrees from their previous record low of 0° F. The main river that flows through the state, the Ohio River, was suddenly obstructed by huge amounts of ice stalling the flow of water.
5 New Philadelphia, Ohio : -9° F
New Philadelphia saw a previous record low of -3° F in the past, and so the record low of -9° F certainly came as a shock to the town, which experienced subzero temperatures with bone-chilling winds. Enterprisingly, the Walmart of New Philadelphia was using the polar vortex to advertise their products and even promote hoarding, encouraging customers to stock up with enough food and supplies that they wouldn't have to leave their houses for extended periods of time. Trust retail giant Walmart to identify the commercial potential of America's climatic disaster.
4 Akron-Canton and Cleveland, Ohio : -11° F
Akron and Cleveland, Ohio aren’t strangers to the cold weather, but their economy in terms of travel was greatly affected during the polar vortex - especially Cleveland. Akron’s zoo closed temporarily during the frigid cold temperatures and the whole town shut down until the subzero arctic temperatures subsided. With wind chills hitting more than 50 degrees below zero, people stayed inside; in that weather, exposed skin can freeze in less than 5 minutes. That's a potentially nasty case of frostbite. Cleveland’s airport was greatly affected by flight delays and cancellations, causing many to be stuck in the city until it warmed up. During the vortex, airlines throughout the U.S. lost an estimated $100 million in cancellations.
3 Detroit and Flint, Michigan : -14° F
Detroit and Flint, normally used to cold weather seasons, were hit particularly hard by the vortex. In Detroit, classes at local colleges and universities were cancelled. Frozen and broken pipes affected Flint residents, leaving them without running water for several hours. It wasn't all bad though: Some of these residents took to posting pictures of their frozen lips and beards online, to global hilarity and fascination. Although Michigan is fairly used to cold weather in the 10’s, 20’s, and 30’s in general, the record 14 below zero was definitely a novelty to Detroit and Flint residents.
2 Lexington, Kentucky : -20° F
It got so cold in Kentucky during the first week of January that an escaped prison inmate actually returned to his place of confinement because it was just too darn cold - perhaps understandable, considering he was only wearing a pair of pants, a shirt, and a light jacket. Even when cold temperatures get below 30 degrees, it starts to become painful, so we can only imagine how much -20 really felt to this inmate given that he considered imprisonment preferable to the cold. Not only was Lexington, Kentucky at subzero-freezing temperatures, but the snow fell down hard, burying many parts of Kentucky in snow and trapping citizens in their homes with their cars and roads unreachable.
1 Chicago, Illinois : -40° F
During the vortex, Chicago was hit by what can be appropriately described as a deep freeze. In fact, it was too cold in Chicago for even the polar bears! Anana the polar bear resides in Chicago’s zoo, and because she wasn’t fed the typical Arctic diet that she would have had in her natural habitat - and was, therefore, missing 5 layers of fat - she had to be brought into a building with climate control - a perfect “you know it’s cold when...” gag. The zoo also had to bring their bald eagles and African penguins inside away from the frigid cold. Lake Michigan turned white with ice and from the air, as above, Chicago looked almost like a mythical city of ice at an extraordinary 40 below.