Environment

The Day The U.S. Froze

The Niagara Falls, frozen.
The Niagara Falls, frozen.
Ice fog partially shrouds the lighthouse at the entrance to Cleveland harbor.
A vehicle drives through a snow-misted section of Stafford, New York.
A vehicle drives through a snow-misted section of Stafford, New York.
An aerial view of Chicago and Lake Michigan.
An aerial view of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

On the inside, the glass pane is icy to touch. The bedroom window is sealed shut. The sky is a shade of baby blue, with a few strands of clouds that appear to be in stasis.

It’s 9:06 a.m., on January 7, 2014.

The temperature at this hour is four degrees Fahrenheit. It was last this cold in 1896, 118 years ago.

We’re in the grip of a savagely frigid spell. The meteorological phenomenon responsible for this deep dip, we’re told, is a “polar vortex,” an Arctic cyclone.

Sitting in the toasty warmth of our apartment, I can’t feel its sting.

The temperatures in the Big Apple appear almost pleasant compared to what they were in Fargo, North Dakota: minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s so chilly that even Hell, a small hamlet in Michigan, has literally, frozen over. Fountains cascaded into stalagmites. Banks of snow piled high on the edges of streets. The spray from sprinklers turned into icicles.

Even the Niagara Falls looked like a field of cotton bales.

It was so cold in Kentucky that an inmate, who’d broken out of prison, turned himself in. When the mercury began to through the floor, he walked into a motel, and asked the clerk to call the police so he could be indoors, again.

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