Polar vortex: Ice quakes, burning railways and other quirky effects
The icy winds of the polar vortex have set US teeth chattering, blowing in a flurry of quirky results, from "frost quakes" to burning railway tracks – and a debate on whether Americans are going soft.
Cryoseisms – also known as "frost quakes" – have been reported by Ohio and Pennsylvania residents who have been hearing loud booms from the ground.
The quakes are caused when large amounts of moisture settle into the earth from snow and rain, then a rapid plunge in temperature causes the ice to explosively expand.
"It sounded like a big piece of furniture fell over," Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, resident Michelle Tebbetts told WHP-TV.
"These frost quakes, they sound more like a boom or a bang and then we get a little shake in the house," said Steven Tebbetts.
America getting soft?
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, whose state is experiencing temperatures of -14C (6F), lamented school closures in a radio interview on Tuesday.
"I mean, what happens to America?" the Republican said, twice adding: "We're getting soft."
"I'm being only slightly facetious," he said, "but it does concern me a little bit that in America on this and any number of other fronts, we're sending messages to our young people that if life is hard you can curl up in the foetal position – somewhere in a warm place – and wait till it stops being hard, and that just isn't reality, it just isn't."
The Kentucky Education Association said in a statement on Twitter: "We will always support decisions made for the health & safety of Kentucky's children. Always."
Skip Twitter post by @JDuenas24
I’d like to see @MattBevin prove how “hard” he is by standing outside for 30 minutes tomorrow morning as if he were waiting for a bus with less than adequate clothing, like many of KY’s Ss would have been due to their lack of resources. https://t.co/gyIDo16g03
— Jessica Dueñas Ed.S. (@JDuenas24) January 29, 2019
End of Twitter post by @JDuenas24
NBC news national meteorologist Al Roker condemned Mr Bevin as a "nitwit governor" on Wednesday. Others have been taking to social media to dare him to spend more than 15 minutes outside in the cold.
Skip Twitter post by @ShannonGBooth
Hey Matt Bevin, I double dog dare you to stick your tongue to that pole outside… pic.twitter.com/5AcOpzrbMM
— Shannon Booth (@ShannonGBooth) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @ShannonGBooth
Commuter train tracks in Chicago have been set ablaze as transit workers try to keep the steel from freezing, so trains can keep moving.
Overhead video captured by news helicopters show flames licking the rails.
Skip Twitter post by @ABC
It’s so cold in Chicago, crews had to set fire to commuter rail tracks to keep the trains moving smoothly. https://t.co/YsCjTNIMhe pic.twitter.com/j0ej5C0PAl
— ABC News (@ABC) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @ABC
"Basically, what the fires are, they're gas powered switch heaters and essentially you're looking at a giant gas grill," Metra Commuter Rail spokeswoman Mel Riele told the Chicago Tribune.
The heat from the fire keeps the metal from contracting, causing fractures in the tracks, and also prevents switches from freezing or bolts coming out of the rails, she said.
Skip Twitter post by @Metra
More information about our switch heaters: https://t.co/BkMxJx8VSo https://t.co/VVTouDUEWy #PolarVortex #DeepFreeze #WindChill #Chiberia
— Metra (@Metra) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @Metra
Residents in at least 10 US states won't be receiving their mail on Wednesday, as the chill has caused the US Postal Service to cancel deliveries.
It's not the first time that mail has been cancelled due to weather, but typically that has been due to massive amounts of snow accumulated on roads by drifting winds.
So much for the US Postal Service's unofficial motto: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
- In pictures: Polar vortex hits the US
- How to survive extreme cold
The National Weather Service has warned that people in Iowa should "avoid taking deep breaths" and "minimise talking" while exposed to the cold.
"Dry, extremely cold air can irritate the lungs, cause shortness of breath and trigger asthma attacks for those with lung-related diseases like asthma," the American Lung Association said in a warning.
If you must go outside, be sure to cover your face and mouth with a scarf or mask to warm the air you inhale, experts say.
- How cold is it where you are?
- What is a polar vortex?
Temperatures in the town of Hell, Michigan – its actual motto is "Go to Hell" – have hit -22F (-30C), cueing up a somewhat predictable gag.
Skip Twitter post by @wxSpinner89
Not only are we hotter than Hell today (Hell, MI), but Hell (MI) has actually frozen over… #ALwx #MIwx pic.twitter.com/cVKT2anQmU
— Brandon Spinner WAFF (@wxSpinner89) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @wxSpinner89
Chicago's production of the musical Hamilton has been cancelled, leading to this history buffs' joke. It's a reference to US Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's duelling death at the hands of then-US Vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804.
Skip Twitter post by @aconneen
Brrrrrr kills Hamilton again. https://t.co/gB2vnNmMbm
— Andrew Conneen (@aconneen) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @aconneen
Some Chicago residents have blended their city's name with Siberia, Russia – dubbing it "Chiberia".
Polar bears in their element
Buffalo Zoo in upstate New York is closed on Wednesday because of the weather, but that's just fine by its resident polar bear Sakari.
Skip Twitter post by @buffalozoo
Is there anyone out there that enjoys this weather more than Sakari? #PolarBearInASnowStorm pic.twitter.com/Hu2jG9lldG
— buffalozoo (@buffalozoo) January 29, 2019
End of Twitter post by @buffalozoo
Chicago's Brookfield Zoo as well as the city's Lincoln Park Zoo are both closed and most animals will be brought indoors, representatives said.
But polar bears and other species specially adapted to extreme cold, such as Arctic foxes and penguins, will be allowed to remain to frolic in the snow and ice.
Skip Twitter post by @brookfield_zoo
CLOSING: Due to the extreme cold, #BrookfieldZoo will be closed on Wednesday 1/30 & Thursday 1/31. Don't worry, our dedicated animal care teams will be onsite to make sure all the animals are warm & well. #PolarVortex2019 https://t.co/kfdGIITev7 pic.twitter.com/X82yUOoN15
— Brookfield Zoo (@brookfield_zoo) January 29, 2019
End of Twitter post by @brookfield_zoo
Frozen boiling water
Across the internet, people are throwing cups of boiling water in the air, with the liquid immediately turning to ice crystals that appear as vapour in the dry air.
The viral sensation is proving especially popular among meteorologists, science teachers, and children who have been told to stay home from school due to the conditions.
Skip Twitter post by @kathyamorton
How a science teacher passes the time in a snow day. ? AccuWeather records current air temp at -21°F and wind-chill at -46°F If you do this, make sure you toss it so that the wrong doesn't blow the boiling water back into you. pic.twitter.com/06M61HEa9l
— Kathy Peake Morton (@kathyamorton) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @kathyamorton
Other have taken to filling water pistols with boiling water to create steaming arcs across their backyards.
Skip Twitter post by @StarrburyMike
Boiling water. SuperSoaker. Oven mitts. Let’s go. #polarvortex pic.twitter.com/xLf8H0wqD4
— A Scribe Called Quest (@StarrburyMike) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @StarrburyMike
Skip Twitter post by @EdCurran
What to do when it's 5° below zero? Make some Super Soaker Snow! @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/FPpsIWURMK
— Ed Curran (@EdCurran) January 25, 2019
End of Twitter post by @EdCurran
Others are blowing soap bubbles and watching them freeze into an icy sphere in midair.
Skip Twitter post by @5NEWSMatt
Freezing bubbles this morning! #frozenbubbles pic.twitter.com/7OKanG2DPc
— Matt Standridge (@5NEWSMatt) January 30, 2019
End of Twitter post by @5NEWSMatt
'Let her go!'
Police in McClean, Illinois, posted a photo of a staged arrest of Elsa, also known as the Snow Queen from Disney's 2013 film Frozen.
"Due to the EXTREME COLD weather, all criminal activity and acts of stupidity and foolishness has been cancelled… Even Elsa has been placed under arrest with NO BOND until further notice," they wrote in a Facebook post.
The image was originally posted in 2015 by officers in Hanahan, South Carolina, but that hasn't stopped some from insisting they "let her go" in reference to the title of the Academy Award-winning song from the film.
Skip Facebook post by McLean Police Department
ATTENTION: Due to the EXTREME COLD weather, all criminal activity and acts of stupidity and foolishness has been…
Posted by McLean Police Department on Tuesday, 29 January 2019
End of Facebook post by McLean Police Department