Energy

Polar Vortex In The Midwest Wreaking Havoc On Infrastructure, Kills At Least 8

REUTERS/Pinar Istek

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter

Near record low temperatures in the Midwest caused thousands of flight and train cancellations, sweeping power outages and several deaths.

The temperature in Chicago on Wednesday dipped to a low of around minus 23, just above the city’s historical low of minus 27 in January 1985. Other cities in the Midwest experienced similar bone-chilling temperatures, with Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reaching minus 25 and Minneapolis reaching minus 27.

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At least eight deaths resulted from the freezing weather, according to The Associated Press. An elderly man’s body in Illinois was found after he fell outside his home, a man from Milwaukee froze to death in his garage, an Iowa student was found behind an academic hall before sunrise, a man in the Chicago area was struck by a snow plow and a couple’s SUV in northern Indiana struck another vehicle on the snowy road.

The freezing temperatures brought the region’s transportation system to a standstill.

At least 2,700 flights were canceled nationwide Wednesday — over half were located at Chicago’s two biggest airports. The airline havoc spilled into the next day, with an additional 1,800 flights scheduled for Thursday also getting canceled. Numerous Amtrak trains to and from Chicago were also called off, some of them canceled until Friday. (RELATED: Here Are A Bunch Of Insane Photos From The Polar Vortex In The Midwest)

The sub-zero temperatures also took a toll on power infrastructure, with the demand for heating so high that the circuits tripped and resulted in around 6,000 power customers in Indiana losing electricity.

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“The tension goes way up the wire and gets tighter and causes poles to break,” said Otto Lynch, chief executive of Power Line Systems in Madison, Wisconsin, explaining how cold temperatures can cause overhead wires to contract. “The wires are usually not going to break. It’s really dependent on how the line was designed. Fifty years ago, they didn’t do a whole lot of engineering” for extremely cold temperatures.

What is causing these bone-chilling temperatures?

The extreme cold is being brought on by a split on the polar vortex. While the cold mass of air typically remains in the Arctic, the split has allowed it to move farther south. The phenomenon actually resulted in colder temperatures in Chicago than Alert, a Canadian village just 500 miles from the North Pole.

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