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31 Jan, 2019 23:52

These are the craziest things that happened in the US due to the polar vortex

These are the craziest things that happened in the US due to the polar vortex

The 'polar vortex' system that has engulfed the US in a record-breaking freeze, with wind and snow to match, has unleashed utter mayhem across the country – even in cities used to the cold.

The sub-Antarctic chill brought some cities to a standstill, with much of the Midwest canceling flights, trains, classes, and postal deliveries. At least three states – Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin – declared an emergency on Wednesday and Thursday. RT looks at some of the craziest things that happened in America due to the weather quirk.

It may look like a catastrophe, but the flames 'burning' Chicago's train tracks are actually coming from gas-fed heaters that run alongside the rails to stop them from freezing. The trains run on diesel fuel, so there's no danger they will explode if the flames get a little too intense – or so says Metra director of engineering John Meyer, who remembers the days when workers poured kerosene on rails by hand and tossed lit matches on them to keep the rails toasty.

Hovering around -23 F, temperatures in Chicago on its second-coldest day ever were colder than Siberia, the Arctic Circle, and even Mars. Lake Michigan was entirely frozen.

"Frostquakes" – loud booms caused by the sudden freezing and expansion of groundwater – startled Chicagoans, who (perhaps understandably) mistook them for gunfire.

And then there was whatever this is, an image that makes the running from killer cold scene in the disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow" a bit less unrealistic.

It was even colder in Minnesota, where Xcel energy urged customers to turn down their thermostats despite outdoor temperatures as low as -42 F. A water tower exploded in White Bear township on Wednesday after its pipes froze, and many buildings' pipes met similar fates. 

The cold snap was naturally a disaster for traffic, but more for some than others. A 21-car pileup on an interstate highway outside Batavia, New York – including a State Police vehicle and at least one tractor-trailer – brought it to a standstill on Wednesday afternoon as drivers attempted to navigate whiteout conditions. 

Some brave men and women had to deal with extreme temperatures of another kind. A New Jersey factory producing paper tissue products lit up like a matchbox dozed in kerosene.

The sub-zero temperatures forced two nuclear reactors out of service at Public Service Enterprise Group’s Salem, New Jersey power plant due to “frazil ice” – small crystals of frozen mist that form an impenetrable coating on the reactors’ screens, preventing them from taking in water.

The polar vortex had claimed at least nine lives by Thursday, with many of the casualties having succumbed to hypothermia. But grave as it was, many found a way to maintain their sense of humor despite the debilitating freeze.

Others proved there is nothing a creative US journalist can't use to make their audience fear Russia a little more.

Hell (the one in Michigan) may have frozen over, but the polar vortex is on its way out, with temperatures due to hit a balmy 41 degrees F in Chicago on Saturday.

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