A deadly chill had much of the US and Canada in its wintry grip on Tuesday, as a record-breaking cold snap brought temperatures lower than those on the surface of Mars.
It was so cold in Chicago, Illinois, that the polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo — who admittedly had not built up the winter fat stores of her wild cousins — was brought inside to warm up.
All of Canada and all the US states bar tropical Hawaii recorded temperatures below freezing on Tuesday, even usually sunny and temperate Florida and California.
However, the most dangerous cold — that can cause frostbite in a minute and death in a matter of hours — hit the Midwest, dragging down temperatures as the “polar vortex” brought air from the Arctic.
Schools, businesses and government offices were closed. Water mains and household pipes froze. Airplanes were grounded, trains were halted and roads and sidewalks became ice rinks.
The town of Embarrass, Minnesota, recorded the lowest temperature in the US on Tuesday at a frigid minus-37?C.
Then there was the wind chill, a calculation that represents how much colder it feels when blinding gusts hit a person in the face.
That dipped as low as minus-52?C in Montana and was in the minus-40?C to minus-50?C range in parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
That is cold enough to toss a cup of boiling water into the air and watch it turn into snow before it hits the ground.
The Mars Rover has been sending back daily temperature readings from its tour of the Red Planet ranging from minus-25?C to minus-31?C.
“To be fair, though, Mars is still way colder,” the Smithsonian Institute wrote in a blog post. “The Curiosity rover is driving around in a crater at, roughly, the equivalent latitude of Venezuela.”
However, Mars is 125.5 million kilometers fuather away from the sun than the Earth.
For a more Earthly comparison, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station recorded a temperature of minus-23?C and a wind chill factor of minus-35?C on Tuesday.
Nearly 2,500 flights were canceled in the US on Tuesday and 3,400 were delayed. That brought the total of flights canceled since the latest snowstorm hit on Thursday last week to more than 18,000.
Even hardy Canadians were complaining of the cold amid widespread power outages.
Temperatures as low as minus-50?C with a wind chill plunged Canada’s western Prairies region into a deep freeze.
The streets of Toronto, Montreal and the capital, Ottawa, were coated with black ice after unusually warm temperatures brought rain on Monday before the mercury plunged overnight.