Last week, the Midwest was hit with one of its worst cold snaps in decades, with temperatures plunging to as low as -56 degrees Fahrenheit. In Chicago, the low on January 31 was -21 degrees, smashing the previous record for that day (-12 degrees in 1985).
A polar vortex is a large area of swirling cold air (aka a low-pressure area) that normally stays in polar regions. However, in the winter, the North Pole’s polar vortex expands and sends cold air south — which is how the Midwest was suddenly plunged into a few days of temperatures colder than even Siberia.
Many schools and offices across the region were closed due to the extreme weather, but some people were still forced to brave the cold. Chicago’s homeless population was heavily affected by the weather, and while warm shelter spaces popped up in different spots around the city, there were still people on the streets on those freezing nights.
One group of homeless people had set up a makeshift camp with tents and blankets.
People sleep in tents in a wooded area near the Dan Ryan Expressway as the temperature drops below zero late Tuesda… https://t.co/w86PU0GpwG— armando l sanchez (@armando l sanchez)1548840821.0
They were keeping warm with portable propane tanks.
via: GettyAt midday, one of the tanks exploded, and about 100 other tanks were confiscated by the emergency response crew, citing a safety risk.
The people at the camp were going to be moved to a Salvation Army warming center.
via: GettySoon after this plan was made, the city told the Salvation Army that an anonymous donor offered to put the camp’s 70 residents up in a hotel for the rest of the week.
Nearly all of the residents took up the Good Samaritan’s offer.
via: GettyOne man opted to go to the Salvation Army’s warming center instead.
This act of kindness was a bright spot in the midst of a difficult and dangerous situation.Even a small act of kindness can save someone’s life.
The polar vortex caused a large number of injuries and even deaths.
via: GettyAccording to the BBC News, at least 21 people died due to the extreme weather.
People flocked to hospitals for frostbite treatment.
via: GettyPatients were often homeless people or folks who had jobs that required them to be outside.
While cities set up warming shelters, not everyone was able to take shelter.
via: GettyA 60-year-old woman was found dead in an abandoned house in Lorain, Ohio.
One man froze to death in his own neighborhood.
via: GettyOfficials said that the Michigan man was “inadequately dressed for the weather."
An 18-year-old college student passed away.
via: GettyHe was found unresponsive just a short walk from his dorm room; the windchill was -51 degrees at that point.
In Milwaukee, a man died in his garage.
via: GettyA medical examiner reported that he had “apparently collapsed after shoveling snow."
Dangerous road conditions also caused deaths during the polar vortex.
via: GettyNear Chicago, a man died after being hit by a snow plow.
The homeless population was especially vulnerable to the extreme weather.
With the nation's middle section plunging into miserably cold temperatures, few are more vulnerable than the homele… https://t.co/yegDp7tgd3— NYT National News (@NYT National News)1548846008.0
Chicago buses also offered shelter.
“Five Chicago buses were scheduled to make their way around the city overnight into Wednesday, so that homeless peo… https://t.co/tt6CRTGxA2— Joanne Kenen (@Joanne Kenen)1548820193.0
But problems can arise even when the weather warms up.
via: GettyAs Douglas Schenkelberg, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, told The New York Times, once it warms up, “the scaled-up capacity will disappear, and you’ll see people back on the streets, and those people need housing. That sense of urgency completely disappears when the crisis goes away."
Chicago police offers handed out coats.
Serve and protect in dangerous sub-zero temperatures. Chicago police hand out coats to the homeless. OEMC’s Zone 4… https://t.co/jzCVl53aJu— Tahman Bradley (@Tahman Bradley)1548891818.0
Crowdfunding campaigns were also started to help those in need.
In major Midwestern cities like Chicago, with a population of 80,000 people experiencing homelessness, crowdfunding… https://t.co/hc10I8IgIS— Twitter Moments (@Twitter Moments)1548892040.0
Folks took to social media to share their experience of the polar vortex.
Chilly morning in #Chicago #PolarVortex https://t.co/RZjz0sCFe8— Mark Powell (@Mark Powell)1548856491.0
A science experiment.
It’s a little cold in #Chiberia @barstoolWSD @barstoolcarl @RedLineRadio https://t.co/jzhVQQnLAz— Terry Greenbeans (@Terry Greenbeans)1548865970.0
Ever heard of the boiling water trick?
Throwing a cup of boiling water in the air, when it’s minus 27 degrees (celsius). #chicago #PolarVortex2019 https://t.co/fgRZHnwVvo— Adam Roberts (@Adam Roberts)1548854704.0
In case you ever wondered what it’s like in Antarctica.
Tied at the half #chiberia #PolarVortex https://t.co/FoQAB0RqaO— heroabstract (@heroabstract)1548839984.0
Another reason not to venture outside.
I just saw a traffic light 🚦 freeze and turn off completely. Wtf. #Chiberia— Chief Keef Sweat (@Chief Keef Sweat)1548850131.0
Journalists captured chillingly beautiful pictures of the scene.Lovely to look at; not lovely to be out in.
Some people found clever ways to stay warm.
We made a breakthrough in insulating techniques this morning. #PolarVortex #Chicago https://t.co/Ljd36JXNZY— Jim Hambleton (@Jim Hambleton)1548867962.0
For people who had to go to work, Chicago trains kept running.
❄️ #PolarVortex2019: Crews set fires to keep train tracks from contracting as Chicago faces record low temperatures https://t.co/VXhrKPnpX2— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Bloomberg Quicktake)1548830706.0
Others braved even more treacherous commutes.
Just before my commute this morning. -23 and -50 wind chill. I'm glad I got to skip the altitude sickness on my rid… https://t.co/3qSYItQ8o1— Parker A Thompson (@Parker A Thompson)1548854632.0
Even bubbles were freezing.Our inner science nerds are freaking out right now.
North Pole or Lake Michigan?
What an experience. #PolarVortex https://t.co/dzi6IDxlLu— Natalie Baltierra (@Natalie Baltierra)1548993896.0
Frozen pants stick landing.... #PolarVortex https://t.co/brcFd6yB8s— 𝔍𝔞𝔯𝔢𝔡 🇺🇸🦠😷 (@𝔍𝔞𝔯𝔢𝔡 🇺🇸🦠😷)1549028963.0