By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
The start of this winter season has been unusually cold because of the Earth’s polar vortex – a swirling pool of wind high in the atmosphere near the North Pole. A build up of warm air has forced the cooler winds to fall upon large areas of the US, and it’s been causing some serious damage.
The weather is putting a heavy burden on power grids, just like those of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a government-owned electricity utility service. “TVA has been monitoring and carefully preparing for this blast of potentially record-cold weather since last week,” said TVA Chief Operating Officer Chip Pardee. “We have taken proactive measures so the system remains robust and reliable for our customers and power users across the valley.”
Despite their efforts, however, the demand is nearly too much to keep up with. On Tuesday morning, around 27,000 customers were left without electricity. “We’re past our expected peak power demand for today,” read a TVA tweet. There have also been devastating deaths caused by weather-related accidents. Authorities blame at least 3 deaths on hypothermia, which is when the body temperature drops into life-threatening lows. Additionally, at least 11 deaths have occurred due to traffic accidents, since the icy roads make it difficult to control cars.
Meanwhile, several travelers have been left stranded in airports across the nation. Due to the hazardous conditions outside, more than 2,500 airplane flights have been cancelled. Also, 3 Amtrak trains and 500 passengers headed home had to be stopped for their own safety. “The passengers were sheltered in place overnight,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari . “It wasn’t safe to take people off these trains… because there wasn’t a good way to get people to and from the trains in the bad weather.” Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones who have to suffer the consequences of this extreme weather.
Animals in zoos across the nation had to be moved indoors, including those that evolved in cold temperatures. Take Anana, the polar bear at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo who had to be taken inside for safety reasons. Though he has a thick layer of fat meant to keep him warm, zoo handlers decided to play it safe. Eagles and penguins at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary were also taken to a warmer shelter.
If it’s too cold for polar bears and penguins, you can imagine how dangerous it is for humans. Though some areas have reached as low as negative 10 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit, it actually feels much worse due to wind chills – strong gusts of air that make it feel chillier than it really is. In fact, rushing winds cause it to feel more like the negative 50s and 60s, which can cause more damage than disheveled hair! According to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller, the temperatures should start to warm up by Tuesday… where they’re expected to be higher than average.