Hazardous weather persisted across the nation as Americans recovered from the “polar vortex” that spread sub-zero temperatures across the U.S.
Between cancelled flights, closed businesses, and the sheer number of people calling out from work, the country’s economy took an estimated $5 billion hit, according to the business weather intelligence service, Planalytics.
“We think that the problem will be short-lived, but we estimate it will cost about $5 billion because of the sheer size of the population affected—about 200 million people in the eastern two-thirds of the country,” Evan Gold, a senior vice president for Planalytics, told NBC News. “A similar situation in 2010 lasted a week, with back-to-back storms with snow and ice. We calculated that cost $25 billion to $30 billion.”
Though scientists, researchers, and even politicians may disagree on the cause of the cold snap, one thing is clear: the pattern is being watched closely on both sides of the global warming debate.
“No single weather episode can either prove or disprove global climate change,” said President Obama’s science and technology advisor, Dr. John Holdren, who attempted to explain the polar vortex in a two-minute video posted to the White House website.
“Climate is the pattern of weather that we observe geographically and over the seasons. And it is described in terms of averages, variations, and probabilities,” he said. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.”
Holdren said that the Arctic region is heating up twice as fast as areas in the mid-latitudes, such as the United States. That trend means the difference between Arctic temperatures and mid-latitude temperatures is slowly shrinking.
“That temperature difference is what drives what is called the circumpolar vortex, or the great counter-clockwise swirling mass of cold air that hovers over the Arctic,” said Holdren. “As the temperature difference between the Arctic and the middle attitudes declines, the the polar vortex weakens and it becomes wavier. The waviness means that there can be increased, larger, excursions of cold air southward, into the mid-latitudes, and increased excursions of relatively warmer mid-latitude air into the far North.”
Though not as severe as the bout of inclement weather which struck the nation in 2010, the most recent freeze still had devastating results for some. Reports from across the country attributed at least 20 deaths to the polar vortex.
In Atlanta, News One reported Charlie Perkins, a 70-year old man, was found frozen to death Jan. 7. Perkins died of hypothermia when weather temperatures dropped to five degrees.
Authorities in Prince George’s County, Md. reported that a homeless man froze to death near an Oxon Hill shopping center. His body was found on the morning of Jan. 8.
One man in Lexington, Ky. managed to escape prison–only to turn himself in the next day. According to CBS affiliate WKYT, Robert Vick broke out of the Blackburn Correction Facility on Jan. 5. But by Jan. 6 the 42-year-old was begging to be taken back into custody as temperatures plummeted to 20 degrees below zero.
The National Weather Service predicted that temperatures would slowly rise over the Eastern part of the country with heavy rains forecast for the weekend of Jan. 10. The Midwest is expected to receive more snow, and the Mississippi Valley is expected to churn up another storm by Jan. 13 as the East Coast heats up.