Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on March 1, 2019.

Deadly Freeze

A mid-winter cold snap takes lives and challenges responders


The last week of January saw a deadly cold snap overtake much of the northern United States, sending temperatures plummeting in cities from Billings, Montana, to Boston. Midwestern cities including Minneapolis, Detroit, and Chicago, pictured here behind an icy-white Lake Michigan, were particularly hard-hit.

The deep cold, along with concurrently snowy weather in parts of the Midwest, was responsible for 23 deaths across the country, CNN reported. The victims ranged in age from an 18-year-old University of Iowa student to a 92-year-old Chicago man.

According to media reports, the temperature in Chicago hit a low of minus 21 degrees Fahrenheit on January 31, 6 degrees shy of the city’s all-time record low of minus 27, set on January 20, 1985. Wind chills reached a reported 39 degrees below zero.

For Chicago firefighters, the weather not only meant suffering through the elements to respond to calls, but it also meant a higher workload. “The equipment is freezing up,” Jack Nagel, a Chicago Fire Department district chief, told CBS Chicago. “We’ve got ladders that are frozen, and we’ve got a hose that’s frozen. We can’t put the hose back on the rig. We have to roll it up and take it back home and thaw it out and put a fresh hose on.”

While the temperatures were undoubtedly frigid in Chicago, other locations in the region made the Windy City look downright balmy by comparison. The National Weather Service tweeted that the temperature in the unincorporated community of Cotton, Minnesota, about 30 miles northwest of Duluth, hit 56 degrees below zero on January 31—more than 80 degrees colder than recent temperatures measured on the surface of Mars, according to NASA.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images