National News

It’s So Cold That ...

Posted January 2, 2018 6:36 p.m. EST

Zoo penguins were taken inside, sharks have washed up dead and records have been set.

North America is in the grips of a cold spell that has delivered frigid temperatures that have not been seen in years in some places.

The cold weather, which has been blamed for a handful of deaths, is expected to continue at least into the weekend, with temperatures most likely remaining below average and possibly setting records, according to Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

The chill is the result of a jet stream that is shuttling arctic air from northwest Canada to the eastern United States and relief is, at best, days away, Oravec said.

“We’re stuck right now in a very wintry pattern,” he said.

Here’s a look at how the cold snap has affected the country so far — and how people and animals are coping.

Records Are Being Set

As revelers marked the end of 2017 in Times Square, the temperature reached 9 degrees Fahrenheit, making the New Year’s Eve celebration there the coldest since 1917.

On the first day of 2018, a number of records were set. The temperature in Portland, Maine, reached minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 27 Celsius), beating a record set more than six decades ago. Aberdeen, South Dakota, saw a high of minus 9, beating a record set in 1928. And, in Alma, Florida, the high temperature was 42, matching a record set in 1964.

Sights Are Transformed

No, Niagara Falls is not freezing over. The current is too fast for that to happen, no matter how cold it gets.

But the sustained cold spell has created a scene that would fit snugly in Disney’s “Frozen.” The mist drifting off the falls is freezing on contact with all it touches, coating tree branches, benches and railings with a solid layer of ice.

“Typically you will see this on a day or two on a much smaller scale, but at this point this cold snap has lasted for so many days, the ice is building thicker and thicker as these days continue,” said Andrea Czopp, a spokeswoman for Destination Niagara USA.

Sharks Are Dying

In New England, officials have found several sharks frozen on the shore, their deaths possibly accelerated by the chill.

“If you’ve got cold air, that’ll freeze their gills up very quickly,” Greg Skomal, a marine scientist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, told The New York Times. “Those gill filaments are very sensitive and it wouldn’t take long for the shark to die.”

The sharks may have gotten trapped in the waters by Cape Cod as they tried to migrate south, Skomal said.

Penguins Are at Risk

In Canada, officials at the Calgary Zoo brought their king penguins in from an outdoor enclosure last week after temperatures fell below minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit.

The penguins spend most of each winter outdoors, though they are often brought inside for short stretches as a precaution, a zoo curator, Malu Celli, told The Canadian Press.

“It’s not necessarily that it’s too cold for them,” she said. “I believe that physiologically, they can withstand colder weather than what we have here, but these are not wild birds.”

Dogs Are Wearing Boots

The cold has put other animals at risk as well, prompting reminders from animal shelters and animal rights groups on how to protect pets from the elements

In Ohio, officials with the Toledo Area Humane Society are investigating the death of a dog that was found “frozen solid,” according to The Toledo Blade. In Richmond, Virginia, emergency responders rescued a swan on Monday after it had gotten stuck on a frozen pond, according to local reports.

Memes Are Being Born

It may feel brutal at times, but at least some people have tried to have fun with the winter weather. On social media, some users shared photos and videos of experiments with fast-freezing bubbles and boiling water.