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[Newsmaker] Big freeze makes U.S. colder than Mars

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Published : 2014-01-08 20:45
Updated : 2014-01-08 20:45

A man braves the cold and walks along the shore of Lake Michigan as temperatures remain in the negative digits on January 7, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A 'polar vortex' of frigid air centered on the North Pole dropped temperatures to the negative double digits at its worst. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images/AFP)

As record-low temperatures dogged the northern United States for the past several days, the weather dominated the news stateside, and gained extensive coverage globally.

Some electricity generators said they had been forced offline due to the cold, making it difficult for others to cope with the surging demand.

Schools closed and flights were halted. Railways and roads suffered blockages and delays due to snow.

The media worked to find creative ways to explain how cold it was.

Montana’s minus 52 degrees low, for example, was cold enough to throw a cup of boiling water in the air and watch it fall as snow.

Some pointed out that NASA’s Curiosity rover was beaming back readings of minus 25-31 degrees Celsius ― meaning Michigan was now colder than Mars.

A polar bear at the Lincoln Zoo in Chicago was reported to have been taken inside to warm up. However, it appears that this was a soft southern polar bear that had grown acclimatized to mild winters, and its diet had not let it build up the necessary body fat to cope with a good old-fashioned northern winter.

Many Americans may also have got used to a recent series of milder-than-usual winters, adding to the impact of the record-breaking cold spell.

This could have sellers of warm winter clothing ― which have seen sluggish sales in recent years ― rubbing their hands together, while many other retailers struggle with a lack of customers as consumers shun the cold.

Some analysts predict that many will face a “heating bill shock” brought on by the cold and a surge in gas prices of 30 percent from the same time a year ago.

It was all a far cry from Brazil, where temperatures soared to 50 degrees Celsius in the sun, setting off the sprinkler systems in a Rio de Janeiro shopping center.

But the Curiosity rover is not too far from Mars’ equivalent of Brazil, adding much-needed context to the sound bite that the northern United States was now colder than Mars.

If Mars’ tropics are as cold as wintry Detroit, most of the planet must be hellish.

It might not be hellish enough to put everyone off. A Dutch company announced plans to send a group to the red planet for a reality TV show, with about 200,000 applicants for the 24 places on the trip now whittled down to 1,058.

While there is much skepticism about the feasibility of the $6 billion project, AFP reports that the Mars One project plans to start a colony on the Red Planet from 2024. It was not clear whether polar bears would be welcome to join the project.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)

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