« Continuity of Operations Planning

‘Polar vortex’ causes extreme cold across United States

Extremely cold conditions continue to pose risks for millions of Americans across 26 states.
Extremely cold conditions continue to pose risks for millions of Americans across 26 states.

In many parts of the United States, harsh winter weather is the norm until early to mid-March, but a stream of cold, arctic air is impacting more than 100 million Americans across 26 states.

NBC News explained that this large cold front is known as a polar vortex, typically cycling counter clock wise in north and south poles. In rare cases, if enough warm air enters Greenland and Alaska, the warmer air will carry along some of its subzero conditions further south — an impact this large typically comes only once every few decades.

Even in areas like North Dakota, Illinois and Minnesota, where residents are familiar with these conditions, local governments have decided not to test Mother Nature and ordered businesses and schools to close their doors on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

"I never remember it ever being this cold," Chicago taxi driver Jeffery Davis told the AP. "I'm flabbergasted."

While it may seem like the smart decision to stay inside and bundle up, many of these communities are reeling from heavy snowfall from the day before. Many states saw as much as a foot of snow on their door steps, which could be problematic for continuity of operations if the harsh cold sticks around.

In Indianapolis, Mayor Greg Ballard issued a driving ban for those who were not seeking shelter or emergency vehicles. While this could streamline clean up efforts in the city, local business owners who are unable to travel to their facilities may be unsure if the snow damaged their buildings, equipment or supplies.

The extent of destruction from the polar vortex is unclear, but as of Monday, thousands of families in the Midwest remained without power and thousands of flights in states from Montana to Alabama have been canceled. Organizations and governments that want to be prepared for extreme weather conditions in the future can benefit from working with business continuity consultants who have experience in tackling the unexpected.