A Polar Vortex Is Nothing Until You Have To Work Outside

Deep Freeze
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
How cold is it? So cold that in some areas people can blow bubbles outside and see them freeze, according to NPR. So cold that the planet Mars has had some warmer daily temperatures than parts of northern Minnesota, as Smithsonian.com reports. It's so cold that Anana, a polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, had to stay inside, as Chicagoist noted. Wild bears put on a thick layer of fat, but ones in captivity don't get the extra padding because a city like Chicago rarely faces the arctic blasts that have chilled much of the country and spawned the new city nickname "Chiberia".

According to a Chicago Tribune story, there were workers staying home on Monday, peppering social media with the hashtag #adultsnowday. But even though some people, and bears, get to stay indoors, many don't have the option. They not only have to work, but do so outside. Parking meter readers still hand out tickets. Movers carry people's furniture and belongings. Farmers milk the cows and construction workers still build. The world may get stiff from the cold, but it doesn't stop spinning. Or leaking.

Fixing busted pipes

That's what happened with Legacy Contracting, a septic and excavation company based in Westminster, Md. "One of the jobs that we did [this week] was fixing a water service that was busted," said septic specialist George Schooley in an interview with AOL Jobs. "We couldn't find the shut-off valve." So two guys had to jump into a ditch and complete the repair, getting soaked by water that gushed out at three times the pressure you might find in a garden hose.

The two guys got to go home, but if the workload had been heavier, they'd have had to change and get back to the next project. Yesterday, the PVC cement they use to hook pipes together froze, so they took torches to the cans. "If somebody's sewer system is not working, we've got to get it working," Schooley said. "'No' is no answer." As the temperatures have plummeted, he and the crew have dressed in multiple layers, specialized cold suits, and full face masks.

Gloves don't always help.

"There are a lot of things we do that we have to take our gloves off," Schooley said. "We can't hold the wrenches we use." Today, even coffee in insulated containers wouldn't stay warm. At least the workers get occasional breaks because the cabs of the excavating equipment are heated. That is, when the machines are running.

"We probably spent four hours this morning just getting our equipment started," he said. Diesel engines are sluggish in the cold. Although most are designed to run an electric heater, it doesn't help if the machinery is parked at a customer's site. "When they're sitting at a customer's job, they're not going to want to run an extension cord out their door all night to keep my equipment warm."
Heating and Cooling Companies Busy with Calls for Frozen Pipes

Moving pains

Pete Horvath, owner of moving company Move-tastic in Chicago, was able to plug in his trucks, but even some of them were sluggish. They were also plowed into place, with as much as a foot-and-a-half of snow surrounding each. "Today was my maiden voyage of the snow blower" on a morning when the thermometer registered ten below zero, Horvath said to AOL Jobs.

For moves this winter, Move-tastic crews split into two: some guys staying inside to move things to the door and others outside in the snow, bringing items to the truck. It keeps mess from getting tracked into the house or business. Horvath spent a lot of hours with the outside crew last week as his company moved someone he called a "hoarder".

"That move was so brutal that it was literally one 15-hour day of moving, another 9-hour day, and then two days of packing and a smaller day of moving," he said. Things had to go from one residence to another, with overflow heading to a storage facility. That's a lot of hours to be out in this kind of cold. In fact, last Monday was so brutal that Horvath literally rescheduled all the jobs.

Normally, some of these chores, like clearing out the trucks, would have been the work of a particular employee who happened to be on vacation in Chile, where the weather hasn't been so chilly, although his car was still in the moving yard. "I thought about leaving his car buried," Horvath said.

So next time you want to complain about the cold from the comfort of a heated office, living room, or car, just remember that it could be a lot worse.

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