The United States has started to thaw out after a week of extremely cold weather.
The fast-rising temperature, however, may not be all good news, meteorologists have warned.
They indicated that the thaw may cause a new set of risks, including flooding on streets and in homes, ice jams in lakes, and slippery sidewalks and driveways.
The national lowest temperature was measured at -48.9 degrees Celsius in Chicago, Illinois during the cold streak.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the harsh weather was caused by the influence of the polar vortex, which is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the North Pole and is normally trapped by strong counterclockwise winds.
As temperatures rose, schools reopened, businesses resumed and people came back on the streets that had been empty for days in Chicago.
“I like the warmer weather a lot. I stayed inside when it was cold. It’s wonderful that it’s warmer and I hope it lasts a long time,” said a local resident.
Temperatures are expected to reach 11-12C in Chicago on Sunday and Monday.
This warm weather looks set to be short-lived with a maximum of around -1C on Tuesday, which brings the threat of the thaw turning back to the ice.
Some people were found dead a short walk from their homes:
A Michigan man who froze to death in his neighbourhood had been “inadequately dressed for the weather”, officials said
In a wind chill of -46C (-51F) an 18-year-old student was found unresponsive a short walk from his dorm on Wednesday and later died in hospital
On Tuesday, a man froze to death in a garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, having “apparently collapsed after shovelling snow”, according to a medical examiner
Dangerous roads have also been a factor in the deaths. A man was fatally struck by a snow plough near Chicago on Monday and in northern Indiana, a 22-year-old police officer and his wife died after a collision on icy roads.
What’s the forecast?
The icy cold is expected to loosen its grip on Friday.
By the end of the weekend, Chicago could see temperatures as high as 10C (50F).
“It’s going to be at least a 60-degree swing for Chicago,” David Hamrick, a National Weather Service forecaster, told Reuters news agency.
The sudden weather change coming this weekend may be the fastest warm-up on record, meteorologists say.
But as the temperatures abruptly turn warmer, US emergency officials warn of flooding and utility risks.
Pipes can burst with such temperature fluctuations, and rapidly melting snow and ice could cause flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cautioned.
How cold did it get?
More than 30 record lows were broken across the Midwest.
Cotton, Minnesota, was the coldest place in the US on Thursday with a low of -48C (-56F) based on preliminary data.
Chicago passed the record low for 31 January, while Mount Carroll has probably beaten the Illinois record with a morning temperature of -39C (-38F).
The official low temperature at Chicago this morning was -21F. This shatters the previous record for Jan 31st, which was -12F set back 1985. In records that date back to the 1870s, this is only the 15th time Chicago has seen a daily low this cold or colder, yesterday was 14th.
Cities across Iowa have also broken temperature records.
NWS Des Moines
In news that pretty much no one wants to hear … we broke numerous low temperature records this morning across the state! #iawx
(Yes, those are air temps, NOT wind chill.)
The chill drifted eastward on Thursday, bringing sub-zero temperatures to north-eastern cities such as Boston.
We understand the timing of our request is not ideal given today’s cold temperatures, however, without additional reductions, we run the risk of not being able to deliver natural gas to families and critical facilities across Michigan – a scenario none of us want to encounter.
Native American tribes in the northern Midwest states helped their members obtain heating supplies as many live in poor-quality housing, the Associated Press reports.
More than 2,300 flights have been cancelled and another 3,500 delayed due to the polar vortex.
Social media has been full of photos and memes showcasing just how shockingly cold the Midwest became.
What about Canada?
Areas across the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, and in the north, remain under extreme cold warnings.
But many parts of the country are moving towards more seasonable temperatures on Friday and over the weekend.
In Toronto, wind chills near -30C (-22F) were expected to continue early Friday before beginning to warm.
There were also winter storm and blizzards warnings active across the country from the east to the west coast.
Environment Canada was urging residents to limit their exposure to cold and keep pets indoors.
Canada did not experience a spate of deaths linked to the polar vortex like the US.
Stephen Hwang, an associate professor with the University of Toronto’s department of medicine, suggested that Canadian cities and public health authorities probably had more experience dealing with the deep cold.
Most homeless shelters also already had protocols in place for when the extreme cold hits.
But he said it was still “fortunate” that cities like Toronto, where homeless shelters have been stretched for resources in recent months, did not see any cold-related deaths among its most vulnerable citizens.
The US is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
And last year’s spike comes despite a decline in coal-fired power plants; a record number were retired last year, according to the report.
The researchers note that 2019 will probably not repeat such an increase, but the findings underscore the country’s challenges in reducing greenhouse gas output.
In the 2015 climate accord, then President Barack Obama committed to reducing US emissions to at least 26% under 2005 levels by 2025.
Now, that means the US will need to drop “energy-related carbon missions by 2.6% on average over the next seven years” – and possibly even faster – to meet that goal.
“That’s more than twice the pace the US achieved between 2005 and 2017 and significantly faster than any seven-year average in US history,” the report states.
“It is certainly feasible, but will likely require a fairly significant change in policy in the very near future and/or extremely favourable market and technological conditions. ”
What’s behind the rise?
Analysis by Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News
There are a number of factors behind the rise in US emissions in 2018, some natural, mostly economic.
Prolonged cold spells in a number of regions drove up demand for energy in the winter, while a hot summer in many parts led to more air conditioning, again pushing up electricity use.
However economic activity is the key reason for the overall rise in CO2 emissions. Industries are moving more goods by trucks powered by diesel, while consumers are travelling more by air.
In the US this led to a 3% increase in diesel and jet fuel use last year, a similar rate of growth to that seen in the EU in the same period.
All this presents something of a problem for the Trump administration which has been happy to point to declining US emissions as a reason to roll back many of the environmental protection regulations put in place by his predecessor.
The figures also show that the President’s efforts to boost demand for coal have not succeeded yet, with electricity generated from this fossil fuel continuing to decline.
Despite this, there is little to cheer in the US data for those concerned with climate change on a global scale.
Many had hoped that carbon cutting actions at state or city level could in some way keep the US on track to meet its commitments made under the Paris climate agreement.
The latest emissions data indicate that this is unlikely to happen.
What has changed in the US?
The last time the US saw such an increase in emissions was in 2010, as the country recovered from its longest recession in decades.
Part of last year’s spike is also the result of economic growth, but new policies have exacerbated the effects of increased industry production.
Mr Trump has rolled back a number of his predecessor’s environmental regulations since taking office, appointing climate change sceptics and industry leaders to head US environmental agencies.
As a part of undoing what he called a “war on coal”, in 2017, Mr Trump rescinded the Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions to meet US commitments under the Paris accord.
In December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pressed ahead with plans to lift restrictions for carbon emissions from new coal plants and asked for public comment on redefining the phrase “causes or contributes significantly to” air pollution.
Under Mr Trump’s administration, the federal government has also opened up once-protected lands for oil and gas drilling across the US and has proposed ending regulations on fuel standards for cars and trucks after 2021.
“The big takeaway for me is that we haven’t yet successfully decoupled US emissions growth from economic growth,” Rhodium climate and energy analyst Trevor Houser told the New York Times.
Chief Gallagher has done eight tours of combat duty in the US Navy
A veteran US Navy Seal is accused of killing Iraqi civilians at random, stabbing to death a teenage prisoner and nearly a dozen other crimes.
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher will plead not guilty when he appears at a hearing at a San Diego naval base, his lawyer said on Friday.
Prosecutors say the highly decorated sniper and medic killed innocent people during his eighth combat deployment.
The 19-year Navy combat veteran faces life in prison if found guilty.
Military investigators allege Chief Gallagher committed several crimes while in Mosul from February to September 2017, including the premeditated murder of a wounded Islamic State (IS) fighter around the age of 15.
He has been held in pre-trial confinement ahead of his criminal hearing, after prosecutors accused him of contacting witnesses.
His wife Andrea Gallagher has called the trial “an atrocity committed against America’s service members” and called upon President Donald Trump to intervene.
She, and handful of other supporters wearing “Free Eddie” shirts, cheered the combat veteran as he arrived at the courthouse in handcuffs on Friday.
Aaron Kahn, who said that he is a friend of the accused told CNN that “Eddie’s being demonised and not characterised as a good human being”.
He added that his service to his country is being “dismissed and not appreciated by the American public and government.”
Chief Gallagher denies all the charges against him
What is Chief Gallagher accused of?
According to the charges, Chief Gallagher allegedly stabbed a teenage IS fighter who had been wounded in an airstrike in May 2017.
Prosecutors say the wounded prisoner was being treated by medics from the Seal platoon that Chief Gallagher commanded when he allegedly attacked without any warning using a homemade knife.
He then had others take photos as he posed with the corpse and recited the Navy re-enlistment ceremony oath, prosecutors say.
A lawyer for Chief Gallagher said the fighter died from injuries sustained in the airstrike, and that his client is being falsely accused by Seals who wanted to get rid of their demanding platoon leader.
At a hearing in November, prosecutors said the men under Chief Gallagher’s command considered him so deranged and bloodthirsty that they tampered with his sniper rifle to make it less accurate, and would fire warning shots to clear civilians from the area to protect them from him.
The European Union prohibits many food additives and various drugs that are widely used in American foods. Some foods, like those found in this grocery store in Nice, France, don’t contain food additives that would otherwise be allowed in foods in the United States.
Some foods, like those found in this grocery store in Nice, France, don’t contain food additives that would otherwise be allowed in foods in the United States.
Q. What foods are banned in Europe that are not banned in the United States, and what are the implications of eating those foods?
A. The European Union prohibits or severely restricts many food additives that have been linked to cancer that are still used in American-made bread, cookies, soft drinks and other processed foods. Europe also bars the use of several drugs that are used in farm animals in the United States, and many European countries limit the cultivation and import of genetically modified foods.
“In some cases, food-processing companies will reformulate a food product for sale in Europe” but continue to sell the product with the additives in the United States, said Lisa Y. Lefferts, senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food safety advocacy organization.
A 1958 amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from approving food additives that are linked to cancer, but an agency spokeswoman said that many substances that were in use before passage of the amendment, known as the Delaney amendment, are considered to have had prior approval and “therefore are not regulated as food additives.”
In October, the F.D.A. agreed to ban six artificial flavoring substances shown to cause cancer in animals, following petitions and a lawsuit filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other organizations. The F.D.A. insists the six artificial flavors “do not pose a risk to public health,” but concedes that the law requires it not approve the food additives. Food companies will have at least two years to remove them from their products.
Here’s a short list of some of the food additives restricted by the European Union but allowed in American foods. Most must be listed as ingredients on the labels, though information about drugs used to increase the yield in farm animals is generally not provided.
Potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide (ADA)
These additives are commonly added to baked goods, but neither is required, and both are banned in Europe because they may cause cancer. In recent years, some American restaurant chains have responded to consumer pressure and removed them from their food.
Potassium bromate is often added to flour used in bread, rolls, cookies, buns, pastry dough, pizza dough and other items to make the dough rise higher and give it a white glow. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it a possible human carcinogen, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the F.D.A. to ban it nearly 20 years ago. The F.D.A. says potassium bromate has been in use since before the Delaney amendment on carcinogenic food additives was passed.
Azodicarbonamide, or ADA, which is used as a whitening agent in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner, breaks down during baking into chemicals that cause cancer in lab animals. It is used by many chain restaurants that serve sandwiches and buns. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has urged the F.D.A. to bar its use. The F.D.A. says it is safe in limited amounts.
BVO is used in some citrus-flavored soft drinks like Mountain Dew and in some sports drinks to prevent separation of ingredients, but it is banned in Europe. It contains bromine, the element found in brominated flame retardants, and studies suggest it can build up in the body and can potentially lead to memory loss and skin and nerve problems. An F.D.A. spokeswoman said it is safe in limited amounts, and that the agency would take action “should new safety studies become available that raise questions about the safety of BVO.”
Yellow food dyes No. 5 and No. 6, and Red Dye No. 40
These dyes can be used in foods sold in Europe, but the products must carry a warning saying the coloring agents “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” No such warning is required in the United States, though the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the F.D.A. in 2008 to ban the dyes. Consumers can try to avoid the dyes by reading lists of ingredients on labels, “but they’re used in so many things you wouldn’t even think of, not just candy and icing and cereal, but things like mustard and ketchup,” marshmallows, chocolate, and breakfast bars that appear to contain fruit, Ms. Lefferts, the food safety scientist, said.
The F.D.A.’s website says reactions to food coloring are rare, but acknowledges that yellow dye No. 5, used widely in drinks, desserts, processed vegetables and drugs, may cause itching and hives.
Farm Animal Drugs
The European Union also bans some drugs that are used on farm animals in the United States, citing health concerns. These drugs include bovine growth hormone, which the United States dairy industry uses to increase milk production. The European Union also does not allow the drug ractopamine, used in the United States to increase weight gain in pigs, cattle and turkeys before slaughter, saying that “risks to human health cannot be ruled out.” An F.D.A. spokeswoman said the drugs are safe.
This week in Washington has distilled all the chaos, upheaval, drama and conflict of the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency down to its purest form.
It’s been a bungee jump from high to low, then careening everywhere in between – and it’s not altogether clear that it won’t end with the loud and final thud of an impact on the ground.
Here’s a look at the crises – plural – that have unfolded in the past few days.
Most, if not all, are of the president’s own making. Mr Trump campaigned as a disrupter, and this week has been disruption in the extreme.
The shutdown fight
At the end of last week it appeared that Congress was on a glide path toward avoiding a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Then, on Thursday, everything went haywire. After the White House had signalled it would support the stopgap funding measure, hard-core conservative media outlets and politicians demanded the president draw a line in the sand over building his much-promised border wall.
Mr Trump abruptly changed course, announcing that “any measure that funds the government must include border security”. The fact he’s stopped calling for a wall and instead asked for border security and “metal slats” – fencing – is a concession that might have meant something if it was made weeks ago, and not under the shadow of a shutdown.
The irony is that the warning was made at a signing ceremony for bipartisan farm legislation, during which the president touted another recently passed bill reforming the criminal justice system. Green shoots of inter-party co-operation appeared this week, only to be met with the herbicide of wall acrimony.
The House of Representatives seems solidly behind including wall funding in any bill. But the Senate, with only 51 Republicans and unified Democratic opposition, is well short of the 60 votes needed to agree to such a measure. And if enough House members change their mind, there’s always the chance that the president will veto a stopgap bill without any funding for the wall.
The dynamic changes considerably on 3 January, when Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats take over the House.
At that point, the door slams shut on wall funding ever being approved in the House. The Senate may very well acquiesce to a new wall-free spending bill and the president becomes the final roadblock.
Would he back down, giving the House Democrats an early win? That may be a bitter pill to swallow.
For Mr Trump, however, the pain he appears to fear from his supporters seems to outweigh in his mind the political discomfort from a shutdown.
The great withdrawal
If Mr Trump’s pivot on budget funding was surprising, his unexpected announcement that he’s pulling the 2,000 US troops out of Syria – and reports of plans for thousands more coming home from Afghanistan – was an electric shock through the US foreign policy establishment.
The fact that the president, who campaigned in part on drawing down US involvement obligations abroad, might contemplate such a move is not unexpected. The manner in which the announcement was made, with little apparent consultation with senior government officials or US allies abroad, is the primary source of upheaval – and the cause for concern among even those who might otherwise support the decision.
Was Trump right to say ISIL is beaten?
Then came the exclamatory punctuation mark at the end of the drawdown drama. Defence Secretary James Mattis, perhaps the most universally respected member of Mr Trump’s Cabinet, announced he was resigning because of differences of opinion he has with the president. In his announcement, he offered full-throated support for the US alliance structure and a warning that the US must serve as a counterweight to authoritarian rivals.
Then came his parting shot.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he wrote.
It was one of the most direct suggestions of disapproval from any of Mr Trump’s ever-expanding list of former advisers and Cabinet secretaries.
All of this raises the question, why did the president act now? There has been some speculation that it may be tied the budget fight over the Mexican border wall. If people tell the president there’s not enough money, then he’ll reduce US commitments abroad. Others have suggested the move was a distraction in the midst of an unpleasant news cycle. Or perhaps it was a move to placate Turkey or – an evergreen explanation – Russia.
Whatever the reason, Mr Trump has roiled his supporters in the US Senate at a time when he needs them most. In the past, Republican politicians have managed to walk the line between offering tuts of disapproval for presidential actions they don’t like, while still voting lockstep for conservative policy priorities.
In the coming days, however, this straddling effort will be tested like never before.
Mueller’s circling army
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Benjamin Wittes and Mikhaila Fogel compare Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation of possible Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign to a siege on a walled city.
If the investigation is “a campaign of degradation over a substantial period of time”, this week brought a number of new volleys that could hasten the eventual collapse.
There was Michael Flynn’s sentencing fiasco, in which Mr Trump’s former national security adviser admitted in open court that he knowingly lied to the FBI and wasn’t tricked or trapped into it. The judge, Emmet Sullivan, then suggested he sold his country out.
Facing the prospect of an angry judge threatening jail time, Flynn’s lawyers asked for a sentencing delay – dangling the possibility of more co-operation by Flynn and guaranteeing this portion of the Mueller investigation will stretch on until at least March.
Meanwhile, the Senate released two investigations into Russian social media campaigns to influence the 2016 presidential election.
They indicated the scope of the attack was much wider than previously known. The efforts reached hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other services, engaging conservatives and discouraging key voting blocs on the left, all in an attempt to help Mr Trump’s presidential bid.
The president and his supporters have dismissed evidence of Russian meddling as blame-shifting by Democrats seeking an excuse for their 2016 defeat. With these reports, that becomes a more difficult case to make.
What’s still not known is if there are any direct links between the Russians and the Trump team. Rumours swirl of new Mueller indictments on the horizon, however, perhaps of Trump confidant Roger Stone, who had contacts with WikiLeaks, the group that released hacked Democratic documents.
The clock is ticking – providing a possible explanation for Mr Trump’s dyspeptic attitude of late.
A crumbling foundation
There was evidence as early as 2016, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, that Donald Trump frequently used his family’s charitable foundation – funded in large part by donations from other people – to settle business lawsuits, buy baubles at auctions and, during the presidential campaign, advance his political interests.
Any of this could qualify as “self-dealing” and put the charity’s tax status at risk.
The controversies swirling around the foundation attracted the attention of the Democrat-run attorney general’s office in New York, which launched an investigation. On Tuesday, they negotiated the dismantling of the charity.
Mr Trump and his lawyers explained that they wanted this all along, and that the entire inquiry was the result of “sleazy Democrats”. But this is another dark cloud that won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
What’s more, she said, the state would continue to seek millions of dollars in back taxes and fines from the Trump Organization, and sanctions against the president and his three oldest children.
During the 2016 campaign, Mr Trump repeatedly criticised Hillary Clinton and her family’s much-larger operating foundation. Two years later, however, it’s the president’s charity that remains in the headlines.
Dow heading down
Mr Trump has spent much of his presidency touting the seemingly endless ascent of the US stock market.
“The Stock Market just reached an All-Time High during my Administration for the 102nd Time, a presidential record, by far, for less than two years,” he tweeted in early October.
Politicians who hitch their star to the stock market, however, can be in for a bumpy ride. Since Mr Trump wrote that tweet, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen more than 4,300 points – a 16% decline.
Due to a combination of rising interest rates, the president’s trade wars, the impending government shutdown and indications of slower economic growth, the now long-in-the-tooth bull market may be coming to an end. December has seen the biggest market decline since the Great Depression and the largest drop in any month since 2009.
Larger economic indicators, such as GDP growth, unemployment and consumer confidence, are still strong. The current economic expansion is now entering its 13th year, however, and no one has yet discovered how to outwit the business cycle.
What goes up eventually comes down (at least a bit), and the timing may not be good for the president.