A postcard from New York as winter digs in its heels
The weather has been the main topic of conversation in the Big Apple – which is not surprising, considering that a blast of Arctic air – known as a ‘polar vortex’ – has resulted in some of the coldest weather America has seen in decades.
Even before I left Heathrow on Monday, it was clear that things were a little frosty over the Pond. The day before, JFK Airport had suspended all flights for two hours (an eternity at an airport of such size) after a plane skidded off the runway and into a snow bank.
As I touched down, there were rumours that the mercury would plummet to -11C that evening. When I remarked to a customs officer that I perhaps hadn’t picked the best week to visit, he grinned and said: “You’ll be OK if you don’t go outside”.
My taxi driver advised me to find a St Bernard with a barrel of brandy.
That evening, a sign outside my hotel window flashed the temperature in giant orange digits: a relatively balmy 0C. So far so warm-ish. But by 5am it was -14C – cold enough to freeze the pipes, causing them to burst and, in turn, set off the fire alarm.
By breakfast, that sign had had a rethink: -16C. Ouch.
Then again, it could have been worse. In my room, the Weather Channel was reporting that Chicago had been nicknamed ‘Chiberia’ – and that even the polar bear at the city’s Lincoln Park Zoo was refusing to venture outdoors.
Perhaps I’ve had it easy in comparison. On that first morning, the sun was shining, the sky was a beautiful clear blue and all that remained of the 10 inches of snow that fell last week was the odd icy, grey mound by the road.
On the other hand, this was the lowest temperature New York has recorded for 20 years – and the wind chill factor was making it feel particularly bitter.
The icy wind slapped me in the face as soon as I stepped outside, and a stinging pain spread across any part of my body that wasn’t swaddled in layers of fleece.
I passed only a handful of pedestrians as I made my way down Broadway. A small group of tourists were braving the elements to pose in front of the flashing neon signs in Times Square, albeit with scarves wound around their faces.