A student at the University of Iowa is among multiple people to have died in the bitterly cold winter weather sweeping the Midwest and elsewhere in the US due to a split in the polar vortex.
Eighteen-year-old Gerald Belz, a second-year premed student, was found outside just before 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning by campus police, according to the university.
Temperatures in Iowa City, where the campus is located, reached as low as –25.6 °F (–32 °C) Wednesday. Windchills were even colder.
It’s not clear what Belz was doing outside in the extremely dangerous temperatures, but his father, Michael, told CBS affiliate KGAN that alcohol was not believed to be a factor.
“Based on comments the family received from two doctors and the police captain this morning, they told us multiple times that zero alcohol was found in his system,” he said.
The university had canceled all classes from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 12 p.m. on Thursday in anticipation of the cold weather.
“In all cases we urge students, faculty, and staff to use good judgment and avoid serious risks during these extreme weather conditions,” university officials warned on Monday.
Campus officials are now offering counseling services to students after Belz’s death.
Belz is one of a number people understood to have died so far from causes related to the extreme weather and cold temperatures, which have brought parts of Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to a standstill this week.
An 82-year-old man died from hypothermia Tuesday in Peoria, Illinois, after falling on his way home, the county coroner’s office said.
“Being outside in these temperatures even for short amounts of time can cause frostbite to exposed skin, and hypothermia can set in very quickly, especially in children and in the elderly,” coroner Jamie Harwood said in a statement to local media.
A young couple, one of whom was a police officer, were killed in a car crash in icy conditions in northern Indiana.
They were named as Ethan Kiser, 22, and Shawna Kiser, 21, by the Noble County Sheriff’s Office. Officials said Kiser was driving the car when it spun sideways and into the path of another vehicle.
An obituary published online said that they had attended the same high school in Ligonier and were married last year.
“Ethan fulfilled his life long dream of becoming a police officer with the Ligonier Police Department and graduated from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in 2018,” the obituary read. “Shawna was pursing her teaching degree full time at IPFW while working part time at Charger House in Ligonier and as a substitute teacher at West Noble Primary.”
Elsewhere, a 75-year-old man died after being fatally struck by a snow plow in Libertyville, Illinois, on Monday. Lake County coroner Dr. Howard Cooper called the death of Donald Anderson a “terrible tragedy.”
Meanwhile, the medical examiner in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, confirmed that Charley Lampley, 55, was found frozen in his garage, having collapsed after shoveling snow.
The National Weather Service reported that Chicago is expected to see “potentially all-time” record-breaking cold Thursday morning, with windchills of between –30 °F (–34.44°C) and –55 °F (–48.33°C).
“The last time we saw cold even remotely comparable was 1994,” weather officials said.
In Michigan, gas workers and government officials pleaded with people to turn down their thermostats to 65°F or lower “due to extremely high demand for natural gas with record-low temperatures,” as well as an incident at a gas facility.
The extremely cold temperatures are a result of a split in the polar vortex, the cold air circles around the Earth’s poles.
During winter, these air circles can become destabilized, blasting icy air down into the US and Canada. Moisture in that cold air, which is more frequent because of global warming, can result in more severe winter storms.