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Polar Vortex

Aired January 7, 2014 - 04:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to CNN STUDENT NEWS. I`m Carl Azuz. And I`m bundled up. With much of the U.S. feeling the effects of the polar vortex, which sounds cool to say and means something much cooler, we`re focusing a lot of today`s show on the cold. How cold is it? Well, in Chicago the National Weather service called it Siberia yesterday. Temperatures fell to 14 below zero. That was colder than the South Pole, in Antarctica. Minneapolis, Minnesota warned its residents of historic and life threatening cold. With wind chills hovering around 50 below zero, frostbite can happen in a matter of minutes. Now about that polar vortex. It`s the circulation of winds that normally surround the North Pole. But occasionally, those winds can get distorted, they can deep south, and when that happens ...


AZUZ: Brutally cold arctic air is spreading a dangerous deep freeze over half the country. The frigid blast forcing schools and government offices to close from the deep south to the North East.

MAYOR GREG BALLARD, INDIANAPOLIS: The temperatures that we are talking about are deadly. This is a combination that is unlike with anything we`ve seen in a long, long time.

AZUZ: Nearly 140 million people will experience wind chill temperatures of zero degrees or below by Wednesday. Temperatures the country hasn`t seen in decades. In fact, Chicago, St. Louis and Atlanta are all colder than Anchorage, Alaska.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conditions are very bad. Roads are really slippery.

AZUZ: And it`s not just the plummeting temperatures. A massive snowstorm, battering the Midwest dumped up to 16 inches of snow in St. Louis. The iconic St. Louis Arch, barely visible under the onslaught of snow.

MAYOR FRANCIS SLAY, ST. LOUIS: This is a dangerous storm. Driving conditions range from difficult to impossible.

AZUZ: In Illinois, the entire basketball team from Southern Illinois University got stranded in the snow. Returning home from a game, their bus caught in the powerful winter storm. The team was stuck on the interstate for six hours before a tow truck was able to dig them out. But there is relief in sight. The subzero temperatures and snow will virtually be gone by Wednesday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, if you can I.D. me. I`m a type of flu virus that spread worldwide in 2009. My symptoms are like those of a typical flu. But I used to be known as swine flu. Because I`m like a virus that circulates in pigs. I`m H1N1 and I`m the most common strand of flu that Americans are catching this year.

AZUZ: Of course, we don`t catch it from pigs. We catch it from other people. And with flu season in full swing, millions of Americans are coughing, running fevers, getting chills and body aches. And unfortunately, passing it around.

Just over the past week, the number of states reporting widespread flu activity jumped from ten states to 25. Widespread means large chunks of states are reporting flu cases. The most common strain, H1N1 virus is affecting a lot of young people, particularly in the south. With proper care, it`s not usually life threatening, but it`s sure not fun. So, how can you avoid it? Doctors say, the flu vaccine is a good start. It takes about two weeks before it`s effective, though. Another way to protect yourself, wash your hands. You`ve been exposed - wash your hands. Ready to eat - wash your hands. It makes the virus less likely to hit your body.

We always enjoy taking a moment to recognize some of the schools recognizing us. It`s time for the CNN STUDENT NEWS "Roll Call." We`re going to start out west with the Natrona County High School Mustangs. They are online in Caspar, Wyoming. North Stafford High, you`re on our roll. The Wolverines are watching in Stafford, Virginia. And leaving a legacy in Orlando, Florida, we`re taking off with the jets from legacy middle school. Our friends in Minnesota know about the St. Paul winter carnival, called the coolest celebration on earth. They`ve got some competition in northern China, and like the American event, you can`t mind the cold. This celebrates it. If highs in the single digits don`t` keep you locked inside, the reward is carved artwork of snow and ice. Multicolored lights accent the frigid architecture and as you might guess, it attracts tourists from all over the world, who hopefully remember their coats. China, actually, offers travel packages focused on this event. But you might be wondering how all off this comes together.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you think you`re pretty handy building a snowman, you might want to get yourself to northeast China where most builders one of the coolest shows on earth, the Annual Harbin Ice Festival. Thousands of workers have been hacking blocks of ice out of the river to carve giant sculptures and make fairy tale palaces and castles. One of the main attractions this year, a replica church set to tower 150 feet high. All of ice are illuminated with computer controlled displays. Of course, if you are coming, don`t forget your thermal underwear. Organizers say you could catch frostbite.


AZUZ: And that`s with minimal trouble getting around in the snow. What do you do if you`re in a wheelchair? There are all terrain tires available that can give more grip, some are wider, some are nubby. But what about the smaller front wheels? What can be done to help those glide over the snow? Especially for those who live in snow all winter long?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I just hold that for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sam and Tracy Tabaka have never allowed their wheelchairs to hold them back.

TRACY TABAKA, WHEELCHAIR USER: We both enjoy marathons and triathlons and all sorts of fun outdoor stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But ever winter .the everyday becomes a challenge.

SAM TABAKA: Do you see how much slower this is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Front wheels have a tendency to sink in the snow making moving or even staying in the chair difficult.

TRACY TABAKA: There is a lot of tipping yourself back and kind of trying to jump over piles of snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ve taken many spills.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, a new product has all but eliminated the seasonal obstacle. The Tabakas are the first Minnesotans to try out wheel blades.

TRACY TABAKA: Oh, it`s a huge difference, just for comfort and for feeling secure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Essentially, small skis for the front wheels, the blades glide over snow and ice.

TRACY TABAKA: We spent over many months out of the year with snow in Minnesota and I mean this is a huge thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The biggest impact is in the daily routine. Small tasks that once took time and energy have never been easier.

SAM TABAKA, WHEELBLADE USER: It definitely allows me to be more independent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A twist on cold weather culture that`s now moving winter mobility forward.

SAM TABAKA: It`s definitely changed, you know, my outlook on what I can do in the winter on my own.


AZUZ: Good stuff there. We`re going to come in from the cold for a moment for a bit of spoken world. It`s a kind of performance art. Can`t be poetry, can`t be monologue and it can`t help a group of young people do everything from find their voices to cope with the troubles they face every day.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Expressing themselves through poetry, finding like-minded youth with a passion for verse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of most beautiful things that I`ve ever been a part of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Safety. It means growth. It means lights.

VALENCIA: Cofounded nearly five years ago by then 16-year old poet Natalie Cook, Atlanta Word Works is a nonprofit, empowering teen and young adults through poetry. Members say it allows them to be among their peers, unlike most groups, which are led by adults.

ARIELLE LUCIER, ATLANTA WORD WORKS: Here`s this organization that is kind of for kids, by kids, with kids, the whole step of the way.

VALENCIA: The thoughts first go on paper that expressed in spoken word.

KALI SCURDY, MENTOR ATLANTA WORD WORKS: Each student that comes to work with this organization, they find and develop their voice.

VALENCIA: Students like Ivan who`s struggling with the likely deportation of his family, undocumented immigrants to Mexico. He`s now ready to face the possibility of leaving the only country he`s ever known.

IVAN, ATLANTA WORD WORKS: And this is not just my story, this is a story of millions of people all around the United States right now. They are scared, and I`m scared.

VALENCIA: And poetry is how Ivan expresses his fears.

IVAN: It is said that when a child is born into (INAUDIBLE) he has to be quick to adept and survive.

(on camera): I chose this over actual therapy, because I feel as though this heals me a lot more than anything else could heal me.

VALENCIA: And Ivan is not alone. Many in the group are dealing with the kind of issues most young people face: peer pressure of divorce in their families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s a physical process, as well as an emotional and mental process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free to share and free to inspire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Historians have become like janitors ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rinsing revolutions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And washing away America`s history.

VALENCIA: Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta.



AZUZ: Back once more to Minnesota. Where it feels like anything but a balmy beach. So, a trio of brothers brought the beach to their home with a sculpted snow shark. That`s one way to illustrate biting cold.

It took them about 95 hours to build it. It sits about ten feet high, and it`s only natural predator is the sun. The brothers started doing this a few years ago with a puffer fish, so you could say when it comes to sea creature sculptures, they are pretty big fins.

Of course, the neighbors might complain if they are not in the swim, but given the recent plunge of temperatures there, a giant ice sculpture is hardly sharking. As long as those who made it are able to withstand the wind gill. I`m Carl Azuz, and more CNN STUDENT NEWS are swimming your way tomorrow.