It's afternoon in New Jersey, the United States, and the thermometer sits at -11 degrees Celsius.
Former Nelsonian Kristin Marshall audibly shivers over the phone as she describes the frigid conditions on America's east coast, gripped by the coldest recorded temperatures there for more than 20 years.
Local news warned that frostbite will gnaw at exposed skin after just 60 minutes, she said.
A bike for Christmas had made the kids happy, but they lasted only 15 minutes riding it through the snow outside, she said.
"It's bloody cold."
The weather phenomenon known as a "polar vortex" swept over North America this week and New Jersey last night, causing temperatures to plummet to dangerous levels and closing schools, roads and hospitals in some parts. The vortex is a massive, permanent area of low pressure that usually hovers above Siberia and the Arctic Ocean. In winter, in the absence of direct sunlight, air temperature can drop to an intense cold - the coldest in the northern hemisphere.
That frozen Arctic air now hangs over America's east coast, and while threatening to life and infrastructure, Mrs Marshall said the cold had not frozen her family's Christmas spirit.
Mrs Marshall, who lives with her husband Dominic and three children, Rileigh, 12, Gabe, 8, and Grace, 5, said it had been a great fun winter with plenty of snow to play in.
"It's been too cold to stay out to long, and they have all been quick to request hot chocolates after hanging about outside," she said.
It was even colder in neighbouring states like Massachusetts and North Dakota.
In Chicago, a polar bear at Lincoln Park Zoo had to be moved inside because it was too cold.
In Kentucky, an escaped inmate, confronted with the cold snap upon claiming his freedom, turned himself in to authorities for the heated confines of his prison cell.
The odd thing is that it's expected to warm to a comfortable 15C by the weekend, Mrs Marshall said.
"The kids love playing in the snow, making snow angels. But they know it's going to warm up, and might be a bit sad to see their snowman friend melt away.
"It's definitely been different to a summer Christmas in New Zealand, but really nice and warm in a different way. Really homely."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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