Sub Zero: Polar Vortex causes equipment breakdowns, sends construction workers home and indoors in Minnesota and North Dakota

Updated Jan 9, 2014

We told you yesterday about a crew in Louisville used to working in the cold that was forced to pack it up thanks to this Polar Vortex. Today we’ve got an even better idea about just how formidable this thing is with news of the hardened crews of Minnesota and North Dakota having to take a break until things warm up.

Temperatures plummeted to 20-below in Minnesota with wind chills reaching -50 F, according to a report from Finance & Commerce. There, outdoor work was slowed or canceled altogether on projects including the new Vikings football stadium in Minneapolis, the Saints ballpark and Layfayette Bridge in St. Paul and the St. Croix Crossing connecting Oak Park Heights, Minnesota and St. Joseph, Wisconsin.

Pile driving at St. Croix has been delayed until later in the week and a concrete pour at the Layfayette Bridge has been rescheduled for Saturday.

One of the arguments against putting workers on the site is that they would need to be so bundled up that they couldn’t move efficiently. Then there’s the fact that the cold affects concentration and reaction times. Brad Meyer, a St. Paul spokesman for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department said pulling crews from the ballpark construction was simply a matter of safety.

“Suffice it to say, when the wind chill is as cold as it is today and expected tomorrow, it would be hard to safely put people and equipment to work on site,” Meyer told Finance & Commerce.

In Minot, North Dakota, temperatures have been well below freezing as well.

There, Jay Hight, the president of Hight Construction, has found indoor jobs like a local high school addition and an office renovation for his crews to take on until things thaw a bit outside, according to a report from the Minot Daily News.

Between employees being slowed by layers of clothing, taking time to warm up equipment and letting employees stop work periodically throughout the day for warm-up breaks, Hight said the extreme cold costs too much time to bother with attempting to work outside.

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“We’ve had lots of equipment breakdowns and lots of trucks that won’t start. We do snow removal and that type of stuff and we’ve had lots of breakdowns with the weather,” Hight told the Minot Daily News. “It just seems like we’ve really had to pick our days for when we can work outside in December. I think it’s one of the colder Decembers on record. It just seems like it was only really warm around Christmastime.”

Hight said he expects he and his employees will have to put in a good deal of overtime and weekends to get caught up due to the delays seen so far this winter.