LONDON — It was so cold in some parts of the world this past week that iguanas were falling from trees, sharks were dying and eyelashes were freezing in the shadow of a mountain where the wind chill could make the air feel as cold as minus 100 Fahrenheit.
The world became familiar with the phrase “bomb cyclone” — also known as a winter hurricane.
Amid the face-freezing misery, one phenomenon that is a staple of winter has drawn greater attention in an era of prolific social media use: the frozen pond rescue. Twitter and Facebook users shared video footage of the heroes of winter who dived into icy waters to save men, women and animals.
The rescues unfolded as winter’s icy grip unleashed a storm named Eleanor that barreled across Europe, setting off a deadly avalanche in the Austrian Alps, where two German skiers were killed on Friday near Kals in Tyrol State, according to Bild. Twenty skiers also had to be rescued from cable cars in Kitzbühel, Austria.
The storm whipped up dangerous winds in Britain, where it knocked out power to thousands. The gusts blew a train car off its tracks in Sweden, injuring eight people.
In Spain, snow blanketed half the country this weekend, including in southern cities like Granada, trapping hundreds of drivers overnight Saturday in their cars. The army’s emergency units were called in on Sunday to help clear the snow off a highway near Madrid.
The Spanish weather office issued alerts for 37 provinces on Sunday, warning of further snowfall, as well as strong rain and high winds in regions like Catalonia, on one of the busiest travel days of the year in Spain as people returned home after the Epiphany holiday on Saturday.
To be sure, other cities in warmer climes could not relate. Sydney, Australia, for example, experienced what officials said was its hottest day in 79 years when the mercury hit 47.3 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.
But the mean winter season brought unseasonably cold to parts of Asia, such as Myanmar, where orphaned elephants had to be wrapped in knitted blankets; and to New York, where hundreds of flights were delayed and Kennedy Airport remained in disarray on Sunday after a water main burst and flooded a terminal.
Scenes of people and animals being freed from the ice have drawn legions of viewers. The gripping rescues include the case of a Utah sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Aaron Thompson. He punched through ice and stood on his tippy toes to keep from going under in freezing water in New Harmony to rescue an 8-year-old boy who was chasing a dog when he fell in on Dec. 25.
Here are some other notable episodes.
In December, Chinese social media users praised a good Samaritan’s efforts to free a woman from a frozen river in Hebei Province.
The man had been cycling to work on Dec. 26 when he saw the 70-year-old woman fall into an icy river, according to news reports. While other passers-by on a bridge nearby called for the police, he tried to pull the woman out.
It was not clear how the woman fell in. But the footage showed the man, identified as Shi Lei, 54, trying mightily to pull her to safety — keeping his glasses on during the entire ordeal.
She appears dazed as he tugs on her red top, struggles to pull her out of the freezing water and pounds on the ice to clear a path. Her arms remain limp.
Finally, as part of the ice collapses, he plunges in waist-deep and hoists her to safety as another man drags a plank close to help get her onto solid ground.
Days later, firefighters in Tangshan in northern China rescued a man who had fallen into a frozen lake while ice fishing.
When a dog named Nisel fell through the ice in a pond in New Jersey in December, the animal could not climb out no matter how she tried.
Officers Robert Voorhees and George Peterson, along with Hopewell Valley Emergency Services and Pennington Fire Company personnel, headed to the pond to assist the dog’s owner, according to news media reports.
Footage shows one officer, a cord tied around his torso, crawling on the ice toward the dog as she splashes fruitlessly on the edge of the pond.
A woman, presumed to be the animal’s owner, can be heard calling out encouragement to the dog: “Come on, Nisel!” “Good girl!” “He’s coming! He’s coming!”
In the final scramble, man and dog are pulled to safety.
“We’ve got to warm this dog up,” one officer says afterward as the dog runs off in the snow.
Deputies from the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan used lots of rope, a tractor, an ax and other implements to pull out a horse that could not get its legs out of icy waters on Dec. 13.
The Ray Township Fire Department joined the rescue effort, but it was a long haul.
A deputy fell through the ice while trying to attach a rope to the exhausted horse’s bridle. He was quickly pulled out, uninjured.
In the end, the tired horse, who seemed frozen in fear, was yanked free. After a checkup by a veterinarian, the horse was given a clean bill of health.
Then there was the 13-year-old boy who did not fall through the ice, but caused a stir on social media anyway.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office posted on Twitter the tale of the unidentified teenager who had a fight with his parents and took off on a six-mile trek — without a coat — across a “barely frozen” Utah Lake to cool off in late December.
The boy’s parents called the police to report that their son had set off from the Saratoga Springs marina area. A search-and-rescue crew found the boy on the eastern shore of the lake when he finished crossing it around 5:30 on a Friday afternoon.
For the last 20 to 30 yards, the sergeant said, an officer could hear the ice beneath him cracking.
The boy told officers he had heard the same sound the whole time he was walking.
“The ice was, and still is, very thin,” Sergeant Cannon told the local news media. “At our location on the east shore of Utah Lake, where the teen arrived after his cold walk, the ice was less than two inches thick. The temperature throughout that afternoon was 55 degrees, unseasonably warm.”
“How the teen did not break through the ice, we do not know,” he marveled.
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