It's Goundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil has made a huge statement on the big freeze sweeping the United States.
The famous weather forecaster emerged from his burrow in Pennsylvania at 7.30am Saturday local time and did not see his shadow — meaning spring is coming early, according to the legend.
Staten Island Chuck's handlers revealed the the same prediction from New York's prognosticating groundhog.
But locals living in Hell, Michigan, weren't so sure, after battling bone-chilling -26C temperatures and blizzard-like conditions during the deadly polar vortex.
The residents of one of the coldest towns in the United States have been the source of endless puns this week, after Hell literally froze over.
Emmy Shelton, a bartender in Hell, told news.com.au when we visited that she was worried about what freak conditions will come next.
"Now it's freezing cold and now we're getting all this snow, it's like, is it going to end come Easter, are we going to have winter into April?" she said.
"It just feels like a never-ending thing now."
Retired engineer Robin Sanders, from nearby Ann Arbor, said he was alarmed when one of the state's biggest natural gas providers suffered an explosion for the first time.
With a high demand for power, it caused a crisis that forced Michigan's state governor to urge residents to turn down their heating to 18C max.
"We're so dependent on this stuff and how much do we have left?" said Sanders. "It's scary."
DANGERS OF THE BIG THAW
As temperatures warm up dramatically this weekend, authorities have warned the rapid thaw could cause other nightmares, such as burst pipes, flooding and road damage.
The mercury plunged to what's thought to be a historic low of -39C for the state of Illinois and the lowest recorded temperature was a frosty -48.8C in Cotton, Minnesota on Thursday.
Hell is about an hour's drive west of Detroit, tucked between the four Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie — to the east of Chicago and west of Toronto. The views of vast, frozen lakes and frosted fields on the flight into the region are breathtaking, but the deadly polar vortex has been wreaking destruction as it moves east across the US.
At least 21 deaths have been linked to the deep freeze sweeping America's Midwest and Northeast, including a nine-year-old killed in a crash on Iowa's icy roads, a 75-year-old man hit by a snow plough in Illinois and an 18-year-old college student found unconscious outside on the University of Iowa campus.
Locals say it is vitally important to check on pensioners, particularly if the power goes out. This week, an elderly couple were found dead in their driveway in Cedarville, Michigan, and a 70-year-old man was apparently frozen to death outside his home in Detroit.
The wind chill in Hell this week was placed at -34C, and its 800 residents were just beginning to emerge on Friday after battening down the hatches during days of blizzard-like conditions.
Hell Hole diner and Screams from Hell store and "creamatory" had just reopened on Friday, after treacherous conditions made roads almost impassable.
"It was just too cold to open up," Screams from Hell manager Kim Jahn told news.com.au. "We didn't even leave the house. We live on the lake here and it was completely frozen over.
"If we don't have to go out, we don't. We stay at home, watch movies, eat soup, have chilli cook-offs.
"Sometimes it takes days to clear the roads. There are plenty of people here who couldn't leave their home or go to work because they live on the hills and they can't get down. Or if they get down, they can't get back up, and they have to throw sand across the road just to get a couple of feet."
'IT'LL BURN YOUR LUNGS'
Hell Saloon is the one business that didn't close down during the brutal chill of this week, with five locals sat propping up the bar on Friday afternoon, looking as though they wouldn't mind being snowed in.
"A little bit of whisky goes a long way when it's cold out," Shelton, 29, told news.com.au. "Our cook's car wouldn't start but we were like, we're going without you, sorry."
Shelton and her husband — who works in construction and hasn't earned a cent all week — have been putting towels around the doors of their old farm house in an effort to keep it warm and layering blankets on the beds.
"I lot of people were like, 'I'm not leaving my house', but I was like, 'I am, my house is freezing,'" laughs the mother of one. "I resorted to booze."
It's the coldest winter she can remember, with forecasters warning this could be the iciest spell in a generation.
John Roberts, who works in grounds maintenance for Domino's Farms, said he had already been to Mexico and Florida this winter. "The older I get, the more I hate this s***," added the 43-year-old.
"It's tough right now, I'm getting older, I'm 61," agreed Cindy Lou, who has spent her whole life in Hell.
"You guys are hotter than hell, we're colder than hell, we're colder than cold," said retired bricklayer Karl Fritz, 62. "I could adjust to that, the cold you can't adjust to.
"What we do is this to warm up. I had a Bud Light, then I went to vodka. You gotta have that. To walk to the mailbox takes the air away from you … It'll burn your lungs."
A COLD DAY IN HELL
"I used to drive through hell to go to work, now I drive to Hell," joked the town's groundskeeper Jerry Duffie, who knows every pun in the book.
"I have friends that are schoolteachers and their students always laugh about them being the teachers from Hell. We sell postcards — 'I've been through Hell' with edges singed, people send off taxes and alimony payments from here.
"Hell Hole bar was Hell's Kitchen and Hell in a Handbasket. We sort of roll our eyes because we hear them all. Someone will walk in, 'oh, it's hotter than Hell today,' you know, we all kind of chuckle and go along with it."
As if to prove his point, a woman interrupts to tell us that when you move to nearby Gregory, you have to quit telling your husband to go to Hell.
But the big freeze brings all kinds of problems. Sanders is concerned about the vast quantities of salt damaging the roads.
"The cars look like glazed doughnuts from all the salt. Cars that spend most days of their life in the Midwest, the salt eats them up. It's very corrosive."
Emergency services have issued warnings about the "life-threatening", "dangerous" weather, advising residents to stay indoors, avoid driving and try not to breathe too deeply, a serious challenge as the cold wind makes you puff and pant.
The news is filled with tips on how to survive the bitter weather, from hand-warmers and an icy street shuffle to doses of vitamin C and socks made from fire hoses. A long down coat is essential, as is a scarf, hat, gloves, snow boots and two pairs of thick socks. Thermal underwear is useful and fleece-lined tights a genius invention.
Others offer next-level advice for the icier Midwest, suggesting you wear plastic surgical gloves under your normal pair will keep in the heat. Fritz says when it's cold enough, you cannot wear enough layers.
INSIDE THE POLAR VORTEX
While Donald Trump seized the opportunity this week to question how the world could be warming if temperatures were hitting record lows, scientists said the freakishly cold conditions were also a result of climate change.
The extreme weather — and polar opposite to the record heat and drought in Australia — has been attributed to warmer air weakening the jet stream in the North Pole, meaning icy winds can push downwards to lower latitudes than usual: in this case, the north of the US.
The snow looks magical, but scientists are concerned by what the extreme temperatures tell us about the changing climate.
The Midwesterners who spoke with news.com.au said this was one of the toughest cold spells they have experienced, some say it is the worst.
Evidence of an infrastructure nearing breaking point is everywhere. The postal service was suspended to many areas, more than 2000 flights cancelled and schools and government offices closed across the Midwest. Transport authorities were even setting fire to rail tracks in Iowa to allow trains to run.
Chicago was dubbed "Chiberia" as the mercury plummeted to -29C, just short of the city's -32C record, and 1400 flights and hundreds of trains into and out of the city were cancelled. "Warming centres" were opened and the city sent out buses to pick up anyone sleeping rough.
In New York, police have been shepherding homeless people into the subway to stop them from dying on the streets.
Pete Becker, a car repairman in Hell, said he regularly has to assist broken down or struggling snow ploughs.
For someone who's spent much of the past decade in Sydney and has never experienced more than a few degrees below freezing, this is a brutal test of character.
Trudging through deep snowdrifts and stepping gingerly on to a frozen lake with Jerry's encouragement, I focus on breathing into my scarf, rubbing my arms and legs and hopping from foot to foot if forced to stand still. I've even taking to humming like a crazy person, although I'm not sure this is among the sanctioned warming methods.
You can see how they cope in this version of the underworld, the warmth and friendship of the residents creating the pure cosiness they need — the American version of the Danish hygge, if you will.
But while the guardians of Hell may be able to handle this kind of torment, but I think I'd take Australia's intense heat any day of the week. After all, it's true what they say: it's better the devil you know.