More than 70 people died as the temperature plunged far below zero from North Dakota to Kentucky to New York last week. Hundreds of schools, offices, businesses and even the federal government shut down for at least part of the week as heavy snow, ice and rolling power outages added to the misery in some areas.
Pat Cunningham, vice chairman-chief creative officer at N W Ayer, New York, returned from London during the subzero weather only to find himself waiting in the cold for more than 20 minutes for transportation home after flying all night.
"I had told people in London that it was 3 degrees in New York and they thought that's not so bad. I said, `That's Fahrenheit, not Celsius.' Believe me, when I stepped outside last night I knew the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit."
It's a sure bet Kentuckians also know the difference. As temperatures across the state took a dive to more than 20 below, a record snowfall of 161/2 inches added insult to injury in Louisville, home to United Parcel Service and fast-food giant KFC Corp.
UPS has 1.1 million packages that go through its air freight system each day. About 35% of packages Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went undelivered. The weather cost the company $65 million through diverted packages, additional transportation, overtime costs in other hubs and related problems, said Susan Rosenberg, public relations manager.
KFC closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and only 30 people made it in on Thursday, when the office was open for half a day. "We've been doing a lot of business over the phone," a spokeswoman said. "Good thing we have computers and phones at home."
In Philadelphia, Earle Palmer Brown public relations staffers organized a meeting to make clients available for crisis communication with the media. "We had the meeting in the dark," said Sheri Keiles, account exec. EPB also organized a Red Cross van so agency employees could donate blood since supplies were dangerously low.
To the west in Minneapolis, cold threatened a number of small agencies in the Kickernick Building, which had boiler problems after the mercury dipped to 25 below zero early Tuesday.
"We actually got so cold up here that we shut down our computer," said Mike Meirovitz, president of Meirovitz & Co. "I am sitting here right now in my office wearing my parka," while the temperature inside was between 40 and 50 degrees.
But the cold weather couldn't have been better news for Johnson Controls. The Milwaukee-based company is the world's leading manufacturer of car batteries, with average annual sales of 25 million batteries for retailers such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Wal-Mart Stores.
"When the temperatures drop like this, people in this building are all smiles," said Glen Ponczak, manager of external communications. "One battery retailer in Milwaukee sold 1,000 batteries in two days."
Quaker Oats Co. also saw a positive to the big chill. Oatmeal sales were up 60% from the previous week, to 5.7 million-plus pounds.
Oatmeal or no oatmeal, many seemed to take the cold weather in stride. Asked if working in such conditions signified Midwestern work ethic or insanity, Steve Sjoblad, managing director of Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, replied: "Do people in Phoenix go to work when it's 125? Of course they do. I'm a lifelong Minnesotan who relishes the winter."
Mr. Sjoblad did note he was flying to Florida later in the week.M
Written from reports by Ad Age bureaus and correspondents.