Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a Wednesday night plea to citizens: Turn natural gas-powered thermostats to 65 degrees or lower until Friday at noon.
The ask comes as the Midwest is gripped by freezing temperatures caused by a polar vortex.
“I’m coming to you now to ask for your help,” the lawmaker said in a video statement. “Due to extremely high demand for natural gas with these record low temperatures and a facility incident, Consumers Energy has asked that everyone who is able to turn down their thermostats through Friday at noon so we can all get through this with minimal harm.”
Earlier on Wednesday there was an “unexpected incident” at a gas compressor station in Southeast Michigan, according to Consumers Energy. A fire at the compressor station means that “all gas flow from the compressor station has been shut in until safety and damage assessments can be completed.”
Following the incident, Consumers Energy began asking both business and residential consumers to “temporarily reduce gas usage” to keep all citizens warm during the polar vortex.
“We understand the timing of our request is not ideal given today’s cold temperatures, however, without additional reductions, we run the risk of not being able to deliver natural gas to families and critical facilities across Michigan – a scenario none of us want to encounter,” Consumers Energy tweeted on Wednesday night.
“The term polar vortex describes the mass of low-pressure cold air that circulates in the stratosphere above the Arctic and Antarctic regions,” Business Insider’s Aylin Woodward explains (in a very helpful piece). “Sometimes the circulation of the polar vortex weakens during the winter, causing surges of frigid air to splinter off and drift south.”
Since Saturday, the cold weather has been blamed for around a dozen deaths in “Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota,” Reuters reports. The dangerously cold temperatures have led to flights and train services being cancelled, along with the closure of schools, businesses, and non-essential government entities.
At the time of writing it was minus-13 degrees Farenheit, in Lansing, Michigan, by Friday the high is expected to be 18 degrees Farenheit — and at noon, residents will be able to turn up their heat. Until then Michiganders are being asked to do their part.
“You can play a role in helping people across the state survive these extreme temperatures,” Whitmer said. “Please do. We’re calling on every Michigander to do your part and help us weather this storm together.”