Why Supermarkets Are Loving the Polar Vortex

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Christian Charisius / Reuters

In anticipation of the life-threatening sub-zero cold blast that’s hitting much of the country, freaked-out shoppers have been emptying the shelves of grocery stores.

Last weekend was like Christmas all over again for supermarkets in the Midwest. “Sales in our stores were unprecedented for a non-holiday weekend,” one grocery chain executive told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Consumer staples such as bread, eggs and milk were in high demand as well as other products.”

Beyond the impending so-called “polar vortex,” supermarkets in Wisconsin saw additional business because locals planned to hunker down with friends on Sunday to watch the Green Bay Packers’ playoff game. Likewise, a “perfect storm” of dangerously cold, snowy weather and a home playoff game for the Bengals translated to record sales for Ohio grocers such as Kroger, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Even though Kroger boosted staffing by up to one-third and ordered more than double the usual amount of staples such as milk, eggs, and bottled water, stores struggled to keep up with demand and empty shelves were common.

“I’m expecting to be trapped,” one shopper in Minneapolis said as she stocked her cart with fruit, veggies, and bread, per the Star Tribune. Her comments summed up the mentality of many consumers fearful of what was to come—in Minnesota and much of the Midwest, Monday high temperatures well below zero. “I’m expecting my car to not start for one, two, three days.”

Many supermarket managers were well-prepared for the run on groceries and over-ordered staples in anticipation of the arctic blast. Sales soared through the roof. In places like the Cincinnati area, supermarket crowds were reportedly larger than those seen during the weekend before Christmas, which is usually the busiest time of year.

(MORE: Bitter Chill Plunges East Coast Into Arctic Temps)

In some cases, things got ugly as supermarket supplies dwindled and shoppers apparently began to feel desperate. A CBS station in Detroit reported that grocery store checkout lines throughout Michigan were endless, that shoppers complained about people swiping meat and bread from carts when their backs were turned, and that the fruit display at one Kroger “looked like it had been pillaged during an episode of ‘The Walking Dead.’”

How cold is it around the country? According to the Associated Press, an escaped prisoner in Kentucky walked into a motel on Sunday night and asked the clerk to call the police. Yep, he turned himself in just so he could warm up.