By Bill Hudson

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — If you think your furnace has been running a lot this January, you’re absolutely right. CenterPoint Energy said the first major cold snap in early January set a new daily record for natural gas consumption.

And this week will likely bring more of the same.

Sadly, even the ice carvers here are weary of this kind of extreme cold. They’d like it just a bit warmer and for anyone paying a heating bill this winter, we’re just not catching a break.

Bundled faces and vapor belching from chimneys capture the depth of our latest cold snap.

“It’s kinda bone-chilling, almost takes your breath away when you first get outside,” said one brave man outside Thursday.

Breathtaking and unbearable — at these temperatures, it’s downright dangerous. Hennepin County Medical Center has already admitted more than 80 patients suffering severe frostbite. And many of them required amputations.

“We’re talking about the below-the-knee amputations, through-foot amputations, taking fingers, toes, taking off hands, ears, that sort of thing,” said Dr. Ryan Fey, of the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Keeping homes, schools and businesses warm in these extremes puts boilers and furnaces in overdrive. CenterPoint Energy is running at 90 percent of capacity.

“We have seen the highest demand with the onset of January that we’ve ever had in our history,” said Rebecca Virden, of CenterPoint Energy.

When the daily high temperature for Jan. 6 was a bone-chilling 12-below, CenterPoint hit an all-time record in natural gas consumption.

“It’s been colder than normal, actually 21 percent colder from November through today, over last year,” Virden said.

Fortunately, gas prices are not much higher than during the 2012-13 heating season.

Still, people on fixed incomes and especially people living in poverty have a tough time paying their heating bills.

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