Last week, one of Covington Travel's clients wanted badly to get out of the tundra that the Midwest has become.
So one of Margaret Klingenberger's employees found him a trip to Florida and got him on a plane. This week, he was back and hoping to get to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and will be leaving this weekend.
Klingenberger's company sent another off to a Sandals Resort this week as well. It has been just about every day someone comes into her offices looking to escape the cold.
What she's seeing in her business is a common phenomenon over the past few weeks as much of the Midwest has trudged along through an epic winter not seen in decades.
All over the Midwest and the East Coast, travel agents are being inundated with a simple request: Get me out of here. And travelers fortunate enough to have escaped are begging hotels to let them stay a little longer.
Because they know how miserable people are, warm-weather destinations in California, Arizona and Florida have stepped up their enticements. Trains and billboards in Chicago have been plastered with ads showing beaches and pool scenes. In Philadelphia, one promoter put fiberglass mannequins dressed in flip flops, tank tops and shorts atop taxis with their arms outstretched – a whimsical inducement to "fly" south.
Reminding Americans that there are places where nose hairs don't freeze is an annual tradition. But those in the business of luring visitors to warmer climates say it's rarely been easier than this season, when "polar vortex" has entered the everyday vocabulary and "Chi-beria" has become popular enough to emblazon on T-shirts.
"This year we wanted to have a little more fun with it," said Susannah Costello, of Visit Florida, the state's official marketing organization, which came up with the mannequin idea.
The ads showing children and bikini-clad women making snow angels in warm beach sand are more plentiful than in years past, acknowledged Erin Duggan, of Visit Sarasota County.
"We did that because we knew winter was shaping up to be brutal," she said.
Locally, Klingenberger has seen an uptick in the number of pitches coming to her from businesses in the hemisphere's warmer locales.
"Everybody is trying to make a dollar," she said. "If they have a nice hotel and have some space, we'll get an email from them."
The trick has been finding open seats on airplanes, as air travel has also been affected by the weather.
"The big thing is that we have to get the air to get them out of here," she said. "These are places they can't really drive unless they have the time."
Kevin Tuttle, of Verona, Wis., was so intent on finding warmth that he decided against Florida out of fear that the polar vortex might reach down and find his family there. Instead, he and his wife will take their 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to Manzanillo, Mexico, a resort on the Pacific Ocean.
"That's near the equator, right? It's got to be pretty warm," Tuttle said, adding that "a lot of sand castles are in my future."
Just how many more people are trying to get out of the ice box is unclear. Airlines do not release any route-specific data. And although the government tracks some of it, figures will not be released for six months.
But other travel statistics suggest there has been a jump. The jetsetter.com travel site found that the number of hotel bookings in warm-weather spots made by customers from Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and the Washington, D.C., area rose 7 percent in January compared with last year.
Visit Florida says hotel bookings in the state rose 3 percent in the four weeks ending Feb. 15 compared with the same period last year. And the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that RV parks from Florida to Arizona report are packed, with one Arizona park expecting a 6 percent increase in revenue over last year.
Travelers are also staying longer once they arrive.
Micah Hilgendorf said the thought of heading back to ice-covered Chicago, where he owns a couple of bars, prompted him to tack on three days in Florida before and after a cruise out of Miami. He also flew to Palm Springs, Calif., for four days.
"All of that is last-minute because of the weather," Hilgendorf said.
Even though it seems impossible to contemplate, with another winter storm bearing down on the region, travel agents are also trying to juggle spring break trips amid the spontaneous escapes.
"Everything is very, very tight because that has been booked for months," Klingenberger said. "Keep your fingers crossed for the weather."
It's not looking good.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.