The Big Chill

 Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:00 pm

By Debbie Baldwin

It’s warming up. Yes, I’ve lived in this town long enough to know not to declare with any certainty the rough part is over, but still, it is March. Even if this little heatwave is just a temporary reprieve from what no one can argue has been a brutal winter, it gives a temperate moment of reflection to thoughtfully ponder what the hell went on for the last three months. I mean, if one more person posted a screen shot of a -18 degree day…We heard the explanation dozens of times: The polar vortex.

At first, I thought it was one of those made-up weather words like tornadic, but it turns out the polar vortex is an actual thing. And no, it’s not the name of Jor-El’s fortress of solitude or a new North Face jacket. It’s a weather phenomenon. It’s also what my husband calls our bedroom after his syndicate poker night, but I digress. The polar vortex, according to Wikipedia, is a “persistent, large-scale cyclone, located near either of a planet’s geographical poles.” It can last for more than a month, and I’m guessing you already know what it brings.

Apparently, the polar vortex also brings a terminology shift. It’s hard to sell people on the idea of global warming after a winter out of a Dostoyevsky novel. So now, it’s global climate change; and the polar vortex is both a causeand a symptom. I’m not discounting climate issues but changing the moniker to that catch-all really takes the wind out of the sails: possibly due to climate change, but there’s no way to be sure.

So, back to the polar vortex: It’s a whirling, swirling expansive air mass that every 20 years or so swoops down from the Arctic (or swoops up from the Antarctic), and blasts bone-chilling cold across several hundred miles at a stretch. The polar vortex can be responsible for ozone depletion, sub-zero temperatures, brutal wind-chill factors, depression, weight gain, over-sleeping, road rage, an increase in chili production and a subsequent baby boom.

So whatever the Polar Vortex was, it appears to have dissipated. I picture the thing swirling violently into a cave that instantly seals shut–Bam! Then silence…and perhaps a bird chirping. Slowly people emerge from their homes, stretching in the sun and seizing the 40-degree day. Who knows? My next weather column may be titled, The Long Hot Summer; but for now, at least it’s not frigid, we can bask in the brisk.