Riding out the polar vortex

Riding out the polar vortex

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Photo: AP
All over the US, people are dealing with record-breaking low temperatures that are so cold, flight delays, school cancellations, and even deaths have been attributed to the freezing weather.

This is due to what meteorologists call the “polar vortex”, a jet stream of extremely cold air that forms and swirls around the Arctic during winter months. Normally, this vortex’s speed makes the cold air stay in a concentrated area around the Arctic, and as it swirls the air gets increasingly colder. But this year, this jet stream is slowing and the cold has spread beyond its normal boundaries and is bringing freezing air further south; much further south than usual.

It’s so cold in parts of America right now, much of the country is staying in to stay warm, and it’s up to the weather-people to keep people informed and urge them to be cautious of the weather.

So, what is it like to be the voice of this polar vortex, bringing information and updates to an entire country?

For John Wheeler in Fargo, North Dakota, it means putting things in perspective. "Fargo has been significantly colder than the North Pole for the past few days," said Wheeler, who is the chief meteorologist at WDAY, the station connected to ABC in North Dakota’s largest city.

In some states temperatures are so far below 0 degrees Celsius that ice is building up the shore. Although the weather remains freezing cold, these weathermen stay dedicated to cheering people up about the next few days.

"I like to get nostalgic," Wheeler said. "I’ll point out other cold snaps that were historically worse; weather memories are something that create (a sense of) community." "I like to use humour," Zeigler said. "I’ll always say we’re going to do something out of the ordinary. Like, ’Oh, it’s 30 degrees outside? Let’s go swimming!’ For us Northlanders, we just have to joke."

Clark, who is from South Carolina where it tends to be warmer, emphasises that you do need a certain amount of seriousness. The weather is bad enough that people are getting hurt, and it remains dangerous. But there is still room for appropriate fun, because extreme temperatures are exciting — not that these weather professionals would wish snow and sleet on anyone.

"(It’s like being a) doctor," Wheeler said. "You’d have to be a little (unusual to want people to be ill,) but the people that do basic doctoring must get a thrill (from unusual cases because it’s professionally challenging.) So that’s why I like things like this. It’s a big learning experience."


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