It arrived sometime early Saturday morning. Totally uninvited and certainly unwelcome, it bullied its way into the north east of North America and made it clear it will spend the weekend. I don’t mean an annoying relative, I’m referring to the phenomenon known as the Polar Vortex. So far we have been spared our usual winter conditions thanks to El Niňo, but one of the prices to be paid for a mild December and January is the occasional touch of extreme cold.
As I write this I can hear the wind howling down my street, a street lacking the usual Sunday morning pedestrian traffic. The man on the radio told me that the temperature is -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit) . That’s pretty nippy, but nothing compared to the -37C (-34.6 F) degrees that is felt when the wind blows. One report yesterday stated that the windchill may hit – 50C (-58 F) before our guest departs.
If you are in the affected area you are only too aware of the sensation of extreme cold. But for those who are more familiar with prickly heat than frostbite, let me explain. The snow that was on the ground when the temperature dropped took on a styrofoam-like consistently, including the squeaky sound when it is walked or driven on. Driving became even trickier as road salt is not effective at these temperatures, and the glare of the sun low in the sky is nothing short of blinding.
Speaking of the sun, one of the cruelest characteristics of a good old cold snap is the beautiful clear blue sky. In July that same sky would be inviting, but don’t be fooled by the fluffy white clouds out there today, it’s just a ruse to get you to go outside.
I got into my car yesterday and it was like sitting on a park bench; everything was frozen. On went the seat warmer, a feature that seems dumb in August, but is oh so grand in February, rear window defroster, heater at the highest level and windshield defogger. I remembered not to give in to the temptation to spritz the windshield; like road salt, that blue or yellow liquid is useless in these temperatures until the car and windshield warm up.
I waited a moment or two then, with gloves on as the steering wheel was way too cold to handle without, I pulled out. Of course after several hours parked in the cold the tires had gone square. Well, not exactly square, but the bottom of the tire, having supported the weight of the car, has been pressed flat and frozen. As the wheels turn this works its way out, but those first few blocks make you wonder if all four tires have deflated.
The grocery store I was headed for is about a six minute drive. It took another few minutes to be directed to a parking spot by the guy doing a most unenviable job, that of organizing the lot. I think he had on every item of clothing he owns, perhaps saving him from frostbite, but putting him at risk should he fall as I’m sure he’d never be able to get up. I parked and turn off the car. For some reason, habit I assume, I always put the key in my mouth while I undo the seatbelt. Yesterday when I did that I was immediately reminded of the extreme cold as, even after a drive and wait, the key started to adhere to my tongue! Fortunately I was able to remove the key before it ripped off my taste buds.
But all of this hardship gives us a greater appreciation of the summer when a one-hundred degree difference can be felt during a humid hot spell.