Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Some New Words for the Vocabulary (or My Not-So-Fond-Memories of the 2014 Polar Vortex)

In November, I wrote about words and how they affect our lives, and how we are always adding new words to our lexicon. We were barely a week into the New Year when we added two words that most of us had never really used together before—polar vortex. Of course we’d heard polar before and usually associated it with cold. Vortex, well that was a word most of us didn’t use in daily conversation, but we soon learned putting the two words together meant we were going through a cold—make that really cold—spell that hadn’t been felt in most of the country for about 20 years. Some folks thought it was an expression made up just for this brutal, bitter, bone-numbing weather we were having, but then meteorologists set us straight by showing us 65 year old textbooks, and there it was, polar vortex, a real weather phenomenon. Who knew? Well we soon did know what it meant, how it felt, and mostly that we didn’t want it to come back again.

I don’t mind cold weather, but this went beyond cold and into I-can’t-stay-out-here-another-minute-pushing-this-blankety-blank-snow-or-I’m-to-die mode. Fortunately, we never lost power but there were many who did, and so I didn’t want to complain. We had plenty of food and didn’t have to go out to work or do anything other than shovel snow for two days. The biggest problem came in letting our two dogs out. Cabin fever set in quickly and of course they felt it necessary to check and see if the weather had changed since the last time (10 minutes ago) they’d been out.  About the middle of the first day, they figured out their paws were going to freeze if they tried to stay out and plowing through snow up to their necks was not all that fun. Apparently they didn’t pass the word on to the cats and the more daring one made a midnight dash out the door (while I was pushing more snow to keep the doorway open) and under the backyard deck. After a few seconds of my pounding on the deck with my snow shovel to convince him this wasn’t time for fun and games and then resorting to going for the bag of cat treats to entice him back inside, Zombie decided himself that this probably wasn’t a good game to play, came scrambling out and was happy to go back into the warm house. I guess turning into a kitty Popsicle didn’t hold any appeal for him.

A few other fond memories of that week: The snow blower blades freezing up and having to drag the space heater into the garage to thaw it out. The sliding door freezing open and then shut. Wearing two pairs of gloves and still having numb fingers within minutes of being outside. Hearing the scientific explanation of polar vortex 30 times a day.

So now that we all know what it means and that it’s real and it’s become part of our vocabulary, we all hope it won’t come back for another visit this winter. But it is 11 degrees today, and I’ve heard it whispered that we might be in for another plunge into the deep freeze next week. At least this time we’ll know what we’re in for and those two words won’t make us wonder what on earth is going on. Of course we’ll still complain, it’s just human nature, and to be honest, I’m not sure I would want to trade places with the folks Down Under who, while we are dealing with the polar vortex, are experiencing 108 degrees. Doesn’t sound fun to me either.