Over the last day or so I have been reading references to a ‘polar vortex’. Some cursory research brought me this definition.
An Arctic air mass known as a "polar vortex" has descended over much of Canada and the eastern and mid-west U.S., causing temperatures to plunge, nearing -50 C with the wind chill in some regions. A polar vortex is a large, frigid air mass located near the Earth's geographical poles. The vortex is continually circulating a pool of cold air in a counter-clockwise direction. As the air is being circulated in place, it grows colder and denser.While it's normal for the some of the vortex's frigid air to leach southward during the winter, this year has proved to be exceptional. Dan Riddle, senior meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service, said historical records indicate that outbreaks of unusually cold weather have occurred in U.S. in the past, with a frequency of about one every 20 years. (Précised from CTV.)
While we are getting some stiff winds and very cold nights, the weather described as the result of this ‘vortex’ is not unusual in eastern Ontario where I live. Our weather varies between the ‘Arctic air mass’ temperatures in the minus twenties and colder Celsius (Fahrenheit zero and below essentially) and temperatures just below freezing, with the most common weather being somewhere in between.
Today is cold, sunny and, this morning, -16ºC (2.3ºF). If you are walking outside facing into the wind, your eyes tear up, but if you are ‘dressed for it’ that is about the worst that happens to you. Around here the dress code includes long underwear top and bottom, jeans, sweater with a vest over it, preferably quilted, and to go outside adding a quilted coat, heavy socks and boots with liners, thick lined gloves and a tuque or cap with ear flaps.
Today is a good snowshoeing day because you can get into the woods and out of the worst of the wind. If you are skiing, you watch your companions for patches of frostbite. Your fingers, toes and nose will get cold first and your nose will, I assure you, run like a tap. The birds at our feeders are fluffed up into round feathery balls but are flitting around quite happily. Airplanes do not do as well and I understand flights at Pearson International are mostly still grounded.
So are the deer as we now have over a foot of snow down, with two layers of crust in it and the slender legs of the deer do not cope well in these conditions. The poor things will now do what is called ‘yarding up’; that is, congregate in an area with feed and trample paths through it. The neighbourhood turkeys, however, can run on top of the latest crust and are excavating the last grain of corn from the deer feeding station at this moment.
Every once in a while I run across an exhortation to embrace winter, to ‘relax and enjoy it’. Note that I am not advocating this. Winter in the city is a dirty, sludgy, miserable mess full of salt-encrusted boots, biting wind howling down highrise corridors and crazed, skidding cars. What it is in the country, however, is beautiful. Even on a gray, shadowless day with the wind whipping shredded clouds overhead, there is interest and beauty. On a sunny day even the deadly ice is so wonderful to see that it can bring tears to my eyes. And I have plenty of logs to pile onto the fire.