The Polar Vortex, and other reasons to blame Canada

With this winter showing no inclinations of ending anytime soon, I think we can add “polar vortex” to the category of “Phrases We Could Have Lived Without.”

Before meteorologists sprang “polar vortex” on us, winters were simply “cold” or “[expletive] cold.” With “polar vortex,” now we have something to blame this cold on, using a phrase that sounds like it should be preceded by “Indiana Jones And The…” Of course, knowing what it’s called doesn’t make it any less [expletive] cold.

Humans love to name things. Naming something makes it real. In 2012, the Weather Channel began naming winter storms. Now you hear about Winter Storm Wanda or Winter Storm Billy-Bob, whereas in the past the same storm would have been known simply as “snow day.” When you name a storm, it makes it more dramatic, it personalizes the storm, it creates a villain out of precipitation. It’s the difference between saying, “I was cornered in the bar by a large, erratic stranger,” and “I was cornered in the bar by Rob Ford.” See how much scarier that is?

Words ending in X also sound more sinister. “Polar vortex” = drama, danger. “Polar swirly” = a refreshing ice cream treat.

But the fact that we never heard of “polar vortex” prior to this winter makes me suspect that it’s something meteorologists made up, probably because they needed to distract all those people who were starting to see through the weak science of “wind chill.” If there’s one thing meteorologists care about, it’s credibility.

The phrase “polar vortex” seems especially designed to appeal to Americans in traditionally warm regions in order to explain why their winter has been so cold and snowy, and “polar vortex” is so much less cumbersome than “Congrats on screwing up the climate, idiots!” The phrase has been slower to catch on in Canada because what everyone else refers to as “polar vortex,” Canadians refer to as “long-john season.”

Alas, “It’s the polar vortex” has quickly become something that people with no expertise throw out every time the thermometer drops below freezing, something to add to their arsenal of winter-weather small talk, along with “So much for global warming,” and “I’m freezing my arsenal off,” and “I dare you to touch your tongue to it.” The incessant use of “polar vortex” is one more reason to want this winter to end.

To mix it up, then, and since we’re essentially making up weather terms at this point, here are a few more meteorological scapegoats you can add to your long-range conversational forecast:

  • Canuck Ripple: Like the polar vortex, this too travels from Canada down into the United States but instead of cold it brings super-tolerable shirt-sleeve temperatures. It’s really, really nice and it never overstays its welcome. Oh, were you expecting rain? Geez, sorry about that. Also known as a “no pressure system.”
  • I see Socrates and Aristotle... doin' it.

    I see Socrates and Aristotle… doin’ it.

    Plutarch Nimbus: A rare occurrence in which all the clouds look like busts of Greek philosophers. It really gives you something to think about.

  • Circumferential pressure: The overwhelming need to loosen your belt a notch due to being cooped up all winter eating raw cookie dough and Cool Ranch Doritos. Also known as “El Muncho.”
  • Deus Vector: Unlike a polar vortex, which sweeps over regions, a deus vector goes out of its way to completely nail the shit out of a specific city. See also “Sodom and Gomorrah.”
  • Air Guitar: A phenomenon whereby wind becomes so severe in urban areas that the tall buildings begin to resonate, resulting in a high-pitched, painful squeal that sounds like the middle section of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Or any section, really.
  • Hail Pattern Baldness: Just too painful to describe at this juncture.
  • Toaster Strudel: This is what happens when a mass of warm air comes swirling up from the U.S. into Canada, the difference being we don’t complain about it.
  • The White Stuff: A trite, overused euphemism for “snow.” Stop saying this, everyone. Right now.
  • Gore-Tex Cortex Index: A syndrome whereby one becomes so obsessed with the weather and, specifically, keeping warm that one can’t think about anything else. Or write about anything else, apparently.
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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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42 Responses to The Polar Vortex, and other reasons to blame Canada

  1. colemining says:

    Love all of these. Especially the ‘Gore-Tex Cortex Index’. You can never have enough x’s, imho. Less appreciative of the ‘cornered in the bar by RoFo’, image though. Speaks to a deep-seated fear of the Idiot Spiral I’ve had lo, these past 3 1/2 years.

  2. pjoy93 says:

    Kinda makes you miss the La Niña season, and that ol’ Arctic dipole anomaly, doesn’t it?

  3. Nic says:

    “Words ending in X also sound more sinister. “Polar vortex” = drama, danger. “Polar swirly” = a refreshing ice cream treat.” IT’S SO TRUE. This is why I could never date a Max. Or a Dex. Or a Dax, for that matter.

  4. You are hilarious, Rosemary… I wish we had some polar vortex – we’ve got summer convex.

  5. Paul says:

    Ahhh, the infamous “Air Guitar” – so little celebrated and yet so amusing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XggxeuFDaDU . I actually experienced a Deus Vector in Moncton one year – over 100 cms of snow in a few days. They had to stop winging back snow on residential streets because they kept hitting the roofs of abandoned cars buried in the snow banks. Moncton had an unusually large number of convertibles that year. As a long-haul trucker, I once spent a week stranded in Doyles Nfld during a monstrous storm that dumped over 200 cms of snow – thankfully, both the liquor store and the restaurant were open! Ha! Ahhh, the vagarities of weather and the beauty of long johns! Great post Ross! X-actly on topic.

  6. Ned's Blog says:

    Here in the Northwest, where it rarely gets below 40 degrees in the winter, we have come to call this annual weather phenomena “Canadian Summer.”

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Canadian summers are superb, so don’t knock it. Reminds me though of the Nova Scotia’s license plate, which reads “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” As a native Nova Scotian, I always thought they should read “Canada’s Ocean eeeEEYAAAAAJESUS!!!”

      • Ned's Blog says:

        Admittedly, I spent part of a summer in Victoria, B.C. (And no, not Before Christ) and it was pretty nice. I also went to Nova Scotia the following summer, where a helpful French-speaking waiter suggested we “tok a sweem.” He also suggested we “tok a hike,” which I thought was another helpful suggestion. I was wrong in both cases.

  7. But “polar vortex” sounds so sinister, so evil, so out of our control that it makes us all feel like helpless victims, which is exactly what we are. Thanks, Canada. With friend like you, etc. I noticed that the whole storm-naming convention hasn’t caught on with the public at large. I’m glad. Screw you, wx channel. Stop trying to be fancy.

  8. All of these sound like names of characters from Hunger Games or Harry Potter…that’s the first thought that came to my mind. NERD ALERT.

  9. List of X says:

    Or we can refer to the Polar Vortex as Russian Winter Invasion. It’s funny, Russian weather invades continental US and Canada and everyone is just goes “waaah, it’s cold”, then Russian army invades Ukraine, and everyone is suddenly “punish” this and “sanction” that…

    P.S. Did you think I was going to comment about the X? Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t, and if that happens, it will be when you least expect it… Mwahahahahaha!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      There’s a “cold war” joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that to you and the famous Russian sense of humour.

      • List of X says:

        There must be a Cold war joke here, but I instead share a joke that’s been going around in Russia recently:
        “Russian winter helped defend Russia from Hitler and Napoleon before. This year, it went and attacked America on its own.”

  10. benzeknees says:

    Personally, I like the Polar Vortex name – I’m getting pretty tired of being blamed for the Alberta Clipper! Or Canada being blamed as a country for sending our cold weather south! At least, with polar vortex, nobody is blaming us!

  11. mollytopia says:

    “Polar vortex” is so much less cumbersome than “Congrats on screwing up the climate, idiots!” Hahaha awesome! Everything in this post is accurate and should be recorded as law today.

  12. Letizia says:

    Another word I learned this winter was ‘squall’. I had to look that one up after reading it in the newspaper.

  13. ksbeth says:

    i thought it all had to do with the snow miser and his weather machine.

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