Wow, it’s been cold this week, eh?
(Trigger the snickers from all you non-Canadians out there… yes, I just said “eh” and if you’re going to poke fun, please take note of the proper use of the term “eh”)
This week’s “Polar Vortex” got me thinking about how the media manages to sensationalize so much of the news. A bit of cold weather, while I’m sure shocking for people who live in places that are generally always warm, is not the apocalyptic scenario that the term “Polar Vortex” suggests it to be. I understand that it is a legitimate meteorological term, but it just feels custom designed for maximum news impact.
Where I’m from, we are used to a few weeks in January and February that hit -40 Celsius weather with the wind chill; in fact, we count on it. Here in Ottawa, if we don’t have a good few weeks of really cold weather, everyone starts fretting that the Rideau Canal skateway won’t open in time for our winter festival in February. The condition of the Canal starts every news broadcast. As February creeps closer, the worrying reaches almost a fever pitch and we monitor how many metres of the rink have been declared safe for skating and the latest ice thickness measurements. There is a collective sigh of relief each year when the blasted thing actually officially opens, and we pack ourselves onto it for a month or so of skating around in ridiculously cold temperatures bundled up like arctic explorers. Then the second it closes, we’re anxiously watching the weather network for news of spring’s arrival.
(The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the world’s longest outdoor skate rink at 7.8 km long, or almost 5 miles. Our winter festival is very aptly named Winterlude, and it’s actually pretty cool (har-har). After a day of skating and sledding and admiring some pretty kick-ass ice sculptures, you can get the most delicious hot pastries drizzled with sugar called Beaver Tails — oh, those saucy Canadians!)
But I digress. What I’m trying to say is, in some spots it’s fairly normal to have weather this cold. But of course the unique thing about the weather in, well, pretty much all of North America this past week is that even places which don’t normally get cold weather have had really frick’n cold weather.
In fact the weather has been so cold that I heard on the news this morning that in Indianapolis it is illegal to drive your car. Um, what? Yes, that is actually correct – the ‘travel emergency level’ in Indianapolis is currently “Red”, making it illegal for non-emergency vehicles to be on the roads.
Now I’m not in Indy (Go Colts!), so I can’t say how bad the conditions there actually are right now, but I got a bit of a chuckle out of this news story. Sorry boss, it’s against the law for me to come to work today! But then it started to get ridiculous.
I was interested in just how cold the ‘brutal’, ‘frigid’ polar vortex could be, so I did the briefest of Google searches and found a helpful article on CNN.com which reported that temps were so cold in Atlanta that one girl commented “My shoes do not even match my outfit this morning! Had to go fuzzy socks and hiking boots for warmth.”
The article went on to report that it was a (slightly chilly) -9 in Iowa, and CNN’s reporter was urging people to stay indoors. One Weatherfield, Texas mother bemoaned that it was difficult to watch her children go to school in the cold snap, when the temperature fell just below zero. The humans apparently decided it was even too cold for the polar bear at the Chicago Zoo (don’t even get me started on this one!).
Ah, perspective. One city’s disappointingly warm winter weather is another’s frigid, fashion-killing cold. The real story of course is the risk to the elderly, disabled and poor who are least likely to be capable of coping in abnormally cold temperatures, even in places which often have very cold winters. While the Polar Vortex stories touched on this, there was so much sensationalizing going on that the serious bits seemed to get lost in the shuffle (case in point – the story opened with the bit about the polar bear at the zoo).
But isn’t that true of so much of our media in general? A few days ago, CNN gleefully reported that a plane crashed at an airport in Aspen, Colorado and there were celebrities watching. Yes, part of that news headline referred to the fact that famous people were there to witness a plane crash – as if this somehow makes it more newsworthy than if just us average folks witnessed a large airborne vehicle crash to the ground before our eyes, killing one and injuring two more.
Is it just me, or is something a bit crazy happening? It doesn’t matter if it’s us up in Ottawa glued to reports about skating rink ice thickness, Indianapolis politicians shutting the city down (maybe they were just all still celebrating the Colts victory on Saturday?) or celebrities in Aspen engaging in that amazing feat we call vision.
I realize that the current weather phenomenon is legitimately termed a ‘Polar Vortex’, but doesn’t that seem to just be a perfectly crafted title for a Breaking News headline? The term ‘vortex’ conjures up images of this mighty, swirling, life-sucking black hole; it’s kind of like a few years ago when Los Angeles media was endlessly reporting on Car-maggedon. A traffic jam caused by construction on a major highway in L.A. – or, the end of life as we know it. Pretty much equal, really.
Maybe we should just drop the pretense and go balls out sensational – forget the Great Polar Vortex of 2014, we’re living through a polar apocalypse here, people. Batten down the hatches, stock up on Beaver Tails, bring your polar bears inside; it’s Canada-style cold out there.