What To Expect When You’re Expecting…A Polar Vortex

Like any good science journalist, I did some research for this blog which mostly included checking in with the good folks at The Department Of Large Rotating Masses of Frigid Air. They named it that, hoping that most of the people who wanted to know what a Polar Vortex was wouldn’t actually bother calling in because they would figure it out from the name and save themselves some trouble. That strategy didn’t always work:

“Hello, you are reaching on the Department of Large Rotating Masses Frigid Air. Should I be giving you the assistance?”

“Ummmm, yes. Can you tell me what a Polar Vortex is please?”

Yes! Very excellent! Polar Vortex is great name for rock band. Also is name for large rotating mass of frigid airs. Like toilet in sky, above Poles, but flushing air not water.

“Above Poland you mean?”

“No. Above Poles of Earth planet. The Vortex sometimes move down from North Pole or up from South Pole. People blame Trump. Vortex maybe stay put lots of months. This time maybe until 2020 US Presidential election. Or longer. Cause very cold weather: worse than Newfoundland or maybe even Siberia. Or Minnesota. Nobody in Winnipeg notice this. Maybe even cause Fifth Ice Age. Nobody know for sure. Also sometimes vortex is breaking in two pieces.”

“What happens then?”

“Nothing. Except maybe Climate Divorce lawyers make lots money.”

“Hmmmm. Well…Thank you… I guess.”

” Нет проблем .”

As I mentioned, the Vortexes come in a matched set, but you never hear much about the South Polar Vortex these days, or any other days for that matter. This is because the South Polar Vortex (SPV) stays put above Antarctica. Here’s why:

The nearest city, Ushuaia, is 700 miles away, at the bottom of Argentina, but there’s not a lot going on north of Ushuaia for another 1000 miles or so. And it’s a bit of a sea kayak trip from Antarctica to anywhere else: there’s at least three or four thousand miles of ocean to cross to get to either Australia or South Africa.

Australia is overrun with kangaroos these days and the people in South Africa are currently focused on Maye Musk CoverGirl commercials.

And if I missed anybody close to the South Pole they are probably too busy to care about massive atmospheric phenomena because they’re still obsessively watching Bradley Cooper and Stephani Germanotta sing “The Shallow” and posting comments like: “We’re talking about Rocket Raccoon and Lady Gaga here.”

Gagga and Cooper singing

My point is that it’s just not worth the South Polar Vortexe’s time to go walkabout, so it just stays put and sulks.

On the other hand, when the North Polar Vortex misbehaves-as it’s doing right now- half the population of the United States rush out in panic to buy new shovels, long underwear, cases of bottled water, Cuban Lunches, flamethrowers and copies of We Who Survived The Fifth Ice Age.

what happens if it starts snowing and doesn't stop?

The other half of the American population remain calm and find something else to do, such as decide to let their name stand for the 2020 US Presidential Election. NASA is even reporting that they have been receiving deep-space transmissions from alien beings inquiring about the possibility of emigrating to the United States in order to run for President. Trump is apparently talking about building a wall around the Earth to prevent this from happening.

I mentioned sea kayaking earlier. Speaking frankly here, there was a time when you wouldn’t catch me dead in a sea kayak anywhere in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. The Southern Ocean is infested with leopard seals and I was laboring under the misapprehension that they are voracious man-eating predators-on par with Great White Sharks and Komodo Dragons.

I was wrong. Turns out they’re inquisitive, friendly, rather large- OK, OK- huge sea mammals who just happen to look like terrifying prehistoric aquatic reptiles. For the most part, the leopard seals still haven’t figured out that humans are good to eat.

Yes, they will try to eat your camera, if you happen to be an underwater photographer, but so what? They will also try to teach you how to eat penguins if you hang around them long enough. It’s true. I swear on Jacques Cousteau’s favorite regulator that I’m not making this up.

Jacque Cousteau's favorite regulator
Jacques Cousteau, age 187, showing off his favorite regulator

Fearless wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen had this epic experience with a large female leopard seal:

“She started to bring me weak penguins, then dead penguins, then she showed me how to eat penguins. She would offer me partially consumed penguins.
She started to take penguins and actually push them into my camera. I think she thought the camera was my mouth, which is every photographer’s dream. This went on for four days. And then I think she realized that I was this useless predator in her ocean, probably going to starve to death and I think she became quite panicked… So, here I came to Antarctica, to photograph this potentially vicious animal, to have this predator, this top predator in Antarctica, take care of me, and nurture me, and feed me for four days straight.”

I don’t think that every photographer dreams that his or her camera is his or her mouth. I must have misread that sentence. I think Mr. Nicklen meant that every photographer dreams of discovering that animals which look like they could eat your head in one gulp actually just want to feed you penguins. Repeatedly.

Anyway, all that aside, I think that the penguin below is thinking to itself: “Why in the heck did I ever listen to Mom and Dad? I never wanted to be a dentist in the first place. I wanted to be a tap dancer.”

penguin inspecting mouth of leopard seal
Leopard seal patiently enduring annual dental exam

Sorry, I seem to have gotten a little off track here. We were talking about what people rush out to buy during a Polar Vortex shift and I mentioned Cuban Lunches. I know you’re still wondering about that.

The Cuban Lunch is a delicious, calorie-dense chocolate-and-peanut ingot which was invented in Winnipeg almost 100 years ago, and was manufactured and sold in Canada for decades. It became endangered in the 1990’s and was hunted to extinction around the year 2000 but was brought back to life just before Christmas 2018 by a woman named Crystal Regehr-Westergard who found one of the original Cuban Lunches encased in frozen maple syrup while walking her dog in a dense forest. Crystal managed to extract a small sample from it (the frozen Cuban Lunch), and recreated it as a treat for her elderly mother using advance culinary techniques including messing around in her kitchen a lot.

Crystal didn’t stop there, but went on to buy the trademark, find a factory willing to start making the iconic treats once more and start distributing them throughout Western Canada. She is now reputedly also working on a way to recreate the famous Mammoth Burger offered by A&W back in 1650 BCE, on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia.

I swear on Mme “First, spray everything with PAM” Jehane Benoit’s eyewear that I’m not making up more than 79% of what I just told you about Cuban Lunches .

jehane benoit
Mme Jehane Benoit-coauthor of We Who Survived The Fifth Ice Age- and recipient of the Order of Canada for the invention of PAM cooking spray in 1959

Here is a picture of Crystal presenting her Mom with one of the no-longer-extinct Cuban Lunches, and to the left is a box of them in their natural state at the Safeway just a few blocks from my house.

I may keep a couple of thousand boxes of these on hand (twenty to a box) just in case it keeps snowing. You never know. The Fifth Ice Age could be just around the corner.

Those extra calories might come in handy.

Author:

Dave Barry fan and Medical Director at Rocky Mountain Analytical