Polar Vortex

I did just write an entry confessing to be obsessed with the weather.  The weather phenomenon that prompted the epiphany that I was taking an abnormal interest in weather forecasts was this: the polar vortex.

I had never heard the phrase polar vortex before but suddenly it was appearing in newscasts and on my weather app so it was clearly something I had to pay attention to.  It transpires that it is the label given to an Arctic cyclone and this particular Arctic cyclone had, as a result of the jet stream, shifted enough to create a severe cold front in parts of Canada and America, including Pennsylvania.  As I type this, we are in the middle of it.

We have been lucky to not have the temperature drop anywhere near as far as it has in other affected states but blooming heck it’s still bitterly cold.  Seriously sub-zero.  We had a power cut yesterday morning that had me a bit worried but power was restored after a few hours which was pretty impressive given the scale of the outage and the weather conditions.  Our house, therefore, has remained a cosy haven.  I have had cause to comment before that it is perishing outside or brass monkeys or a whole range of other phrases to describe a low temperature but I have never, ever experienced cold like this.  Words are going to fail me.  Which is a bit rubbish for a blog but never mind.

The wind last night was ferocious.  The house rattled and thrummed as it was battered and bashed by gales, wind whistled through any small gap it could find, a proper banshee whistle.  The howling and growling was the loudest I have ever heard.  I am not a good sleeper at the best of times but, between the noise levels and my paranoid checking of the trampoline, I barely slept a wink last night.  We live next door to the boys’ Elementary School so the whole round trip to drop them off took just five minutes but within that short space of time I had developed snotsicles.  It’s not dignified nor is it feminine but the fact remains that moisture in my nostrils had turned to ice.  That’s a first experience worth noting for posterity, don’t you think?  The walk to take my youngest to preschool is just a little longer but this morning it involved facing into the wind.  My lungs felt like they were struggling to inflate every time I gulped another breath of sharp, icy air and my cheeks were stinging and felt oddly flushed.  I understood why there were warnings about frostbite from lengthy exposure to these temperatures, especially further north.  The smallest Pict started wailing on the walk back home because his cheeks hurt so much from being battered by the frigid air.  I was wearing at least four layers but the little bits of me that were exposed to the elements were pained.  And I got frost on my spectacles, pretty ferns and fronds of ice creeping across the glass lenses.  Beautiful, yes, but not very handy when trying to cross the road.

But for us, of course, this is a short-term thing and not something that occurs often.  For us this is just a phenomenon, something we have to endure for a very brief period. Experiencing just a little of this fierce, biting cold, however, makes me thankful I don’t live in colder climes and makes me appreciate the fact we have shelter from the elements in terms of adequate clothing, a warm house and hot food to eat.  Not everyone in the world has such basic sources of comfort.  Not everyone in this country does.

So this is my first experience of a polar vortex; I am OK with it being my last.


According to national stereotyping, British people are supposedly obsessed with the weather.  I confess that to be true by and large.  It’s a rare conversation that doesn’t involve some mention of the weather.  There are even people who claim they can predict the weather using their bunions and bladders.  It’s an island thing I’m sure, borne out of earlier generations needing to know exactly what gust of wind was going to do what when.

However, as much as I was part of that British cultural phenomenon of talking about the weather even to random strangers, I was never as obsessive about the weather as I have become in the two and a half months I have lived in America.  Not only do I now own a smartphone (a marvel for me in itself since I had the equivalent of a neanderthal mobile phone in Scotland) but I have weather apps on it.  Yes, apps plural.  Before October, I had heard of apps, got the concept but had never been near one.  Almost the first thing I did when I had a smartphone in my mitts was download weather apps.  I felt I needed more than one for verification purposes.  That was the first sign that the obsession was taking hold.

My husband always talked about how, growing up in the Washington DC metro area, he and his brother would watch the Weather Channel.  I always scoffed at this, judging it to be a lame use of time in the “paint drying” vein.  My husband also likes to watch the map on flights, even when the little plane symbol is just slowly moving pixel by pixel across the ocean.  I thought watching the weather channel was akin to that.  But lo and behold I now have the weather channel app on my phone and I have found myself watching (just a couple of times mind) the actual channel.  The obsession was taking root.

I think it is symptomatic of having moved here as Winter was coming (Mr Pict would say that in a Ned Stark voice) but I find myself checking for updates on the temperature and predicted precipitation and whether said precipitation will be in the form of rain or snow.  We have also had a rash of weather warnings in the past few weeks linked to the snow fall, some freezing rain and, today, a warning of severe wind chills for the coming days.  All those potential little “red alerts” just feed the growing obsession.

What the boys are obsessed about, of course, is snow days.  They just want to know if the weather is going to be so bad that they get to stay tucked up cosy in bed past their usual “rise and shine” time and stay home playing instead of going to school.  I have to admit to quite liking their snow days myself at the moment but perhaps that novelty will wear off.  I prefer the snow days that are called the evening before rather than receiving a trio of phone calls (each of our cell phones plus the landline) at 4.30 in the morning.

I wonder if there is an app for overcoming Weather Addiction….


I just can’t get a handle on the climate here: last week it was so cold and the wind chill so bitter that ice crystals formed in our lungs, the kids had a delayed start and a snow day and we had a thick layer of snow that has still not thawed; today, just a few days before Christmas, I went walking wearing just a hoodie and gilet yet I felt perfectly warm.

I can’t get a handle on the climate here – but I like it!


Today it is raining and the sky is grey.  

If I still lived in Scotland, this would not be worth noting.  Yes, British people are obsessed with the weather, it’s true.  We live on an island in the middle of a blustery ocean so it is in our cultural DNA to be acutely attuned to the weather.  Even so, in Scotland in November some standard rainfall and a dull grey sky would not be worth conversing about.  It’s notable here because this is my first murky, rainy day since I arrived in America three weeks ago.

Last weekend, I was so warm that I felt a bit too toasty just wearing one layer.  On a daily basis here I am just wearing two layers.  In November.  Back in Scotland, by now I would be wearing at least three layers and possibly even thermal leggings underneath my jeans plus hat, scarf and gloves.  I would be trundling back and forwards on the school run (a half hour walk each way) with my face being battered by the wind, ice crystals forming in my lungs with every gulp of breath and an ice cream headache caused by freezing, lashing rain.

Suffice to say, I am not missing the late Autumn-Winter weather in Scotland.  We lived on the West Coast of Scotland and I found the winters there to be hard.  The light levels move from pitch black to grey murk to dusk and back to pitch black again; it rain relentlessly; any snow that falls melts into grubby slush and then into a hard layer of ice that makes walking precarious; did I mention it rains relentlessly already?  Biblical deluges.

So even though it is definitely chillier today and I could do with popping a cardigan on and even though the warm glow of the Autumn light has been replaced by a steely winter sky for today and even though it is actually raining during the day for the first time since my arrival, I can’t resent it because I know I could be experiencing far worse right now.

Of course, I’ve yet to experience my first Pennsylvanian Winter….