If it’s flooding or frozen, it must be March

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We don’t talk about it, not really, at any rate; for to talk about it would hex us forever.

Oh, sure, we chat discursively around the subject. We say things like, “Oh well, what are you going to do?” and “Geez, we weren’t expecting this” and “Maybe, it isn’t as bad as we think.”

No, it’s not the frightening situation in the Ukraine and the threat of reigniting the Cold War with Russia. It’s not the slightly less frightening situation in Ottawa and the threat of John Baird and/or Jason Kenney replacing the off-message (which means sensible and well-meaning) Jim Flaherty as finance minister just in time for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s next appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

It’s none of these or other legitimate, though contrived, concerns that has us trembling in our mukluks. It is, however, a bug-a-bear that’s distinctly, uniquely Canadian at this time of the year. It’s (gasp!) the weather.

As to this – to quote a phrase in a book I once loved to read when the snow was as high as an elephant’s arse – what in the blue-blazes and billions of blue blistering boiled and barbecued barnacles is going on around here? (Apologies to Captain Archibald Haddock of “Tintin” fame).

There, now: I’m talking about it. Bad luck be-damned. It’s March 6, and it’s time for an earnest intervention with Planet Earth. I’ll start. Dear Gaia, are you kidding me?

I mean, I get that you’re peeved about all the junk we’ve been pouring into the atmosphere. But that’s supposed to warm things up a might. What’s with the walk-in freezer two weeks before the official start of spring?

Still, to a weather junkie, it’s all perfectly explicable.

“The latest public enemy No. 1 comes complete with an ominous, super-villain name and a tendency to waver drunkenly around the Northern Hemisphere, leaking great, vast gasps of frigid Arctic air into normally more temperate latitudes,” writes Larry O’Hanlon in Discovery magazine’s online edition. He is, of course, referring to the polar vortex which, he acknowledges has “always been there, but most of the time it minds its own business and serves as a wall of wind to hold wintry Arctic air where it belongs.”

Not this winter. This winter it has been, quite literally, all over the map. Hence the pronounced and prolonged cold. There’s even some suggestion that the active vortex is linked to – if not a direct result of – global warming.

“It may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. (and Canada) even more likely,” Bryan Walsh writes in Time Magazine’s online edition. “Usually the fast winds in the vortex – which can top 100 mph (161 k/h) – keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it.”

Essentially, warmer than normal air sinking from the stratosphere upsets the vortex’s flow and sends it madly off in all directions.

Good science is always a palliative for high anxiety, but history also provides a much-needed cold comfort. My trusty Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar 2014 proves that, for we citizens of the Great White North, March truly is, and always has been, the cruelest month.

March 5, 1900: “Snows whipped into monstrous drifts blocked trains near Brantford, ON. Two young passengers volunteered to get food at a nearby town. When they returned the hungry crowd began to devour everything in sight. After the meal, cigars were indulged and in and around 12 o’clock all retired to any spot providing comfort. Two men froze their ears walking 1 kilometer from one express train to another.”

Then, of course, only last year on March 20, the first day of spring, a storm “dumped 19 cm of snow on Moncton, NB, and nearly 40 cm of snow in Fredericton. The storm closed schools, caused power outage, and shut down offices.”

All of which confirms, if nothing else, that if it seems that the weather can’t get any weirder, it only seems that way.

The bottom line: There’s no use in complaining. Indeed, it’s best not to talk at all. With these temperatures, why waste energy?

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