The Polar Vortex Is Here: What It Is and How You Can Get Through It

It’s a heck of a week in the continental U.S.

Chicago’s public schools are closing so little kids don’t turn to popsicles. South Florida had record low temps on Monday. Thursday is forecasted to see a high of 12 degrees in Bismark, North Dakota, which will feel like relief considering that Wednesday’s high might be -10 degrees Fahrenheit (with a low of -17 degrees for those scoring at home.)

The weather aint pretty. Except that it’s kind of pretty. Chicago during the Polar Vortex of 2014. Photo: Courtesy of Edward Stojakovik/Flickr

Most of the country is in the throes of a “polar vortex” – a phenomenon that occurs when a jog in the jet stream allows masses of the coldest air on the planet to slip out of the North Pole into the mid latitudes.

Some regions are bracing for the coldest temps in decades. (Add windy conditions to those frigid digits and you have your wind chill – what the atmosphere feels like with the biting breeze.)

Tuesday’s low was below zero at Sunday River, Maine. At daybreak Wednesday, they’re looking at -6 degrees Fahrenheit (with winds on top of that).

A polar vortex drops frigid Arctic air from the North Pole down to the Lower 48. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA

“We encourage people to layer up and take plenty of breaks from skiing or riding. And all of our team members rotate on the hill with ample breaks,” says Sunday River Communications Manager Karolyn Castaldo. “But even when we had that cold spell in 2018, we didn’t have to close the mountain. We just make sure that people are prepared before they get on the slopes. We may put a lift on hold for winds but in my time here, we’ve never closed because of the cold.”

Despite the brutal temps, Sunday River won’t be closing. After all, this is Maine. Photo: Courtesy of Nick Lambert/Sunday River

The resort got 10 inches of fresh snow Tuesday night and it’s still snowing on Wednesday.

Aside from pond hockey aficionados and more southerly snow resorts, the polar vortex doesn’t do much good for anyone. Officials in the Midwest are reminding people that frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. For those of us who thrive in the outdoors (even winter conditions) it’s a chilling nightmare. So how are you going to get through this one? How are you going to get to the weekend warm up without losing your mind and finding complex carbs?

Winter is far from over and you might want to weigh some of these for this week’s polar vortex and the next few months of nastiness.

If you can get out during this weather, it can be rewarding. But the question is, can you get out? Photo: Courtesy of Dennis Forgione/Flickr

The first thing to do is determine if you can even pursue whatever it is you have planned outside. Ohio’s Alpine Valley Ski Resort and other hills are closed Wednesday because negative temps with whipping 20 m.p.h. winds are simply too dangerous to be out there.

Where I live on a barrier Island in New Jersey, South End Surf N’ Paddle has the third annual Polar Paddle race scheduled for Saturday. Unfortunately, it could be postponed on account of the bay being frozen – Not much anyone can do about that.

Going Outside

If you do decide to get after that hike, snowboard session or climb, the way that you bundle up will be key. Think of your layers in three parts: Your base layer has to “wick’ moisture away from your body. Perspiration left on your skin is one of the biggest detriments to activities in the frigid cold. Your mid layer should be the insulator. And your outer layer should be windproof and waterproof to keep the breeze and/or precipitation from robbing you of heat. Think about gloves with liners and outers.

If it’s possible to get out during this weather, do it. But layer in threes. Photo: Courtesy of Andessurvivor/Flickr

When conditions dip down into the single digits, you’ll definitely want some gear you might not ordinarily use in the winter. Even if you’re just going for a run, get ahold of a face mask and consider goggles just as you would on a bike or snowboard.

And when it’s cold out, most people forget the importance of staying hydrated. Through winter, we don’t pound water because we just aren’t as thirsty. Yet, dehydration and all of the symptoms caused by it, are no less real.

Staying Inside

When pure cold is enough to close places of business, that’s a serious sign. Getting out for adventure could be a bad idea. You may you may find yourself confined to indoor exercise.

This is likely not your first choice, but you’ll get through it. If you don’t already belong to a fitness center, many of them offer trial memberships, which might be enough to get you through the blast. Do some research and find the climbing gym in your area. Trampoline parks can be a great workout for you and your kid. Call the local YMCA or community center and see if there’s gym time or pick-up games. Be warned, open gym is tough to come by in the winter when sports teams are also forced indoors.

Now, let’s assume you’re really shut in. If getting around is just much hassle, you’ll be forced to exercise indoors at home.

Ocean activist/distance paddler Margo Pellegrino (who has made several multi-month paddles on both SUP and in a canoe to raise awareness for the health of our oceans) will actually run up and down the steps in her home when she can’t train outside.

There are tons of streaming yoga and fitness classes online. Find somewhere in your house to do pull ups, and never underestimate the value of a simple jump rope. Mostly, it’s about not going stir crazy inside. You’ve been trying to get around to watching Chris Burkard’s “Under an Arctic Sky” on iTunes … What better time than now?

There’s no reason to be cold AND miserable. Treat yourself to some pancakes. Photo: Courtesy of Digipam/Flickr

But the most important thing to do when you’re shut in is avoid the temptation to stuff yourself. During cold weather your body instinctively wants to consume. (Chances are, you’re on a couch, not driving a dog sled.) Making pancakes, ordering pizza or trying a new recipe will get you through the Arctic blast. Just know to draw the line when you start heating oil to fry those frozen egg rolls or baking a fourth batch of cookies.

The good news is that this polar vortex won’t last forever. Chicago could hit 50 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, so hang in there.

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