Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 03.12.13
Stanstead, Quebec


Blame Canada

With this winter showing no inclinations of ending anytime soon, I think we can add "polar vortex" to the category of "Phrases We Could Have Lived Without."

Before meteorologists sprang "polar vortex" on us, winters were simply "cold" or "[expletive] cold." With "polar vortex," now we have something to blame this cold on, using a phrase that sounds like it should be preceded by "Indiana Jones And The..." Of course, knowing what it's called doesn't make it any less [expletive] cold

Humans love to name things. Naming something makes it real. In the U.S. in 2012, the Weather Channel began naming winter storms. Now you hear about Winter Storm Wanda or Winter Storm Billy-Bob, whereas in the past the same storm would have been known simply as "snow day."

When you name a storm, it makes it more dramatic, it personalizes the storm, it creates a villain out of precipitation. It's the difference between saying, "I was cornered in the bar by a large, erratic stranger," and "I was cornered in the bar by Rob Ford." See how much scarier that is?

Words ending in ‘X’ also sound more sinister. "Polar vortex" equals drama, danger. "Polar swirly" equals a refreshing ice cream treat.

But the fact that we never heard of "polar vortex" prior to this winter makes me suspect that it's something meteorologists made up, probably because they needed to distract all those people who were starting to see through the weak science of "wind chill." If there's one thing meteorologists care about, it's credibility.

The phrase "polar vortex" seems especially designed to appeal to Americans in traditionally warm regions in order to explain why their winter has been so cold and snowy, and "polar vortex" is so much less cumbersome than "Congrats on screwing up the climate, idiots!"

The phrase has been slower to catch on in Canada because what everyone else refers to as "polar vortex," Canadians refer to as "long-john season."

Alas, "It's the polar vortex" has quickly become something that people with no expertise throw out every time the thermometer drops below freezing, something to add to their arsenal of winter-weather small talk, along with "So much for global warming," and "I'm freezing my arsenal off," and "I dare you to touch your tongue to it." The incessant use of "polar vortex" is one more reason to want this winter to end.

To mix it up, then, and since we're essentially making up weather terms at this point, here are a few more meteorological scapegoats you can add to your long-range conversational forecast:

  • Canuck Ripple: Like the polar vortex, this too travels from Canada down into the United States but instead of cold it brings super-tolerable shirt-sleeve temperatures. It's really, really nice and it never overstays its welcome. Oh, were you expecting rain? Geez, sorry about that. Also known as a "no pressure system."

  • Plutarch Nimbus: A rare occurrence in which all the clouds look like busts of Greek philosophers. It really gives you something to think about.

  • Circumferential pressure: The overwhelming need to loosen your belt a notch due to being cooped up all winter eating raw cookie dough and Cool Ranch Doritos. Also known as "El Muncho."

  • Deus Vector: Unlike a polar vortex, which sweeps over regions, a deus vector goes out of its way to completely nail the heck out of a specific city. See also "Sodom and Gomorrah."

  • Air Guitar: A phenomenon whereby wind becomes so severe in urban areas that the tall buildings begin to resonate, resulting in a high-pitched, painful squeal that sounds like the middle section of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.

  • Hail Pattern Baldness: Just too painful to describe at this juncture.

  • Toaster Strudel: This is what happens when a mass of warm air comes swirling up from the U.S. into Canada, the difference being we don't complain about it.

  • The White Stuff: A trite, overused euphemism for "snow." Stop saying this, everyone. Right now.

  • Gore-Tex Cortex Index: A syndrome whereby one becomes so obsessed with the weather and, specifically, keeping warm that one can't think about anything else. Or write about anything else, apparently.