The Curse of the Polar Vortex

It has been nearly 20 years since a Polar Vortex pushed down so much arctic air so far South but it is far from record breaking temperatures in Canada. (AP/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)


Parts of the US and Canada are experiencing record breaking negative temperatures, a polar vortex with temperatures dipping to levels rarely seen. The freezing weather is causing havoc for people, travelers, you name it so we're here to tell you everything you need to know about why we are so bloody cold.

Talking about weather is what binds Canadians together ...

Just 18 days into winter and many of us already want it to stop. This morning much of the continent is in a deep chill. Today we embrace the cold wintery weather head on. We find out what's causing it and perhaps how to cope with it.

We kick it off with Jay Scotland - CBC's meteorologist. He was in our Toronto studio.

The earth has plenty of cold places to avoid ....

Despite the havoc this "polar vortex" is wrecking in some parts of the United States and Canada, the temperatures being recorded are still no match for the globe's most frigid spots.

According to the World Meteorological Association, Russia's Vostok Research Station in Antarctica is officially the coldest place on Earth. It measured minus 89.2 degrees Celsius on July 21, 1983.

However, in December a team of scientists said they had found an even colder spot -- in a pocket of an ice sheet on the East Antarctic Plateau. The researchers said the record low temperature of -- wait for it -- minus 93.2 Celsius ... was recorded via satellite on August 10, 2010.

According to the scientists, that temperature would be so icy it would even hurt to breathe there.

As miserably cold as our planet gets, we know it's still toasty compared to some of the other planets that share the sun. At least we think we know that. There are times when the little green people of Mars do not envy the little blue people of Winnipeg.

"The ground temperature on Mars right now is about minus 36 and we're hovering at about minus 33 but we have a bit more of a windchill. It's not rare though. This actually happens, lots of places on earth at their coldest get warmer than Mars at its warmest. Mars can go all the way up to 0C and most of the country will dip below that at some point. Winnipeg is a much nicer place to be than Mars. Even though it gets cold here we actually have air to breath and we don't instantly die when we go outside. It's just uncomfortable."

Scott Young is an astronomer with the Manitoba Museum

So while the air may be cold, the good news is we can breathe it.

Gordon Giesbrecht does cold experiments that could take your breath away. He tests human limits - his own included - at frigid temperatures. His work has even earned him the nickname, Professor Popsicle.

Gordon Giesbrecht is a thermophysiologist at the University of Manitoba, and was in Winnipeg.

Don't dismiss all this weather fascination as mindless small talk, it may be nation-building. Diane Pacom says that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, climate can bind us together.

Diane Pacom is a professor of sociology with the University of Ottawa and we reached her at her home in Ottawa.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Karin Marley and Sujata Berry.

Thanks to our listeners for sending us their freezing cold pictures. Stay Warm!

Comments are closed.