The power of brutal winter has been felt everywhere, it seems. Here in the heartland of the U.S., actual temperatures reached -37 degrees Fahrenheit, with windchill factors as low as -55. Unfortunately, the barrage was not a one-day phenomenon but an extended period of bitterness.
It all began as a rather typical shift in the climate, not at all unusual for this latitude. Many even showed an exuberance for the change, moving outdoors with their pent-up energies in an open display of their unwillingness to cower before the inclemency of such frigid temperaments. Often there is resolve to be found in collective survival against a common foe like the icy dispassion of hard winter. We grow in the belief that we can withstand it, together, and we draw energy from it.
But we were reminded daily of the threat to life and health if we did not heed the warnings to remain inside and avoid confronting the cold. Travel was not only not advised, but barricades were put up on some main thoroughfares so that rescue of those who attempted flight to more hospitable areas would not become necessary. Some citizens were actually arrested for venturing out to places where they had been forbidden to be. Sadly, deaths occurred, in addition to many injuries.
We have experienced dangerously cold moments in the past, but this one seemed more threatening, somehow.
Some people suggest that the advent of cell phone and social media technology contributed to the deeper feeling of danger. Instant reporting of cold, and deaths resulting from it, accompanied by photos of people with frostbite injuries, amplified the seriousness of the cold. We were able to learn of each new impact from the cold front as it happened, making the onslaught feel more continuously brutal than we might otherwise have felt. We watched video footage of brave demonstrations where the astonishing effects of the cold front were shown: have you ever seen a pot of boiling water immediately vaporized by the severe cold? Those activities made for indelible images about just how cold it had become.
Most schools closed, and remained closed, with parents too nervous to send their children outside and schools recognizing the danger to their pupils and teachers alike. Even the colleges and universities were forced to shut down, in fear for the safety of the students and professors. When our most venerable institutions were forced to take such action, we knew that the severity of the front was real, and that resolutions of standing up to frigid conditions must yield to the realities of real danger.
There have been serious economic costs to the deep freeze. Of course, tourism always takes a hit when the climate isn’t friendly. It’s uncertain how many people chose to stay away from the harsh conditions. And this is normally a destination which people frequently visit for its beauty and warmth! But shops and commerce came to a standstill in the face of the blasts, suffering losses that are not likely to be made up soon.
It’s unclear what the remainder of the winter might be like. Some forecasts suggest that an early thaw could occur and that we all might return to some degree of normalcy. Others are convinced that this polar vortex is likely to be a more frequent presence in our lives; prior to last year, I had never even heard of it, but during 2018 and to the present it has certainly become a familiar condition.
The entire experience underscores everyone’s necessity for having protective layers against the winds….