Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. Frozen. Polar vortex? It does this every year.

Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. Frozen. Polar vortex? It does this every year.

I like warm and fuzzy vortexes, like the kind I wrote about in Down Dog Diary. I had never even heard of a polar vortex until Minnesota turned into a deep freeze this winter. I mean, when my husband said let’s move to Minnesota, no one said anything about 30 degrees below zero. Ever.

After nearly 10 years in this fine state, I have come to expect a few weeks of sub-zero temperatures every winter. That is the time you stay in with a good book and the Internet, if you’re sane. And if you do have to go out, say, to get Chinese take-out, you hold your breath.

Now, that the temperatures have climbed out of that frozen hell and we come out of our caves, shielding our eyes from the blinding snow-bright sunlight, it is time to find out what we learned from the 2014 and 2019 polar vortexes.

  • Even weather can be skewed to make your point. A lot of people are talking about global warming and using the same polar vortex information to disprove opposite viewpoints. Person A: If we’re warming, why are we freezing? Person B: We’re freezing because we’re warming. According to Jennifer Francis, research professor at Rutgers University, the temperature difference between the Arctic and North America is shrinking. That’s one factor causing wobbliness in the jet stream, the west-east current that circles the Northern Hemisphere. Scientists call this jet stream a “polar vortex,” Francis says.
  • Humans try ridiculous, amazing, and brilliant things when faced with extremes. The Internet is rife with stories of amateur scientists testing if spit will freeze in mid-flight, what happens when you toss a pan of boiling water into -14 air, and, my favorite, what happens to bubbles in a polar vortex. Google “frozen bubbles” to see some utterly beautiful and otherworldly bubbles.
  • We learn compassion. This polar vortex baby shook everyone, not just us in the northern climes. My sister in Atlanta likes to tease me with photos of her ever-blooming gardens, especially when my winter landscape is gray and devoid of color. When I heard Atlanta sank to 8 degrees, I could have texted some friendly sisterly ribbing, but what’s the point? There probably isn’t a decent balaclava in all of Georgia.
  • Vortexes are not new. Mankind has always noticed vortexes because we seek energy central. We hunt for Earth places to help us balance or raise our energies. That is the spiritual appeal of Sedona and Stonehenge. We energy seekers search out places that raise the hair on our arms and make us tingle. Not that the polar vortex didn’t make us tingle, shiver, and seek help from a higher source.
  • Vortex is becoming a regular part of our vocabulary. Author and raconteur Garrison Keillor wrote in an essay in The Telegraph, “We also have the word “vortex” in our immediate vocabulary to express “inexorable downwardness” which is useful in explaining to the children, for example, why we cannot leave the lights burning in every room of the house all night long. The nation is in an energy vortex. Our family might be in a cash-flow vortex.”

Actually, a vortex is simply a whirling mass of stuff—water, freezing air, fire, feelings, energy. It draws in everything around it. It irresistibly engulfs. And then it concentrates. So sitting and meditating in a warm, fuzzy vortex, you can feel energized, at peace, a sense of clarity. I don’t advise sitting in a polar vortex.


To read more about vortexes (not polar ones), check out Down Dog Diary.