Last week, the news was dominated by a solar flare and the polar vortex.
The news was beginning to resemble a story conference at DC Comics. You had unbelievably cold weather extending to unbelievable places, a weather pattern that looked ominous from space, and X-class solar events whose names sounded like secret code.
As he floats a thousand miles above the north pole, Superman’s thought balloon is saying: WOW! That POLAR VORTEX is freezing our city! I must get RADIANT HEAT from that SOLAR FLARE to the VORTEX to save METROPOLIS!
Well, somehow the vortex became about global warming and the solar flare? Well, in spite of its being an X-1.2 class solar event that sent lava-like arcs of super-hot plasma millions of miles into space, the flare didn’t do that much when made it to earth, unless you live further north than most people deem sensible. Then your long, cold nights were brightened momentarily by flashes of the Northern Lights glowing brighter than usual.
If you didn’t see the aurora borealis flash, which news reports said was brief and not as intense as expected, you got very little out of the solar flare.
The solar energy invasion did not disturb a snowflake. All the turmoil occurred at the super-sub-microscopic level.
Imagine energy particles so small you can’t even think about them, which is okay because they zip right through you as if you weren’t there, anyway. These particles, however, occasionally duke it out with sub-minuscule particles that were already here. Their conflicts made themselves known as a bolt of extra radio static or a blip in the GIS signal, which hopefully didn’t happen when you needed a turn direction.
The vortex occurred due to a warp in the jet stream, so they say. This high-altitude wind pipeline is like a rubber tube laid across the North American continent. It moves around within limits most of the year. This year, however, a part of that rubber tube careened way off to the north, and that cued some very cold air to swing down like a scythe through most of North America. In Quay County we missed it except for one night of single-digit lows.
Having been through a couple of Chicago winters — the Big Snow and the Deep Freeze, both more than two decades ago — I remember well the phenomena of face-freeze (weather-induced lockjaw), having rocks for fingers and cement blocks for feet, and having your windshield frost up inside faster than outside.
Most of the nation has my sympathy.
So what would the solar and polar phenomena have in common? Maybe some low-rent ironies. The polar one was blamed on global warming. Global warming, they say, probably caused the jet stream to veer off like an errant fire hose. The solar started out as a blast of million-degree plasma three times the size of earth but did nothing to counter the cold snap and actually did little at all here.
Fortunately, both were also temporary. These, too, did pass.
If Superman would have been around for what really happened, I can only hope he would have left both alone, unless Lois and Jimmy were stranded on the Metropolis turnpike and out of gas. Then he could have carried their car to the Daily Planet parking lot.
What if it had been a polar flare and a solar vortex? Quick, call a story conference.
Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org