Windchill 40-50 below zero and actual air temperature at minus 25. Frostbite within 10 minutes on unprotected skin. Short attention spans. Shorter memories. Overcoming a polar vortex, overcoming adversity in 10 minutes or less. Go.
December 2013. Minneapolis, MN. Arctic blasts. January 2014. Snow falls and falls and… Drifts. February: temps plummet. Flights cancelled. Blizzard warnings and snow emergencies. Cars towed. Roads closed. Schools closed—again, wail parents. Icy roads. Multiple car pileups on 35W, I94, 280 oh, just pick a highway, freeway, interstate. Watch those off ramps. BLACK ICE! Treacherous roads tear up cars. MNDOT says temps too cold for chemicals to make life smooth as we trek from home to school to work to grocery stores to football games to emergency rooms to car repair shops to…just stay home, dammit!
But life goes on.
62 consecutive hours below zero. Car parked. No treacherous drives for me. Huddled in bus shelters and bundled in layers, a group squints up Nicollet Avenue for the #18 bus. Late. My fingers tingle. My toes become numb. Breathing hurts so only shallow breaths as wind bites my skin and all turn the calendar toward hope.
March will give way to spring—eventually (although last year, I noted from my hospital bed, snow still falling at the end of April). The longed-for thaw will reveal the damage left behind. Streets riddled with potholes and, yes, even sinkholes to swallow us whole. Some will soon forget the Polar Vortex; others won’t have that luxury. Come spring, allergy sufferers will wheeze, cough, and sneeze as their puffy eyes run. Gas prices will rise. Roofs will need repairs. People will struggle to pay off car repair bills, medical bills, funeral costs.
Suicides are highest in spring.
I’ll remember this Polar Vortex as the season a Minneapolis father lost 5 babies in a house fire and a coworker fell over the edge taking us with him. Layoffs. Budget cuts. Program cuts. All of this means friends who have worked long and hard helping others are now in need of help that does not exist. I’ll shudder at the absurdity of building a multimillion dollar sports stadium while homeless youth, men, and women curled up in dumpsters and froze to death. I’ll lament disappointment in leaders at my work who breached trust and undermined my dignity forcing me to fight battles civil rights advocates have already fought. I’ll look back, then look down at the scars I bear and wonder how many more seasons I’ll hold on.