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GROB: Surviving another polar vortex, and the polar brain freeze

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

If you are reading this, congratulations!

You’ve survived the recent “polar vortex,” whatever that is.

Your eyeballs have come unfrozen, and your brain has warmed up enough that you’re able to comprehend written language. I’m very proud of you.

If you’re like me, you became tired of people telling you how cold it is. I know it’s cold. I’m right here with you.

James Grob
James Grob

All over social media, people posted photos and videos and “memes” about how cold it was. I’ll admit I posted some, too. I’m not immune to jumping on the icy bandwagon.

I think I saw the video of the guy blowing soap bubbles in the freezing temperatures about a kazillion times. It was kind of cool the first time — the bubbles would freeze as they were floating through the air, then they would become kind of squishy, like gum drops. Then they’d burst with a visible puff of vapor. Other people tried it and failed. Like I said, neat to watch the first time, highly annoying the 10th or 11th time and beyond.

Not nearly as annoying, however, as the viral videos that made the rounds the last time we had a polar vortex, a few years ago.

Remember? People started throwing boiling water into the air like a pack of morons. It was embarrassing to watch.

It all started with one person, who claimed that it was so cold where he lived (I think it was Wisconsin, go figure) that he could throw a pot of boiling water into the air and it would freeze before it came back down.

A ground-breaking experiment, right?

The theory was that water, when exposed to extremely cold temperatures, turns from liquid to solid. Seems I’ve heard that before, like maybe in third grade.

The guy had someone shoot video as he threw the boiling water into the air, and what seemed to be snow and ice crystals and mist came back down to Earth. At the time, I found the whole thing a mildly amusing way to spend about 35 seconds of my life.

I said a little prayer for the person who did the experiment, asking the Good Lord to point him in the direction of some kind of treatment center where he can get the help he needs, then I moved on to other endeavors.

But there is a good percentage of Americans who aren’t content to just sit idly by and watch an idiot do idiotic things. They have to join in. It’s the polar brain freeze.

Once that initial video was up, thousands of others decided they had to go to the trouble to boil a large pot of water, bundle up under layers of clothing so they could stay warm, lug the pot of dangerously hot water somewhere outside into dangerously frigid temperatures, and throw the water into the air, all the while filming it.

The results? Yeah, you guessed it. At least a hundred people burned the heck out of themselves.

It got so bad that meteorologists were following their weather reports with warnings to viewers and listeners.

“Please,” they said, “please don’t boil water and then take it outside and throw it into the air. You’ll probably just end up burning the flesh off your Uncle Charlie’s face.”

Oh, and don’t lick a flagpole either. Even if someone double-dog dares you.

A dozen or so other people managed to avoid the burning part but suffered injuries when they slipped on the once-boiling-now-frozen water and fell onto their butts. Or their heads. Or both.

One local media publication where I lived at the time even tried the experiment themselves, and reported on themselves, as if they were breaking news. They published the story on the front page.

That was some top-notch investigative reporting — they uncovered the stunning facts. I had always suspected that whole section in my third grade science book about water freezing when it gets cold was some kind of fabricated liberal conspiracy, but sure enough, those scientists were telling the truth.

I’m still waiting for that newspaper to publish the headline, “Area Fishermen Magically Walk Around On Lake Without Drowning.”

It’s not fair to single out that one publication, however. Hundreds of local and national news organizations also attempted the boiling water trick, as a part of their coverage of the polar vortex, with varying results.

And all over YouTube, as recently as yesterday, you could find new videos of people doing things with hot water in cold weather. One guy filled one of those super-duper water guns with boiling water and shot it out into the cold. I have to admit, this was kind of cool to watch, and I wish I would have thought of it.

Then there was the guy who wanted to show what happened when you urinate in 50-below wind chills. I have to admit, this was excruciating to watch, and I wish I had never seen it. It was disturbing.

However, it’s always disturbing to me when I realize that I live in a world where people have to tell other people that throwing boiling water into the air is a bad idea.

Or that water freezes when it gets cold.

Anyway, keep warm. And congratulations for surviving another polar vortex.

Take heart. Spring is just around the corner. I promise.

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