Caught in the polar vortex

Commuting to work in negative-24-degree temperatures, where flesh freezes in less than five minutes, adds a sense of danger that stirs our soul.

It's early, but one of the top-searched terms for 2014 is “polar vortex.” In the good ol' winter days, Midwesterners simply called it a “cold snap.” Relatively benign. No real threat to mankind.

If you live in the northeast US, you prefer winter-weather terms with a little more regional flair such as “arctic clipper.” It pairs well with “nor'easter” with its nautical theme for those who live along the Atlantic seaboard.

NBCUniversal and the other media conglomerates learned years ago that nothing captures America's viewing audience better than extreme danger. It's not enough to attract viewers to one screen, so programs such as Today and its weatherman Al Roker quit using such genteel terms as “cold snap” in favor of the more menacing forecasts featuring a polar vortex to stimulate multi-screening (TV, tablet, smartphone all at once). Why be content with your full attention on one screen when we can trigger your attention deficit on three or more NBCUniversal properties?

Minnesotans in particular, and Midwesterners in general, chuckle at the likable Al Roker when he alerts viewers to the polar vortex and its accompanying deep freeze with temperatures “in the high single digits and low teens.” The same way Iron Man triathletes sneer at half marathoners. If anyone can do it, it's not extreme enough.

As a longtime Minnesotan, I'm accustomed to the looks I get for living, working, and wintering in the “Land of 10,000 Ice Fishing Holes.” Some think we're just downright crazy. Although you wouldn't be a true Minnesotan if you didn't complain about the cold, the truth is Minnesotans take a certain pride in their high endurance for brutally cold weather. After all, it's not fun if there's no risk to life or limb. Commuting to work in negative-24-degree temperatures, where flesh freezes in less than five minutes, adds a sense of danger that stirs our soul.

While Al Roker loves to report wind chill, Minnesotans don't even talk wind chill. That's for other parts of the country that attempt to trump up danger by confusing below-zero wind chill with actual temperatures in the wimpy teens and 20s. Sorry, but 20s never feel below zero to Minnesotans. Only below-zero temps feel below zero with a dose of wind chill thrown in for good measure.

Now you know why Minnesotans have a reputation for hard work and long days. What else are you going to do productively with below-zero temps other than work? You can only put away the holiday decorations for so long. And you can only multi-screen so much before you go mind-numb watching A&E's Duck Dynasty or TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Doug Spong is founder and president of Carmichael Lynch Spong.

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