News / USA

Reporter's Notebook: Enduring the Midwest's 'Polar Vortex'

The snow covers the ground outside the Farabaugh home near Chicago, Illinois, Jan. 6, 2014. (VOA/Kane Farabaugh)
The snow covers the ground outside the Farabaugh home near Chicago, Illinois, Jan. 6, 2014. (VOA/Kane Farabaugh)
Kane Farabaugh
It’s garbage day today.  Time to put out the trash for collection.  

It’s a Monday ritual in the Farabaugh home, getting up a little earlier in the morning to make sure all the bins are emptied and the recycling is gathered, so all of it can sit neatly at the end of our driveway waiting for our trash collector, who usually arrives early in the morning.

But today the ritual is a little different, because before I can accomplish any of that, I need to put on extra thick layers of clothing and snow gear to protect myself from the “polar vortex” that I’ve heard so much about on the radio and television over the last several days.

When I ventured outside only the day before to shovel and blow about 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow off my driveway (not once but twice) there was no bitter cold to mention, no “polar vortex” threatening an otherwise enjoyable, mildly cold snowfall.  My sons and I made the most out of it by attempting to build a snowman, which ultimately turned into a snow fort.

So as I prepared to boldly go outside once again some 12 hours later, I was physically preparing for the worst, as it has been described by weather reports, which have forecast today’s temperatures as record lows.

After piling layer upon layer of clothing (five in all) and slipping into my puffy snowsuit, I put on a knit cap and facemask, tightened my waterproof gloves, and proceeded to take "one small step for man" outside the warmth of my cozy home, realizing it might be a leap of faith that I would remain warm enough inside all of this gear to be effective at completing the task at hand… putting out the garbage in an environment that I’ve been told today could feel like I was walking on the moon.

The first part of my moonwalk begins inside the garage, organizing garbage and recycling bins before placing them at the end of the driveway.  This task was completed with little difficulty, and a quick check of the temperature inside my garage, with the door down, was a balmy 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).  No wind chill.  

First part of the task completed, I pressed the button signaling the garage door to open.  As the door slowly lifted, the howling wind and loose snow whips around me, lifting up and blowing around the empty plastic containers I had neatly sorted for recycling.  So much for preparing.

Fully engaged with no turning back now, I plunge headlong into the howling icy winds with a full and heavy garbage can on wheels dragged behind me.  We both make it intact to the end of the driveway, but on my way down, I realize that all the work clearing the driveway yesterday has been thwarted by the overnight winds that have brought the snow back onto the neat path I had created.

Before any more of the trash and recycling can be placed outside, I have to shovel off the driveway one more time.

I race back up the driveway for a snow shovel, and as I put my back into not just pushing the snow but also fighting the wind, 10 minutes into this effort I’m starting to lose sensation in my eyes, and I’m having difficulty moving my eyelids.

This prompts me to seek refuge back inside to thaw out my eyeballs.

As I take a quick break with all these layers still on, I ask my wife to fill up two large cups of water for me for a little science experiment I’d like to conduct.  

Five minutes later, I am back outside, this time armed with a large cup of water, which I proceed to throw in the air, assuming it will turn to ice.  

I should have watched YouTube or Facebook or at least talked to someone before doing this, because everyone knows for this little gag to work the water needs to be boiling hot.  Then, when you get outside in temperatures as low as they are today, and throw it in the air, the water turns almost instantly to ice before it hits the ground.

I was clearly not tuned in to the most important part of this equation, and my efforts to watch water turn to ice when thrown from my cup turns into an epic science experiment failure.  It simply lands on the ground as water.

So I place the second cup of water on the porch, where it will stay until I’m done with my chores.

Back at it again, I’m almost done clearing the driveway when I’m greeted by a city snowplow, happily clearing the snow from the street in front of my house, only to have the plow dandily place a chunk of it back on the end of my driveway.  That means that no sooner did I think I was finished dealing with all of this, I have to take another few passes with the snow shovel.  My fourth time in two days.

By now, I’ve spent about 25 minutes total in this bitter cold moonscape (all before the sun has risen), and before I can finish the task at hand, my eyeballs are freezing again.  I think my breath is somehow reaching up into my face and freezing.  I didn’t even know that was possible.  My breath is freezing my face off.

So it’s back inside to thaw out the eyeballs once more, and on the way as I pass the porch, I glance down into the cup of water I had set aside.  Sure enough, it’s frozen, almost solid.  After just over 10 minutes of being outside.

So the cup comes inside to thaw out along with my eyeballs.

I am more determined now than ever to get the rest of the trash out and be done with this madness.  A quick check of the temperature outside says it’s minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 degrees Celsius).

Eyeballs now thawed, cold weather gear once again fixed, and with the end firmly in sight, I collect as much of the recycling and garbage as I can and head back down the driveway.  The wind makes this not unlike an obstacle course. I try to keep the contents of the bins from blowing away while trying to prevent myself from slipping on the small pockets of ice that dot my driveway.

After a few heats of this race back and forth to the garage, I manage to get enough of the trash to the bottom of the driveway, and create a snow wall around it to prevent much of it from blowing over, or blowing away.

It’s been not quite 30 minutes from the time I first ventured out to do this, and despite the layers, I can really feel the cold.  Not so much on the body, just on the face.  My cheeks are red, and once again, my eyeballs are freezing and I can’t open my eyelids.  It’s a weird sensation.

But now that the task is over, I head back inside where I proceed to once again thaw my eyeballs, but now I shed my layers.

It’s been the most arduous and ridiculously long effort to get the trash out this morning, but thankfully it’s over.

I’m ready for some hot coffee to warm me back up again and set me on my path for the day, which includes coverage for Voice of America on… what else… the “polar vortex.”

As I wait for the coffee pot to brew, I turn on the radio and tune it to one of the local radio stations, which is on “polar vortex” patrol.

The broadcast confirms what my eyeballs have been telling me for the last hour.

Yep, the “polar vortex” is here.

Yep, the wind chill makes it feel like minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (-46 degrees Celsius).

Please, if you can, remain indoors.

Many area businesses are closed, and there is no trash collection.

Really?  Did I hear that just right?  There’s no trash collection today?

Indeed.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid