News / USA

Reporter's Notebook: 'Polar Vortex' Hits New York City

People bundle up against the cold in New York City, Jan. 7, 2014.
People bundle up against the cold in New York City, Jan. 7, 2014.
Adam Phillips
Like many New Yorkers, I felt a sense of fascination and dread over the past several days as I watched weather reporters jockey for ever more dramatic ways to characterize the bitter cold they were predicting, and which we are now experiencing.

Unlike rural folks who actually produce something tangible (even edible) for a living, we “born, bred and buttered” Gothamites tend to view the weather as an abstraction that must surely exist, but which you only need to notice when it is extreme, or pesky or otherwise somehow impinges on the busy plans we have that have “bupkis” (New York Yiddish for “nothing”) to do with Mother Earth and her messy goings-on.

These attitudes are absorbed early in life. I remember as a child boarding the Madison Avenue bus during a heavy traffic-snarling rainstorm and hearing grownups grumbling about it as if someone somewhere in their incompetence or plain mean-spiritedness had foisted it upon them.

“How dare the weather obstruct their well-laid routine?” they seemed to ask.  

Ice forms on rocks on the Brooklyn waterfront across from lower Manhattan in New York, Jan. 7, 2014. The high temperature is expected to be 10 degrees in the city but wind chills will make it feel more like minus 10.Ice forms on rocks on the Brooklyn waterfront across from lower Manhattan in New York, Jan. 7, 2014. The high temperature is expected to be 10 degrees in the city but wind chills will make it feel more like minus 10.
x
Ice forms on rocks on the Brooklyn waterfront across from lower Manhattan in New York, Jan. 7, 2014. The high temperature is expected to be 10 degrees in the city but wind chills will make it feel more like minus 10.
Ice forms on rocks on the Brooklyn waterfront across from lower Manhattan in New York, Jan. 7, 2014. The high temperature is expected to be 10 degrees in the city but wind chills will make it feel more like minus 10.
Right now, from my comfy, temperature-controlled room, at the Voice of America, 30 floors above frigid, if sunlit, Broadway, one can almost forget that the weather down there is in the single digits. Sure, I can see the usual telltale signs of winter in this maritime city; - the hyper clear light  (all radiance but no kindness), the lazy curling columns of wispy steam billowing through street-level vents and manhole covers, the heaps of gritty frozen snow where the plows from last week’s storm have piled them.  But those visuals don’t even hint at the reality on the street which even a jaded New Yorker cannot ignore.

Even the five-minute scamper from my apartment to the subway this morning was a novel adventure.  Sure, my wife had sternly prepared me as best she could - beginning with fire engine red woolen long johns and radiating outward in five ever-thicker layers of clothing. I felt like a giant balloon at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. But she hadn’t prepared me for the sensation of having my nosebone threaten to freeze right between my eyes, or the icy way the air itself felt inside my lungs, making my chest ache, and the how the air found its way to every vulnerable nook and exposed surface area - including my bald head, reachable only through the tiny grommet holes in my felt cowboy hat.

Ever diverse, New Yorkers showed their individual styles even as they braved the weather together.  One young man on the subway platform shivered inside his thin, undeniably chic topcoat; he didn’t seem willing to compromise the careful look with a bulky sweater.  Women wore wool dancer leggings over other leggings, as they clutched paper cups of coffee for warmth with gloves with cut off fingertips. One rakish fellow had a ski cap underneath the obligatory Yankees cap; the kerchief over his face made him look like an outlaw from the Old West, or a cartoon terrorist.

Still, it was strangely touching, even intimate, to see people’s breath melt into the air as they exhaled.  The rhythm of their respirations are a visible, altogether public, expression of an internal bodily process that is frankly, de rigeur for all warm-blooded mammals, whatever their carefully cultivated urban personas - hedge fund manager, actor, construction worker, hot dog seller, or cop.  

Icicles form on a car in front of a building where the New York Fire Department was fighting a fire in low temperatures, Jan. 7, 2014.Icicles form on a car in front of a building where the New York Fire Department was fighting a fire in low temperatures, Jan. 7, 2014.
x
Icicles form on a car in front of a building where the New York Fire Department was fighting a fire in low temperatures, Jan. 7, 2014.
Icicles form on a car in front of a building where the New York Fire Department was fighting a fire in low temperatures, Jan. 7, 2014.
​Sure, there are inconveniences, and worse. Parents worry about sending their children to school, lest the schools decide to close during the day, while the parents are at work.  Subway delays occur as tracks freeze.  Homeless people in danger of prolonged exposure to the cold are putting both life and limb at risk.  On the other hand, parking restrictions have been lifted, and people have something new to talk about in the elevator. 

But for me, I am reassured to know that the seasons are going through their accustomed paces, and that there are realities more fundamental and urgent than the next mortgage payment, or who the most promising young Broadway star might be, or whether our brand new mayor, Bill de Blasio, will be able to deal with the next major snowstorm - or heat wave - whenever the weather has the temerity to impose one on us.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs