Saturday, February 10, 2024

When the Polar Vortex Hit Alberta - By Barbara Baker

Day 1 - My thermometer reads minus 37 Celsius. I can’t complain though. Global News warned us for a week that a Polar Vortex was about to hit Alberta. Initially, I doubted them, but they were pretty insistent, so yesterday I did a grocery run just in case they got it right this time.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate winter. In fact one of the aspects I enjoy is being able to put on layers of clothing to stay warm, whereas in summer, if it gets too hot there are only so many layers I can take off before it gets offensive to those around me.

In the afternoon I watch Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond and Johnny Reid music videos while I get 10,000 steps on the elliptical. The evening news stresses the dangers of frostbite, lists the closed ski resorts and posts a city map of all the warming shelters set up for both people and pets.

Day 2 - I marvel at the accuracy of the forecast. Highs of minus 33. After regular tasks are done, I organize miscellaneous drawers. Glancing out the living room window where chickadees and nuthatches take turns at the feeder, I wonder when and how we managed to accumulate this much clutter.

I add Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” and “Hot Summer Night” to my music videos and do a cardio workout in the basement.

Friends vacationing or living in warmer places send pictures of large iguanas, green grass and sandy beach sunsets. I reply with frozen emojis.

Day 3 – The afternoon high will get to minus 31.  I check the tidy drawers before I tackle a day of housecleaning. I want to be ready for the ski hills when they reopen. Because of active cleaning I only need 4,650 steps on the elliptical. I add Jelly Roll’s “Save Me” to my music videos.

Day 4 – It’s minus 34. I need to get out of the house. And we’re out of coffee. Since the store is only eight blocks away, I dress in my warmest gear – snow pants, thick scarf, down mitts, long parka, fuzzy toque, unattractive winter boots and goggles. I put my wallet on the chair and turn to take a quick check in the mirror. No exposed skin. Perfect.

I take off on my coffee run.

When I step outside, even with the scarf over my mouth and nose, I gasp and hunch my shoulders forward against the brisk breeze. My goggles fog up instantly forcing me to exhale into my collar.

Snow squeaks with each step. Crosswalks glazed with white ice require penguin-style walking. There is no one on the street or sidewalk. When I crest the hill, the wind increases. I scrape frost off my goggles as tires screech to a stop next to me. 

“Do you need a ride?” someone shouts.

“No, I’m good,” I holler back.

“It’s really cold,” they caution me.

I wave them on. What a friendly soul and possibly a rocket scientist.

Almost there.

The automatic door screeches open slowly. Once inside, I shake hard to let warm air circulate through to my skin. There is no coffee on sale so I grab the cheapest box.

At the till the clerk scans it as I search for my wallet. So many layers. So many pockets. None of which hide my wallet. I stare at the clerk like maybe she knows where I put it. She smiles and waits. I search again and pull out my phone.

“I’m sorry. I forgot my wallet.” I look at my phone and back to her. “Can I pay with an e-transfer?”

She shakes her head. “You can tap it with a credit or debit card.”

“Yeah, I don’t have that set-up.”

She puts the box of coffee on the shelf behind her and I head back outside. How could I forget my wallet? On the way home, I stay warm by chastising myself for being forgetful. I blame it on aging. Oh well. It was a gallant effort on my part, and I got aired. Maybe I can drink tea. No. That will never happen.

The house door squeals when I open it. And there sits my wallet. Right where I left it - on the chair by the mirror.

“I found coffee and toilet paper in the basement in our tornado-COVID stash,” my husband calls out. “It’s past the best-before-date.”

“How far past?” I hang up all my layers.

“January 2020. Google says it might taste a bit weaker, but it shouldn’t kill us.”

“Good to know.”

How sweet is he that he knows I’m anal about expiry dates? A healthy helping of expired alfalfa sprouts did it to me forty-five years ago.

Day 5 – Google was right. We didn’t die from the expired coffee and the news promises the Arctic Vortex will pass in a few days. Ski hills are still on standby or closed.

A brisk walk outside and then more time on the elliptical. I add “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed to my music collection. Totally stepping out of my comfort zone, but damn he does an amazing job with the song.

I pull out a puzzle from Christmas and we assemble the border. I organize the pieces into colour trays. 500 pieces. Wow. The cold snap can’t end soon enough.

Alberta Alert announces rotating power outages. We bring in firewood and find flashlights.

Relatives in Germany message to see if we are okay.

Day 6 – A repeat of Day 5 with minimal puzzle progress.

Day 7 – I wake up to a balmy minus 15. Hallelujah. There is now a snowfall warning in our forecast. I put the puzzle away for the next cold snap and pull our ski bag closer to the door.

Take that Polar Vortex.

See you next time.


You can contact me at:

Summer of Lies: Baker, Barbara:9780228615774: Books -

What About Me?: Sequel to Summer of Lies : Baker, Barbara: Books





  1. Brrr indeed. I knew I lived in Arizona for good reasons. Thanks for sharing your experience. It's difficult to imagine from here, but I do believe you. You handled that like a champ. Kudos.

  2. Now that was cold. Never had a Vortex hit here but we've had cold but not that cold for so long. Glad the temperature is rising for you.

  3. What a great blog, Barbara! Such tongue-in-cheek, like a true Canadian. I salute your tenaciousness :)


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