Polar Vortexes and Summer Heatwaves


Lake Michigan frozen by the Polar Vortex on 7 Jan.

Kansas City – We’ve all seen (or felt) the extremes in weather that have affected the US, Canada, and Australia so far this year. Between my hometown of Chicago reaching a record low of -16F (-26.7C) and the Australian Open having to be postponed because of record heat in Melbourne of 109F (43C), it seems like the English colonists picked the short stick in terms of extreme weather compared to the Spanish and Portuguese (who have their own problems as well.) With the extreme in weather freezing us in North America and scorching our friends in Australia, I thought it’d be a good idea to help with the introduction of Celsius to the general public here in the Fahrenheit-using United States.

In the summer of 2011, as I was preparing to leave for my first year at university, I thought it was as good a time as any to make a few changes to my life. No, I didn’t take up any nasty habits, nor did I decide to stop going by Seán and ask everyone to call me George. Rather, I decided I was going to forgo the Imperial system of measurements that I’d been accustomed to up until then, and join the rest of the world (except the United States and a couple of other countries) and take up the Metric system.

I know, I know, it’s not the average life change for an 18 year old (as I was at the time), but it seemed like a good idea. I began switching things about, alongside the switch to metric I changed my digital clocks from 12 hour to 24 hour, and began switching the working language of my then new computer (I was off to university, remember?) from English to Irish. But the biggest problem remained, just how to rework my mind to where I would stop thinking 32 degrees and start thinking 0 degrees. It took me a few years, in fact I only really figured out a good working conversion a couple of days ago, but at long last I have one to offer:


The heat has also caused some concern for England in their Ashes tour of Australia. -Courtesy of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

So, we all know that 32 F is equal to 0 C aka, the freezing point. That’s a good place to start, but coming from thinking in Fahrenheit, I found this basic introductory conversion to not be entirely useful, except to know when I need to wear a scarf. So, I had to find a way to sort out the Celsius equivalent of the bases of my understanding of Fahrenheit: 0F and 100F. This past summer, in part because I spent a fair bit of time in the UK, I ended up using Celsius more than Fahrenheit in general conversation. As a result, when I returned to humid Kansas City, I found myself confronted with the infamous Midwestern summer heat. One afternoon as I was driving along in my car, the thermometer hit 38C. I knew this was very hot, but I honestly hadn’t a clue what 38C converted to in F. So, I switched the thermometer over to Fahrenheit, discovering that it read that long-sought-after number: 100F.

So, for the next few months after that, my understanding of Celsius was simply this: 38C = 100F, 0C = 32F. Going on from there I knew at some point I’d have to figure out what 0F was in Celsius, a fact which I only discovered a couple days ago. And the funny thing is that there’s a bit of an obvious pattern here. We hit 0F a couple of nights ago here in Kansas City, and not for the first time this year mind you. I had a look at my thermometer and found it read -18C (0F). So, there is a distance of 58 degrees Celsius between 100F and 0F. From there I figured the best thing to do was to work on reteaching my mind to think of temperature on a Celsius-based scale rather than on a Celsius, but Fahrenheit based scale. So, my new scale for saying those sort of maximum and minimum endurable temperatures run from -20C (-4F, which really isn’t too bad compared to what has been hitting us in North America) all the way up to 40C (104F, though to be honest I’d rather stay indoors when the temperature goes above 30C [86F]).

Now two main points to make about these numbers: 1. Yes, members of the scientific community, I know that these aren’t totally, minutely, accurate numbers, after all 0F is really -17.8C, and 100F is 37.8C, but let’s be honest with ourselves that if we’re not dealing with materials flammable at the tenth of a degree, I think we’re fine with just rounding up. And 2. In the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand you’re generally not going to have to deal with these extreme temperatures, as the weather is fairly moderate compared to the other main English speaking countries (Australia, Canada, and the USA). So really, this is a sort of total-scale, whose extremities relate primarily to those of us away from London, Dublin, and Wellington.

In conclusion, I do hope these basic conversions help if you decide to come over to Celsius. Don’t worry Fahrenheit loyalists, I’ll be using both, especially in my Formula 1 articles. One thing I will say in positive for the cold weather hitting us in North America: it’s good hockey weather!


“It’s good hockey weather!” -Courtesy of the “New York Times”.


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