As you read this editorial, the temperature outside is likely to be slightly above normal for this time of the year, and the bone-chilling, 9-below-zero reading on the thermometer of early Tuesday morning is already slipping from memory. As human beings, we are most concerned with the weather today and tomorrow, and forget easily the weather of yesterday. The media are a different story: They are obsessed with the weather of today and tomorrow, and oblivious of the weather of yesterday.
We call your attention to weatherman Al Roker of NBC-TV’s “Today” show. Excited nearly to the state of euphoria, Roker warned his viewers about the “polar vortex,” a mass of cold air from the Arctic and northern Canada, sweeping down to paralyze much of the United States. He called this phenomenon “unprecedented.”
Really? This has never happened before?
The only thing new about this weather system is the name it’s been given. There are plenty of precedents, as a thumbing through this newspaper’s archives proves. January 1977 was the coldest January in 200 years, according to the late Dr. Raymond Bell, a retired Washington & Jefferson College professor. Perhaps some of our readers may recall when the arctic air mass descended on the country and plunged the thermometer to 18 below zero here.
The same weather phenomenon occurred in January 1994. “The coldest weather since the turn of the century smashed all-time temperature records Wednesday and created problems for motorists, homeowners and power companies,” wrote Linda Ritzer in the Jan. 20, 1994, edition of the Observer-Reporter. “Washington recorded a low of minus 22, and Waynesburg reached minus 32 early Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.”
The same article noted that “the minus 27 temperature at the Pennsylvania American Water Co.’s Canonsburg pump station tied two other record lows recorded there Jan. 29, 1963, and Jan. 21, 1984.”
Hmmm. Seems from these records that this polar vortex – hardly unprecedented – happens roughly every 10 years.
Compared to some of these other frigid January days, what we experienced Tuesday was rather mild. Let’s count our blessings and move on.