What’s it like to be the voice of the polar vortex? These weathermen know.


Adam Clark (KBJR/Handout)
January 6

It’s freezing, frigid, not-going-outside, what’s-next-up-on-the-Netflix-queue cold in much of the country right now.

And it falls on the weatherpeople of arctic America to urge caution and tell us all about it.

So, what is it like to be the voice of this polar vortex, bringing the grim news about temperatures that are flirting with — and in some cases breaking — record lows?

For John Wheeler in Fargo, N.D., it means putting things in perspective.

“Fargo has been significantly colder than the North Pole for the past few days,” said Wheeler, chief meteorologist at WDAY, the ABC affiliate station in North Dakota’s largest city.

In Duluth, Minn., where people are bracing for the negative teens, John Zeigler is feeling for people — and reaching for some cold weather puns.

“I’ve seen 47 degrees below zero. It hurts to tell people that,” said Zeigler, the morning meteorologist for Fox 21 News. “I think the coldest temperature around here on Tuesday will be in Embarrass, Minnesota. They should be about 35 below tomorrow, which is pretty embarrassing.”

Zeigler has been at his post for one year and he’s already found his own way to verbally illustrate how cold it will be.

“I like to use ‘stupid cold’ and I use the word extreme a lot because sometimes frigid doesn’t cut it,” he said.

“I’ve got this one graphic that’s called ‘intense cold,’ ” Adam Clark said. He is the chief meteorologist for Northland’s NewsCenter in Duluth, where his viewership includes International Falls — the city expected to get some of the chilliest weather in the country Tuesday. “But people get tired of it, honestly. Frigid and cold is really just mild here. Basically, you just have to make sure people are safe.”

On Tuesday, the high for Duluth will be 3 below zero and at night it will fall to 16 below.

Although the weather remains uninviting, these weathermen stay dedicated to cheering people up a bit about the next few days.

“I like to get nostalgic,” Wheeler said. “I’ll point out other cold snaps that were historically worse and it’ll jog your memory. Especially in the North and Great Plains, weather memories are something that create community.”

“I like to use humor,” Zeigler said. “I’ll always say we’re going to do something out of the ordinary. Like, ‘Oh, it’s 30 degrees outside? Let’s go swimming!’ For us Northlanders, we just have to joke.”

Clark, who is from South Carolina originally, emphasizes that you do need to project a certain amount of seriousness — people are sustaining injuries, and it remains dangerous. But there is still room for appropriate fun. On his Monday night forecast, Clark stepped outside, into what he calls his “weather garden,” and threw hot water into the air, to make snow.

On Friday, when it was nearly negative 20, he said he told viewers that he couldn’t say how cold it was “because of the FCC rules.”

Extreme temperatures are exciting — not that these weather professionals would wish snow and sleet on anyone.

“I equate it to a medical doctor,” Wheeler said. “You’d have to be a little off to wish ill health on people but the people that do basic doctoring must get a thrill because of [unusual cases] being professionally challenging. So that’s why I like things like this. It’s a big learning experience.”

Forecasting the weather in the frozen North is an important job, these meteorologists know. They have to answer questions like: How many layers should people wear outside? Should people go outside at all? And, how long can Minnesota and North Dakota remain an icy blue on that weather map?

“I’m pretty apologetic,” Zeigler said. “But I like to be optimistic. I always try to give them something positive like that ‘this weekend it will be in the mid-20s’ or ‘at least it’s getting gradually warmer.’ ”

And although these three meteorologists have to love the snow, since they forecast for its arrival from Thanksgiving to about March, there’s always time for a Northlander’s daydream.

“I like to think about fishing in 55-degree weather,” Zeigler said.

“I daydream of mid-20s and skiing at Spirit Mountain here in Duluth and it looks like my dream will come true on Saturday when the high is near 27 degrees!” Clark said.

“You know, I went to this little place in Key West for my 50th birthday,” Wheeler said. “And it was so warm and mild and sometimes I think about that. Not all the time. But it’s just nice to think about that.”

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