Answer Man: ‘Polar vortex’ isn’t new concept, nor is hype

December 28, 2018

Editor’s note: Answer Man is enjoying a short winter’s nap. Here’s an excerpt from a classic column, first published Jan. 17, 2014.

Dear Answer Man, I’m almost 60 years old and have lived in Minnesota all my life. Why have I never heard of a “polar vortex” until now?

Meteorological terms come and go, and they get hyped as needed, mostly by TV. You probably hadn’t heard of a “superstorm” until ”Superstorm Sandy,” either. In the media world, weather simply sells, and the more you can juice it, the better.

A “polar vortex” is what used to be called “a cold snap.” It’s been around as a concept for about 150 years but got a boost in the early 1950s when new ways came along to measure and observe what was going on over the Arctic Circle. There’s plenty to read online about polar vortexes, but for most of us, all you need to know is that it’s a big blob of cold air that has broken free of the Arctic area for a few days.

There’s another one headed our way, by the way. Bundle up!

Keep the trike parked ’til spring

Remember that three-wheeled Geo I’ve written about more than a few times? Of course you do. You read this column every day. So, as you recall, a gent in Wanamingo had fiddled with an old car to put a single wheel on the rear axle, creating a trike that doesn’t need to be licensed and insured as a regular car.

Well, here’s the nearly tragic punch line. Randy Hinzmann, the gifted mechanic who owns the car and did the work, told me at the time that he doesn’t drive the Geo much in winter because it has some steering liabilities in the snow, for one thing. But he was driving it last weekend and ran into some slushy road conditions south of Kasson. He wrote about the outcome on his excellent blog, Mechanics Corner:

“All was well until I was about a mile from my destination, South Zumbro Lutheran Church. I was traveling at a reduced speed, avoiding the slush when possible, when I came upon a large patch of slush. I had nearly cleared the patch when the back wheel caught, hydroplaned and sent the Geo-trike completely sideways in the road. I was fighting the steering wheel like it was an octopus as the Geo-trike veered hard left, across the oncoming lane and into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. I remember seeing the front end plowing into the deep snow and then a sliding, tumbling sensation.”

Long story short, Randy emerged in OK shape, though the car was pretty well smashed up.

“Now I have to decide if the thing will go off to the crusher or if can I get it back on the road without too much expense ... I may just part it out and start with a new project. I have my eye out for a Honda Civic hatchback, ’92-’00 years. I think one of those would make a good trike.

“So what have I learned from this episode, you ask? Only this: three-wheeled cars should only be driven when the roads are clear, ice and snow free, much like a motorcycle.”

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