Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota heat wave, Argentine polar wave…what’s with this crazy weather? August 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:19 AM
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WHEN MY DAUGHTER e-mailed recently from Argentina complaining about the cold weather, I wasn’t too sympathetic. It’s winter there. What does she expect?

Plus, I’d welcome a blast of chilly air right now to ice down this interminable, steamy hot summer we’ve had in Minnesota.

But then I started thinking, as I’m apt to do, and sent her a list of questions, as I’m apt to do. Fortunately, my second-born indulged my curiosity and replied with an informational e-mail about South America’s recent “polar wave.”

Even that phrase, “polar wave,” makes me smugly smirk as I think of “Arctic air” and “Alberta clippers” in Minnesota. What do these South Americans know about frigid temperatures anyway? Have they ever endured temps or windchills in the double digits below zero like us hardy northerners?

Once I overcame my oversized Paul Bunyan attitude of superiority, I attempted to objectively consider my daughter’s southern weather report.

She wrote: “The polar wave, or La Ola Polar, supposedly is cold air that comes up from Antarctica. It may last for a few days or a whole week, it depends. I think they start calling it a polar wave when it’s around 0 degrees Celsius or lower (32 degrees F). People usually just put on heavier jackets. Gloves and scarves are common, too. You won’t see a large amount of people with hats, though.”

OK, no stocking caps, no ear flaps, no wool coats or parkas or winter boots. And, for gosh sakes, don’t those Argentines know that your fingers will stay warmer if you wear mittens instead of gloves?

Then, surprise, surprise, “some places in Argentina even got snow,” my 22-year-old daughter continues. “For my friend Sam in Tucuman, it was his first time seeing snow! An article in the Clarin (Buenos Aires daily newspaper) from August 4 said that on August 3, it got to  -7.1 degrees C (around 19-20 degrees F), with a windchill of -11.5 C (about 11 F) in San Antonio Oeste in the Río Negro province, and that was the lowest temp recorded for the day. Another Clarin article said that on Aug. 4 the coldest place in the country was in Río Mayo in the Chubut province, where it got to -25 C (-13F). This was the coldest temperature recorded in the past 5 years. In the Mendoza province, they had to suspend classes in 23 schools b/c the pipes froze.”

About then I realized that maybe this polar wave isn’t all that humorous. Likely, these South Americans don’t have the heating systems or insulated homes to deal with such unexpected frigid air. And, certainly, they don’t have the seasoned, inbred knowledge we Midwesterners have for comfortably surviving harsh winters.

After a bit of online research, I discovered that this recent cold weather has claimed many lives—in Bolivia, 18; Paraguay, 10; and Argentina, eight (in a single weekend), according to a July 20 CNN World report.

Thankfully, weather conditions are improving in South America, including Buenos Aires where my daughter lives. “After a week in the 35-40 degree range, it’s now around 55-60 degrees,” she tells me.

The warmer weather arrives in Argentina just in time for the arrival of her older sister today from Minneapolis.

I’ll be curious to hear: Which does she prefer, Minnesota heat wave or Argentine polar wave?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling