“What? Get outta here kid. Can’t you see I’m working?”
“I do see, Master, but only with my eyes. I wish to see with my full being.”
“How did you get in here? Can somebody please call security?!”
“I have traveled many miles to learn the secret of … the Polar Vortex, for I know it originated here in this mystical place—WSI Energy.”
“Wait. What did you say?”
“WSI Energy—a wholly owned subsidiary of Landmark Communications, the parent company of the Weather Channel.”
“Have a seat, son. So who sent you?”
“No one sent me, Sensei. I arrived here in my quest to find the source of the phrase ‘polar vortex.’ It is all that anyone in my village speaks of. Yet, before last Christmas we had never heard this magical word combination in reference to unusually cold weather. We were limited to such primitive expressions as ‘cold snap’ or ‘cold spell,’ as the elders used to call it.”
“As you can imagine, this language is hazy and imprecise. It did not allow us to visualize the magnitude of the cold that was gripping our land. We simply had no way of properly fearing the weather.
“But now that the beast has a name, we can actually visualize it! The polar vortex is a massive brute that slithers down from the frigid wasteland of the mysterious ‘Land of the Kind.’ Some even tell of having seen video of the monster slowly creeping southward on the weather map, but most of us believe that to be just clever animation.”
“You are quite perceptive, young one. Indeed, we did create the legend of the polar vortex. But that isn’t all. Remember that ‘thunderstorm’ that wiped out the power grid for much of the mid-Atlantic seaboard in 2012? That was no ordinary storm. That was a derecho! And now, having blasted that word into the minds of ordinary citizens just like you, our trained weathermen can strike fear into the hearts of millions with the simple utterance … duh-RAY-cho.”
But why, Sensei?
“Ratings, Grasshopper. Ratings. The more people fear the weather, the higher our ratings. It started innocently enough when the Weather Channel ordered Jeff Morrow to do his live reports on the approaching hurricane standing atop slippery, wave-battered rocks.
“It was effective—for a while. But once it became evident that Jeff wasn’t going to get swept away any time soon, the gimmick lost its luster. So we tried naming winter storms—Nemo, Rocky, Draco, Q—but we were actually losing viewers who said it felt like we were overreaching.
“But then, on Christmas Day 2013, we had a Christmas Miracle. Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist WBZ-TV News in Boston, said this: ‘The final days of 2013 and first days of 2014 will be all about COLD. The polar vortex will send a couple lobes of bitterly cold air our way as it noses south.’ The first known utterance of ‘polar vortex’ in the US media.”*
“Do you understand what I am trying to teach you?”
“I think so, Sensei. If we want our stories to be powerful we must use concrete imagery, even if no one really understands what we’re talking about.”
“Close enough, kid. Now get outta here. I’ve got a weather panic to create.”