The Fish Story

Just Call Me ‘J,’ Grandmother; A Very Confused Polar Vortex

By JAY MANN | Feb 06, 2019

JUST KIDDING, TOM: I’m proud to have been raised on the beach, where, as a small child, the local Native American tribe would see me joyously frolicking in the foam with the sandcrabs, burying myself to feed on tiny worms before bursting forth as the waves receded. The Indians were moved to spiritually name me Dances With Assorted Crustaceans And Small Shore Birds Including Piping Plover And Sand Pipers But Not Excluding More Migratory Species – “J” for short.

The tribe’s chief, whom I called Grandmother – he was far ahead of his time with the whole gender-bending thing – instilled in me the ways of the locale Lenape. Early on, he taught me the seductive call of the lady blueclaw crab – to where I could entice huge joeys out of the bay and directly into an awaiting pot of boiling water.

To this day I can still see Grandmother patiently waiting onshore as I kept bobbing up to the surface while learning to swim beneath the water to rhythmically beat a drum to percussively blend in with drumfish – “of all colors” were his visionary words. Possibly most enduring were his lessons in how to crawl on all fours to find clams by closely sniffing the mud, a sacred method I still use today when I’m sure nobody is watching. I long to just once more look up to see the entire tribe sniffing for clams. Unfortunately, wonderful Grandmother did have one shortcoming, leading to his becoming colloquially – and quite quietly – known as Chief Can’t Fish for S***. Thusly, I long ago resigned myself to simply writing about fishing – though I can still proudly live up to the name Dances With Assorted Crustaceans And Small Shore Birds Including Piping Plover And Sand Pipers But Not Excluding More Migratory Species.

SCHIZOPHRENIC VORTEXES: You know by name the oft-despised arctic “polar vortex,” which has been known to royally freeze our weather in the winter. This infamous counterclockwise-swirling arctic system is actually nothing out of the ordinary, per se. It’s always up in the arctic, year ’round, showing as a surface low in the troposphere from ground level to 5 miles up.

Between late fall and early spring, the entire polar vortex region frigidly heats up, as a larger and independent vortex forms as much as 30 miles up in the stratosphere. Although this upper-level cyclonic center is generally less than 700 miles wide, it can wreak havoc far below should its tightly wound circulation go aft agley.

When a polar vortex is well wound, it means nothing to far-away N.J. But when it loses its concentration, its rotational shape elongates, causing a zygote-like split into two vortexes. Such a split is kinda common. When it happens, one low moves into the higher altitudes over Baffin Island, Canada, while the other takes up residency over Siberia.

Then, in rarer cases, multiple vortices can form. This expands the coverage area of the entire polar vortex complex, extending it far from the mother swirl. This can shift its frigid reaches well out of the Arctic Circle. It’s these aberrations in the polar vortex that can reach south with deadly cold fingers.

Polar vortex expert Professor Darryn Waugh of Johns Hopkins University explains, “When extreme cold events occur, this is not because of the existence of a polar vortex – which was always there – but rather because the edge of the vortex has shifted or a piece has been stripped off and moved south.”

Such stripping off can airmail record-destroying cold to many sections of the U.S., vis-à-vis last week.

Polar vortex minutiae: An expanded vortex system is influenced by something called Rossby waves, explained by Wauch as “north-south meanders in the polar vortex caused by variations in topography, oceanic heating and other factors. When these Rossby waves ‘break,’ they can result in vortex stripping, where a long filament of air separates from the main body of the vortex, moves south and mixes with the warmer air.”

While that data is icily academic, it becomes all too simplified when we suddenly freeze our butts off from mere “filaments” of a polar vortex complex.

ICY GLOBAL WARMING: Now to freeze you in your tracks: We might be feeling more and more polar vortex whackings thanks to … a warming planet. Global warming is seemingly multitalented.

Global warming enters the polar vortex scene through a complex chain of mainly unnatural events. Emerging research indicates manmade warming sea surfaces heavily affect global ocean currents. In turn, those marine currents impact atmospheric wind currents, from ground level into the upper layers of the atmosphere. Adding to the atmospheric confusion are enhanced air currents from the heightened heating of land masses. With so many screwy geophysical influences reaching the suffering skies, polar vortices are sure to be annually frazzled – ready to send out many a foul filament. Forcing polar vortexes to become disorderly will rain down frigidity on areas equatorward – and, when talking about the Arctic, we’re equatorward.

I offer all this cold-speak in ongoing hopes of moving LBI society toward helping to fix the ravaged sky above, thusly allowing us to stay comfortably implanted along the coastline. While an increasing number of Americans are convinced things are very wrong with the skies above, the majority come up empty-handed when it comes to forking out funds to save the planet. An NBC headline recently read: “More Americans believe in global warming – but they won't pay much to fix it.”

Nevertheless, I’ll bleat pleadingly on, like a wayward sheep doggy-paddling in a stormy sea … or something along those metaphoric lines. And, come spring, I’ll probably be bleating about fiercer and fiercer tropical cyclones, a known spin-off of man-warmed seas and skies. “Baaaa, dude.”

DOGGONE ICE: Our local world-class first responders are duly sharpening up on their ice rescue skills. See and last week’s SandPaper.

I’ve been involved with a few ice rescues, all involving animals. Icy rescues get so dang complicated, often at the speed of failing ice. It’s seldom a case of just zipping on out and making a quick ice-top grab-and-save.

An ice victim’s breakthrough point has nothing to do with how far a rescuer can proceed. Not only might a rescuer be heavier than a struggling target, but the existing breakthrough radiates ice-weakening cracks. Any ice rescue can quickly become a water rescue – a 32-degree water rescue. Enter hypothermia.

Many years back, I participated in a highly improvised rescue of a large, retriever-type dog that had fallen through the ice on a small Pinelands lake. I volunteered to go out with a rope wrapped around me, under my arms – but not before I first jumped into my 5-mil winter-surfing wetsuit and booties. I had time to suit up since the dog had pulled its upper body onto the top of the ice. Poor guy was lying there sideways – totally and pathetically exhausted, all “Uh, could use a little help here.”

Inexperienced at such rescues, I roped up and began rapidly traipsing toward the dog. A third of the way out, the ice began firing off with bullet-like cracking sounds. Flashing on something I had read in a Boy Scout training book, I went down on my belly. What a difference that weight dispersion made. The ice instantly quieted.

I managed to belly my way almost all the way over to the dog, using my elbows like legs – until the ice decided that was all of me it could take. I first got a sinking feeling as a depression in the ice formed under me, filling with water. Then, it fully gave way. Splashdown. Fortunately, the lake was shallow or I would have been in way over my head, so to speak. I stood up in the chest-deep water, as my wetsuit filled and began doing its protective duty. It was still spooky, especially as I sank into a mushy bottom.

My breakthrough opening in the ice connected to the dog’s opening, which worked just fine for him. He wasted no time swimming over to me. Unfortunately, he was soon smashing my head and face with his paws, seemingly determined to climb onto the top of my head. I offered a somewhat calming “Good boy. You’ll be OK … hopefully.” He settled down, but not before gracing my cheeks with serious claw marks.

Grabbing my charge, I signaled the folks on the shore to haul me in. What a mistake. They were way too enthusiastic and began rapidly dragging me and the waterlogged dog into the ungiving edges of unbroken ice stretches. They would drag us atop the ice for a short distance and we’d break through again. Talk about a rib bashing. It became so painful that I finally loosed a silence-shattering “Stop!,” opting to simply stand up and walk the dog in, using my dogless arm to elbow-smash the ice.

Mercifully, the water was soon only knee-deep, so I used upward leg smashes to further bust ice from underneath. The dog gladly hung limply under my arm. Nearing the shore, the rescuers inched out to help me.

Back then, I was in fully buffed shape, yet came out utterly spent. I was bent-over exhausted, dang near puke-grade exhausted. The mini-rescue proved to me there’s no toying around with ice rescues. Again, had the water been over my head?

Oh, the dog was fine and began face-licking everyone. He seemingly knew the rescuey nature of what had taken place. Oddly, his owner was nowhere to be found. I had assumed one of the people on the shore owned him. Nope. Since my Jeep was sorta small to warm up the shivering rescuee, a local kid put him in his heated truck, saying he’d track down the owner. I’m sure he eventually found the dog’s relieved family.

As for the aftereffects, my ice-bruised ribs and claw-scraped cheeks pained me. Adding to the pain load, cedar stumps and branches on the lake bottom had shredded my highly costly neoprene wetsuit. A total $250 loss. It was still well worth it. In fact, the ruined wetsuit indirectly motivated me to just head to Hawaii for the rest of the winter – you know, to let my bruises heal in the sun. Good doggie.

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