On pain of boring everyone rigid about how frigid it still
is here in Chirish-land, the Arctic conditions are at least allowing one upcoming event to live up to its name.
The Polar Plunge is held annually in Chicago to raise
funds for the city’s Special Olympics. As the name suggests, it involves a
plunge (or a paddle) in the wintry waters of Lake Michigan. Usual attire is a swimsuit and little else, giving a new meaning to polar bare. Last year, the water
temperature was a balmy 32 degrees Fahrenheit which is basically freezing in Centigrade. This year, the concern is that it will be frozen – literally.
As of the middle of February, some 88% of the Great Lakes
were covered with ice, the highest percentage since the mid-1990s. We had a few
days last week when temperatures nudged into the positive column and everything
started melting. That was fun. It was a bit like a sunny day in Northern
Ireland in the summer. People started wearing shorts and tried to use their
BBQs. Except the tops were still frozen over.
But just like summer in Northern Ireland (as in “What did you
do last summer?” “Oh, I went to the hairdresser that day”), our “spring” was
short-lived and we’re back to Defcon 1 duvet coats
and Dangerous Temperature alerts.
Interest in this Sunday’s Polar Plunge is heating up however
due to the participation of Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel and comedian Jimmy
Fallon. Emanuel was the first on board after promising to take part if Chicago
schoolchildren read more than 2 million books in the Summer Learning Challenge.
Fallon, who just took over the Tonight Show this month from
Jay Leno, was then lured into signing up after Emanuel promised he would appear
on Fallon’s show if he took the plunge. Fallon is now calling himself “Swimmy
Fallon” and says he will be wearing a suit and tie. Apparently Emanuel is
asking for a recount of the two million books, just in case.
The forecast for Sunday is suitably polar – temperatures of
around minus 10 degrees Celsius and snow showers. But the temperature in the lake is
currently around minus 1 so it will actually be warmer in the water.
And at least Swimmy and co won’t have to worry about the
giant attacking fish that people have been emailing me about recently.
That stems from a report Chicago is looking at how to prevent Asian carp
overrunning the Great Lakes. The carp, introduced to the southern US in the 1970s to keep catfish ponds
clean, are now in public waterways such as the Mississippi river.
Thanks to their impressive rate of reproduction, they have become known as river
rabbits which is doubly appropriate as they can
also jump. But not quite a bunny hop, rather up to three metres into
the air. And into nearby fishermen. According to the Environment Protection Agency, there have been
reports of injuries ranging from black eyes to concussion. And the fishermen didn't look too good either!
The good news is that scientists have only discovered river rabbit DNA and no actual carp in the
Great Lakes and in reality current numbers are
thought to be very few, if any. So the only things leaping out of Lake Michigan this coming Sunday should be the very cold and very brave Polar Plungers. Woolly hats off to them all.