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Weather Talk: Arctic means Bear

When the word, "arctic," is used in a forecast to describe cold weather coming, we all know what to expect. But have you ever wondered where the word, "arctic," comes from?

It turns out to be from the Latin arcticus which comes from the Greek arkticus which means "of the north." But arkticus means north because it is a reference to the Great Bear constellation, which we know today as the Big Dipper.

The Big Dipper (Ursa Major, which translates to Big Bear) is the most recognized constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, and so the Arctic is the region of the Big Bear. It is also, coincidentally, the region of the polar bear.

The opposite region of Earth is called Antarctica because it is opposite the Arctic. Of equal coincidence is the fact that no bears exist in Antarctica. It is the region not of the Big Bear, and also a region without any big bears.

John Wheeler

John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms.  John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold.  When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading.  John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.

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