It is cold outside. This is winter in the Canadian prairie. Cold. So cold it almost defies explanation, but, as usual, I shall endeavour to describe, for those in a warmer climate, how cold Cold is.
Imagine standing in your freezer… with an industrial fan aimed at your face. Then imagine it colder.
Today is was -35 C when we left the house. That is air temperature. It, apparently, felt like -45 C with the wind chill factor. It’s hard to tell, though; anything colder than about -25 C, with or without wind, all feels the same. Damned cold.
It is so cold that I have insufficient colourful words in my vocabulary to describe how unpleasant our weather is. -40 C is the same as 40 below F, which is only slightly less cold than 0 Kelvin, or Absolute Zero, when all molecular activity stops.
It is my humble opinion that the fact that we choose to live in this climate entitles us to some allottment of whingeing. Others, however, may just feel that if we are stupid enough to volunteer our flesh for some sort of predictably annual experiment in hypothermia survival, we should just grin and bear it, or move somewhere warmer. I think, though, that we are somehow, secretly proud of this hardship that we endure for five or six months out of every twelve. I think it makes us tougher. I think our city continues to function under circumstances that would force other, lesser cities to call in the military for emergency assistance.
There is no comparison to hot climates. We get nice, hot weather in the summer, briefly, and I’ll take the hottest weather over the coldest, any day of the year. I’m certain that hot climates are equally uncomfortable, and, possibly, related to an equal number of deaths, but if I were a homeless person, you can bet I’d rather be one in Florida or California than here.
I think it takes balls, or something, to stay in a place that is dangerously cold for at least a third of the year. After all, cold hurts. It is unsafe to be out in -45 C for more than a minute, because exposed skin freezes in less than a minute at that temperature (which really sucks when your bus stop is 10 minutes from home). Frozen skin is as painful as burned skin. It has lasting consequences, too; if it is salvaged, it will always remain more susceptible to worse frostbite, and usually need plastic surgery. With worse cases, things get gangrenous and need to be amputated. The most serious situation, obviously, is where one just gets sleepy and sits down to rest, and is found hours later, perfectly preserved like the slab of steak in your deep freeze, never to know warmth again.
Aside from the life-threatening consequences of exposure to excessive cold, there are the petty annoyances. Glasses fog, windshields frost, and clothes layered over longjohns and extra tshirts bind at critical junctures. Big chunks of frost collect on the latchplate of our front door and our dog has gotten his tongue stuck to cold metal three times (picture scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie licks the flagpole – bet you didn’t know that frozen blood is bright red). My electric blanket draws a buttload of power. Oh, and the kids take 15 mintues to get out the door, on the most efficient and attentive morning.
I have just checked the temperature; it has “warmed up” to -24 C. No wind chill. I think the thing that makes me whine the most is that yesterday was The First Official Day of Winter. We have at least another 2 months of this rotten, godforsaken weather before it starts to feel habitable again. And another two after that before we can start thinking about putting the winter clothes away.
So why do we live here? It’s cheap, our families are here. There’s lots to do, and we make our own fun. I hear there’s a bit of a baby boom every fall (you do the math). Our family has built a skating rink in the back yard for the last two years… that is only fun when it’s really cold, because otherwise the ice gets too soft. We use it every night. And there’s mother nature’s freezer, too. Friends of ours bought a half of a butchered cow. Who has room in the freezer for a half a cow? No problem… just stick it out the back door. Perfectly preserved until the bonspiel thaw in February. That’s the week of warm weather in February when everyone books their hockey tournaments and curling bonspiels because, hey, it’s February! The rinks are bound to be frozen!
Well, there’s my attempt at a silver lining. I’m going to bundle up. T is picking me up tonight… a special treat. I hope he’s got the heated seat switch clicked on… it is the only thing that makes it worth leaving the house. One of my colleagues is moving to Hawaii next week… I’m thinking of checking a large suitcase in her name, with myself inside. I wonder if they need nurses in Hawaii? They probably have a lot of skin cancer there… Hmmm… Ideas are brewing. Remind me again why I live here?