Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How cold is it?

So many of my Northern California friends ask me…

"Dude... can you like tell the difference between -2 and -25 degrees or is it just… cold?"
Wait a second...
That guy is not from Northern California. Where are the dreads? Where is the tie dye?

Where is the groovy dancing and topless tree sitting protesters?
He is one of those Southern California boys...
hang on lets see if I can dig up some pictures of my peeps....

Ahhh that is much better. That's more like it.

So back to the question of coldness.

The answer is… Yes you can tell. Just like one can tell the difference between 100 and 110 degrees. It is just the same on the other end of the thermometer.

Let's do a little role-play shall we? Imagine the thermometer says it is -20 degrees outside with a touch of a breeze and for some odd reason you want to go outside.

What-ev-er. Foolish mortal.

Anyway, this is how it breaks down. You go to the door, suit up, and the first thing you notice it that there is ice on the inside of the window and on the door strike panel. Remember, this is INSIDE the house.

Then you open the door and all you can see is a steam/fog like cloud that swirls in front of you as the heat from the house meets the cold air outside. It is like opening a big freezer door. Well, that is because you are walking into a freezer, well actually you are walking out to a freezer but even colder because most people keep the freezer compartment on their fridge somewhere between 0 and 28 degrees and remember I said it is -20 outside.

Anyway, you step through that cloud and shut the door behind you. The blue cold reaches out and immediately the hits you in the face. It is like a wave of water and the shock forces you to gasp pulling that air deeply into your lungs. The air is amazingly fresh but the cold makes your lungs feel almost like there is a bit of smoke in the air so you cough. Now, if you were smart you are wearing about 3 layers of clothes, including a couple sets of gloves or maybe one really good pair of mittens.
The most important stuff to keep warm?
Head, hands, feet. Remember that.

If any of the above noted body parts get cold while you are outside, trying to get them warm again while you are still outside in this kind of cold is not going to happen.

My head is a big one… well, I did not mean to say I have a big head, I meant to say it was a big lesson for me to learn that I need to cover my head when I go outside. Well, actually I do have a big head but that's another story. I was never much for hats but that has changed. If you are cold, cover your head… and do not forget your ears. You see you can still cover your head and your ears might be sticking out, like with a baseball cap. If your ears are not covered it only takes a minute or so for them to hurt.

Note I did not say for them to be cold…
I said for them to HURT.
If you stay out for say… for 15 minutes or so like that your ears might just freeze.
No.. seriously… they will freeze, turn black, and fall off.

*Plink* *Plink*
Right onto the icy ground and man would that would be a drag.
Just ask this guy:

Well... he had other issues too.

Anyway, we actually had a winter storm warning based on the coldness of the temperature and wind chill. The weather channel folks warned us all that with a temperature of -20 below zero with a windchill of -30 or more it would only take about 15 minutes outside unprotected for some individuals to suffer frostbite injury.

Back to the dream sequence. This kind of cold will also make your teeth hurt, especially if you have bugs bunny teeth like me. You may try to close your mouth but with trudging through the snow with all those layers on like the abominable snowperson you tend to breathe a bit heavier than normal. You have to open your mouth to breath. Then comes the next problem. Any moisture on your skin starts to burn. Burn cold, not burn hot. If you lick your lips, or if your nose runs... and trust me your nose will run… it always runs. You get used to it.... but even your eyes get cold because of moisture. They get kinda squinty.

Geez, I am sure painting a nice picture of myself in the winter time. Big headed, bunny teeth, no ears, runny nose, squinty eyed, abominable snow-woman mouth breather. Attractive.

Anyway, after a few days like this, when -2 comes along or wowee even 15 above zero… you start feeling pretty good outside… maybe you just put on two layers, or you might just stay outside a bit longer. Maybe a whole 20 minutes.

Well... maybe not quite like that. That is Tahoe kinda cold not yooper kinda cold.

Just like being careful in 110 degree weather, you have to be careful here too. You must keep your thoughts in order and be aware of the amount of time you are outside, or if you are having any unusual thoughts. No laying down to sleep in the snow when your brain says, "Hey! I have an idea! Lets nap right here on the ground, it is so nice and quiet and the snow looks so fluffy." Or if you notice a body part hurting because of the cold, and then it suddenly no longer hurts… if you are still outside it is time to go in. Now. It doesn't mean you are acclimated, it means that body part is freezing. You just don't know it yet because it passed through the pain stage and into numbness.

For example, I was shoveling snow outside the post office and I did not have a hat on because I was not planning on being out there long. And while I was shoveling at first my ears hurt a bit… then I started noticing how beautiful it was, and crisp, and it felt so good to be outside, and the air was so fresh, and I will just shovel a little more, and my ears don't even hurt any more, and this is great, this is gorgeous, finally some exercise, and this is wonderful, and I feel so good, and the sun is out... and and and… then I thought, "Wait a minute. Something is not right here." So I picked up my shovel and went inside… and then winced for my little ears as they slowly and thankfully defrosted.

Don't let me scare you off of this experience though folks. Just like those pictures of snowflakes you have seen taken with a microscopic lens, this kind of cold crystallizes everything.

When the weather is like this the ground, the trees, the sky… everything sparkles, everything is sharp, crisp, clean, quiet, and glassy.

I could see how people with the right protection start to really enjoy this kind of weather,
it really is very pretty.

So if you ever get a chance to check out some below zero weather... go on out the door and check it out at least once. Then you can retreat back into the cozy house and put your toes up by the fire.


  1. Lovely!

    You spell out the joys and hazards of the subzero. Your tales evoke these memories strongly in me.

    I have told Brooke of the joys of the subzero and how running around in a tshirt at 20 degrees might not be so far-fetched after all.

  2. Yes, thank you for the enlightenment on this topic. The more we have considered moving out of California, I keep asking people, "Well, how much colder can it really be?" Now I have more to think about! What about the animals? Not the wild beasts who are acclimated but the poor farm animals? I would need to get a heater for my chickens!



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