Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Tobias Buckell is a writer that I have followed off and on for many years now (8 at this point, I think?), and he's always brilliant and insightful. The other day, on Twitter, he posted about going out to see what being in the super cold temperatures we've been getting this crazy winter would be like. He lives in the proper Midwest, where they've been getting slammed, and since he's writing a book about the arctic, he thought it might be good research to go wander around in it some.

Because I am the pinnacle of original thought and output, I thought, "Cool! I wanna try!"

Where Tobias Buckell lives, it was -10 F, with -33 windchill.

When I went on my little walkabout, it was 2 F outside, with a windchill of -17.

Some initial things of note: it was interesting to compare my own experience to Mr. Buckell's, and if you want to check that out, his post is here. One thing that I kept in mind was that Mr. Buckell is from the Caribbean originally, whereas, while I'm from a southern state, I'm no stranger to the cold. However, there was a good 10 degree or more difference between our areas as well.

It was still cold as balls. It's just...how cold do you want those balls? Whisky stones, or flash frozen?

Anyway, I knew it was colder than the day before, when I had been shoveling the driveway, so I knew to bundle up. I wore the t-shirt I was wearing at the time, jeans, regular boxers, regular socks. I don't have any long johns or anything like that. From there, I put on a warm flannel shirt I bought back in November, rubber steel-toed boots I bought back when I was in college, and my leather coat. I have a thin scarf that usually suffices for most cold situations, but given the circumstances, I grabbed one of my wife's big, heavy, long scarves to wear instead. I also grabbed an earflap hat--the kind you think of when you think of the cliched Canadian.

Taking no chances, man.
In the picture above, you'll also notice gloves. I started out wearing my wife's fingerless gloves with mitten overlays so I could take some pictures with my phone, but those suckers were too thin and I quickly returned inside for my pair of thicker gloves. They're just super cheap gloves from Walmart, but they do the trick most of the time.

As I dressed, I made sure to tuck my shirt in to keep the wind from blowing up the bottom of it and freezing my stomach and chest.

I set out for my mailbox--I figured I'd check the mail while I was out. However, I quickly realized that it was bright outside. Too bright. The sun reflecting off of the snow was radiating like the ground was touched by the hand of God. I squinted my eyes and pressed on for a few moments, waiting for my eyes to adjust. However, I eventually realized that it wasn't really getting any better, and that if I wanted to be able to see anything that was going on, I'd need something.

My own pair of sunglasses recently died the tragic death that nice, semi-expensive sunglasses always do, so I went hunting for my wife's pair.

If you take anything away from this story, gentlemen, it's that when the arctic apocalypse comes, the women will all still be around because we men are too goddamned stupid to buy and maintain essential things. Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway, after procuring my wife's sunglasses, I set out again.


The sunglasses helped immensely. It was still bright, but not unbearably so. It was eerie, strange, wandering around the neighborhood. Most everyone was locked up inside their houses with their heaters and their PJs and their cups of hot cocoa. One solitary soul was outside scraping snow off his driveway.

As I walked, I studied the ground. There were ridges scattered throughout the snow, creating striation looking patterns. The wind would gust through occasionally, picking up the dry snow on top and carrying it away, looking like dirt devils.

I remember thinking that, while it was certainly cold, it wasn't as bad as I thought. And then, just like Mr. Buckell said in his post, I turned the corner of the block and felt the gust of the wind. Holy God, it sliced through my jeans like they were made of tissue paper, the cold feeling like it cut right to my bare skin. I leaned into the wind, struggling through some of the deeper dunes, and was surprised to find even my thick gloves weren't keeping the wind out.

I had started my journey with m scarf just around my neck, but when the wind hit me in the face, it was like a thousand birds attacking my bare skin, pecking and snatching at every exposed bit of flesh. My checks especially, felt raw almost immediately. I wound up stopping, taking my gloves off, unzipping my coat right there, and rewrapping my scarf to make sure that I covered my face as well as I could.

With myself resituated, I pressed on. It was cold. Sweet Jesus was it cold. I should have had thicker socks on, but the movement and my determined pace kept my feet relatively warm. I was also clenching and unclenching my fists--absently at first, until I realized I was doing it, then purposefully because it seemed to be helping.

As you can see in the above picture, it was a bright, blue sky kind of day. Not a cloud around. The sun was shining like it was wanting to show off. On a day like this in the summer, there's no way I would have been outside. The heat from the sun would have felt like touching a hot pan to my skin. Today, I don't think I felt even the tiniest bit of warmth from it.

I made two laps around the block. The second lap, I noticed little places where the snow looked like it was starting to melt. Intrigued, I stopped and felt around. The snow had melted, and frozen back so perfectly that it was still clear. Instead of looking like ice, it looked like a stream of water that was just suspended in time.


It didn't really come out in the photo, but I took my gloves off for that picture, and my hands were instantly numbing and fumbling with my phone took a lot of effort. And the sun was so bright, I could barely see the screen, so this photo, as with the selfie above, were taken basically blind, me just tapping my phone screen frantically in a rough approximation of where the camera button was.

On my trip, I noticed several animal prints in the snow. I know several of my neighbors allow their pets to just wander the neighborhoods unchecked. I hope they got them in because I'm pretty sure they couldn't survive something this cold.

I have vague memories of it getting this cold when I was ten or so. I remember it getting down into the negatives for the first time in my life, and being astounded that it could actually be that cold. Nearly fifteen years later, that feeling hasn't gone away.

It was -2 F this morning when my wife went to work.

Stay warm everybody.

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A post script: while I was out driving earlier today, my window fogged up on the inside. I rolled my window down in an attempt to get it to unfog. This worked (ish), but when I tried to roll my window up, I heard a loud cracking sound that scared me. I thought I'd broken the window!

Not quite. The condensation on the inside of the window had frozen to the rubber strip, however. Seriously, y'all. That's fucking bananas.