We’re in the midst of a heat wave. The temperature outside is a balmy 35 degrees F (about 3 C for the real bros out there) and while you think that might be blatant sarcasm, it isn’t. 35F is balmy after our past two weeks of frigid temperatures! Those weeks had highs in the single digits, and anything else was sub-zero. It was also quite windy as well, making the air feel like -15F. That’s what anyone would call bitterly cold.
(A Quick Aside About Fahrenheit vs. Celsius
I use celsius myself. I changed my phone’s weather app to display temps in C and while it took some time to get used to, you do adapt to a different temperature system after about a year. I can convert with minimal thinking now. 42F? I’d say that’s about 7C. (It’s more like 5.5, but still!) I much prefer Celsius, but I’m going to stick with Fahrenheit for a few reasons. I live in the US and writing a blog post in Celsius is a dick thing to do. It’s pretentious as fuck; like I’m going to force change on all my readers because that’s how I think the world should be. And two: I’m too lazy to convert all these numbers. I’m trying to have this posted in like the next half-hour so time is of the essence here. And I should stop rambling about C vs F.)
What Does the Cold Feel Like?
It feels stupid to even be describing what frigid cold actually is — I live it everyday because I work outside — but most of the world probably never experiences anything as extreme as negative temps. Canadians, Russians, the Finnish and Norwegians probably, but that’s all I can think of. Oh, and the crazy scientists that live in Antarctica along with mountain climbers I suppose. But they’re well aware of what they’re getting into so prepare properly. Everyone else? Nope. Bundle up and do your best to survive the two or three bitterly cold months of year. Try not to think about it until it starts to warm up.
It’s hard to describe the cold because it’s like any other experience; you can’t understand it until you’ve been there. You can sort of get it, but you don’t get it until your face, hands, and feet are numb and you just want to lay down and die. I’m tempted to say the frigid cold is like being chilly, but worse, but they’re two totally different things. They’re not at all similar. It’s like saying a warm, 80F degree day is similar to a 115F heat index day, just imagine the warm day being worse, but you’d miss the utter oppression behind the real heat. It’s the same with the cold. Sure, you’re chilly when it’s 40F degrees, but this isn’t anywhere near the same as it being below zero. Below zero is just fucking miserable.
Your extremities go numb. You can put on more clothes, but there is a limit with boots and gloves. You can’t put on more socks if you can’t put your feet in your boots. You can’t put on more gloves if you actually need to do something with your hands. Another thing that always goes numb is the ears; luckily putting a hat over your head solves this problem. Your core, from what I’ve realized, never really gets too cold. My legs? Fine. My body? Fine. I’m sure this will be a problem in even more extreme conditions – maybe below -40 – but luckily I haven’t experienced that outside of two days in my entire life.
Your nose will freeze shut every time you inhale deeply or sniff. The snot that pours out of your nose instantly freezes each time you breathe only to thaw a second later. Your eyes will water at the slightest breeze and promptly freeze on your eyelashes. Each time you blink slightly longer than you usually do, your eyes freeze shut. Like your nose, the tears thaw quickly, ever stealing your body’s heat, but the fact that blinking and breathing become difficult is a good sign that, yes it’s cold, and that yes, if you’re not prepared for the cold you literally could die.
Another fun fact: once it get’s below 0F you don’t even notice it being colder. 0F is bitterly frigid and there is no difference between that and -40. The only thing that’s noticeable is how quickly you become miserable. While the air feels the same – bitterly fucking cold – you can stay comfy at 0F for maybe ten or twenty minutes. At -20F you’re comfy for like five to ten minutes. At -40 you’re miserable after just a few minutes. It’s nice in a way; there’s nothing left to do but to stay outside as long as you can and retreat to the warmth when things get unbearable. You just get less time to do so as it gets colder.
Adapting to the Cold
Luckily the human body is pretty damn good at adapting. One of my realizations working at UPS is this: 40 degrees F in March feels a lot different than 40 degrees F in November. Why? Because you’ve adapted. By suffering through sub-zero temps for a few weeks/months you do adapt. Sure, you don’t really realize it at the time, but once it warms from “frigid” to “just cold” (like going from -5F to 20F) it all clicks. You don’t feel quite as miserable as you’d expect. Yes, it’s cold, yes, you’re bundled up, but you’re not wanting to lay down and die!
Every autumn I try to force myself to adapt to the impending cold by dressing like a total dipshit. Or I should say “Not dressing, like a total dipshit.” I’ll power through the 20s with a hoodie on while the majority of my crew already has bibs over their pants. Some wear leggings as well! And I don’t bust the gloves out until it’s in the single-digits. Why? Because if your body gets used to gloves it turns into a softie. Sure, gloves work, but if you’re relying on them at a balmy 15 degrees F your fingers won’t know what to do when it chills to -20 outside!
My favorite protip that I tell everyone is to walk barefoot in the snow. Seriously, it works. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, and yes it’s jarring, but once your feet get used to being doused in powdery frozen water every few minutes a day they turn into little furnaces. They will not freeze in boots and socks! Years ago I remember I wore two pairs of socks to work and my feet still became numb; it felt as if I was walking on two wooden pirate-like peg legs for a few hours. Since I started barefooting in the snow/cold I’ve never had numb feet. Ever. And I’m talking down to -40 with only a single pair of Standard White Cotton Socks! Sadly, everyone I tell this to just looks at me like I’m insane. Yes, I am insane, but it fucking works and I’ll stand by it until I die.
A Word About Frostbite
At these stupidly low temperatures, frostbite becomes a real possibility. I wont write too much about it (there are enough medical references online) but frostbite is when your skin literally freezes. The water inside your body turns to ice, ice expands when it freezes, and blows your cells up like taking a knife to a balloon. No medical mumbo-jumbo needed: frostbite is you literally freezing. Obviously this happens mostly to exposed areas that can’t snag heat easily from your body so most commonly occurs on fingers, toes, ears, noses, etc.
When people bitch at work about their hands being numb/hurting/hard to move I tell them, “Good. Because once they stop hurting is when you’re really fucked.” “Luckily” (only for experience-sake) I’ve had frostbite on my toes before so know how it is. When you lose all feeling – not to where they’re only numb but you can touch them and not feel anything – is a good sign of frostbite. The pain goes away because there’s nothing there to feel anything! But once you warm the area up the pain is holy fuck intense. Kinda like being stabbed by tiny needles in a way. So if you are outside, keep an eye on that. Pain and numbness is fine and normal, but if you stop feeling anything at all and the area “feels warm” please get the fuck inside someplace warm!
So after all of that I hope you can understand why I’m loving the current 30F days we’re having. They really are a heatwave. It’s merely cold and not frigid. You can’t get frostbite if it’s above freezing. You can go outside and not worry about dying. You can walk to the mailbox without dressing for fifteen minutes. A trip to the gas station/work isn’t a chore on its own. And hell since I’ve adapted so well, I kinda want to bust out the shorts! As us Midwesterners say (and we probably stole this from the Canadians): It’s a fuckin’ scorcher out there, bud!
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