Friday, February 1, 2019

Baby, It's (Really, REALLY) Cold Outside. . .

I debated with myself about posting this.  I know how eye-rolling it is when Old Folks (and God, I know I'm one) riff off on 'Back When I Was a Kid'.  But alas, I can't help myself. . .


A Curmudgeon Speaks. . .

The past few days have been really cold in these parts.  Really, REALLY cold.  When the high for the day is still a negative number, that's COLD.  And we've had 2-3 of those.  So yeah - REALLY cold. . .

Now, I grew up in Northern Michigan.  Far enough north that below-zero temperatures were not terribly unusual.  We could always count on having a few of them every winter, and every once in a while, it would get REALLY cold, like negative-double-digits cold.  I recall one day waiting for the bus in -20F.  It was so cold that many of the school buses (including my own) had trouble starting, and kids ended up standing at the bus stops for a half-hour longer than usual, or even longer.  The lady whose house was next to our bus stop finally took pity on us, and let us wait in her (unheated) garage.

When I was in junior-high school, I discovered that my own nostrils were finely calibrated to detect below-zero temperatures.  Whenever the temperature dipped below zero and I inhaled through my nose, my nostrils would collapse.  When the temperature rose back above zero, they would stay open.  Strange, but true. . .

The thing is this - we knew how to deal with the cold, and nobody died.  We bundled up (or our mothers bundled us up), wore hats and scarves, didn't take our mittens off, etc, etc.  And our moms didn't mind if we played outside, even in bitter cold.  When we got too cold, we'd come back inside,where hot chocolate and marshmallows awaited us.  It was part of winter life in northern Michigan.

We had snow days, sure - when a foot of snow fell, it was hard to get around, and school would be cancelled.  I recall one time when we got 40+ inches of snow over the course of a week, and there were no cars out on city streets - only snowmobiles.  But we never - I repeat, NEVER - had school cancelled because it was merely cold.  It was cold; life went on.  If your car started (which was less of a sure thing in those days than it is now), you went to work.  You bundled up, used common sense, etc, etc.  And nobody died.

But, forgive me, the hysteria we've been getting these past couple days has just been ridiculous.  Schools and businesses have closed their doors, including city and state government.  Urgent PSAs have been issued, telling us to hunker down and for god's sake, don't go outside!  'Cuz if you do, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!  I saw one article that told us, if you absolutely can't avoid going outside, you should 'minimize talking'.  Because, you know, if you open your mouth, that cold air could freeze your lungs (now, I know some folks who I might wish would keep their mouths shut more often, but it has nothing to do with the temperature; if you know what I mean. . .)  I might have said something about 'snowflakes' here, but, you know, this is the stuff real snowflakes thrive in. . .  I went out a couple times, running errands (buying food, and stuff like that), and it was like driving in a ghost town - there were almost no other cars on the streets.

Don't get me wrong; I want to have my mail delivered (and back when I was a kid - OK, go ahead and roll your eyes - there was this thing about, 'neither snow, nor rain, nor dark of night'. . . but I digress), but I don't really want to send mail carriers out walking their rounds in -30 wind chills for 10 hours, either.  I get it; I'm not a troll.

But. . . it's just cold.  REALLY cold, I get it.  Dangerously cold, maybe even.  But all it takes is a little common sense, and life can go on almost normally.  It's not a hurricane, or an earthquake, or fire falling from the sky.  The world is not coming to an end.  But from the news reports, you'd think it might be.

Anyway, as I write this, today's temperature has risen above 20F (that's positive 20), and by tomorrow, the forecasts are for temps in the 40s.  So, order is being restored, and pavement is starting to show through on the streets.  So, maybe we WON'T all die, after all. . .


The Joys of Grandchildren

One of our grandsons is a very, um, curious young man, and last night, before he went to bed (he was sleeping over at our house), he noticed the thermostat on the wall.  Interesting little box, with cool buttons on it!  So he pushed one of 'em (unbeknownst to anyone else), and went off to bed.  Turns out the button he pushed was the one that shut off the thermostat, so the furnace wasn't running all night.  This morning, when I got out of bed, it was -2F outside. . . and 43F inside. . .  (*sigh*)


A Note About Wind Chill. . .

WARNING - this is about Science and stuff, so if your eyes glaze over, feel free to ignore it. . .

First, credit where it's due - Joeh over at the Cranky Old Man posted about this, inspiring me to give a, uh, somewhat nerdier account. . .

Being an engineer by profession, I am reasonably familiar with the physics behind the idea of Wind Chill.  It basically boils down to the idea that when the wind is blowing, it takes heat out of things (including human bodies) faster than when no wind at all is blowing.

Inanimate things (like the non-running car in your driveway, or your neighbor's dead cat), will cool down to the ambient temperature, left to themselves.  When the wind is blowing, they'll cool down faster, but still only to the ambient temperature.  So, if the temperature is, say 0F, but the Wind Chill is -30F, the car will cool down to 0F, but at a rate as if it were -30F.

Now, things like human bodies (or their houses, if the furnace is running), are making their own internal heat.  So the Wind Chill means that the body needs to work harder to maintain its temperature.  Your body temperature will be 98.6F, whether the ambient temperature is 0F or -30F (and if it's not, that's a problem), but if the wind is blowing, heat will be extracted from your body (or your house) faster, so it 'feels' colder, and your body (or your house) needs to work harder to maintain its thermal equilibrium.  Clear as mud?

Also, not all bodies are created equal; small bodies have less 'heat' in them, so they will cool down faster than large ones (geometry also plays a role; spherical bodies will hold their heat better than long, thin bodies; so on both counts, us corpulent folks come out ahead; just sayin').  The calculations for Wind Chill have to assume certain things about 'average' human bodies in order to generate a single number for Wind Chill.  So, if you're smaller or thinner than 'average', you will feel even worse than the Wind Chill suggests, and if you're larger or rounder than 'average', your experience won't be quite so bad.

Wasn't that fun?


  1. I figure in times such as these (you know, Trump) the news departments of our country (who do so love to freak out over everything) jump at the chance to give us all a break from political news. Especially when it's freaky weather. Although to us New Mexican's the temp's y'all have been experiencing sound pretty dreadful. Sure, we have cold weather, but nothing like that. Truthfully, even if it was rather hysterical, it was a relief to abandon all the other hysterical reporting to simply the weather.

    1. So, to give us all a break from political hysteria, they give us weather hysteria? Gee, thanks. . .

      And you just know, don't you, that somewhere along the line, the weather is Trump's fault, right?


  2. First of all, times such as these are pretty much the same as times I remember like forever (politics) I think too much was made of this cold spell, but I have to say I have never had to endure -20, you northern states people are a little better prepared and tougher than us middle states people.

    1. And don't you forget it!

      Earthquakes and hurricanes kinda freak me out, tho. . .

  3. Thank you for the explanation as to why I'm cold if it's below 70 degrees. But yes, the weather reports seem to exaggerate more each year. I heard the hilarious thing about not talking outside. I literally LOL at that.

    What bothered me most was local news claiming we haven't had cold weather like this since 1994, which I knew to be a blatant lie. We moved to this house in 2012 and I specifically remember the loud house creaks and one of our bathrooms' pipes freezing. I checked my fb page and sure enough, I had posted about the negative temps that went on for a week!

  4. Replies
    1. Well, you know, if it's 80F and the wind is blowing really hard, it could FEEL like it's below 70. . . ;)

      Yeah, I was calling BS on that 25-year thing, too. I don't keep such close track of dates on stuff like that, but you'd remember 2012 pretty clearly, because of the new house. I do remember one Christmas (maybe it was '94, but it seems like it was more recent than that) where the temps didn't get above 0F (even for the mid-day high) for five consecutive days, and we were learning the old truckers' trick of putting a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator, so it wouldn't freeze up at freeway speed.

      See, THAT'S what we need - ways to cope and deal with the cold, not hysterical fear-mongering.

      But, you know, maybe I'm just weird that way. . .

  5. Eh, these days we live in a land of idiots who think every weather change is something that's almost never happened before but is gonna KILL US ALL!!!

    Then again, we grew up in a land where we had to JUST SUCK IT UP AND STOP BEING A BABY!! Somewhere in between must be a comfortable middle ground where we're not scared of every whisp of wind or where we just go on out, frost bite be damned.

    Last year was the first time in over a decade here that we did NOT get below zero at least once but the norm is more like a a half dozen days or so. When I was at Clarkson University we had 2 week stretches each winter where the high was -10. Those was the days!

    1. I was in college the winter of '78, when we had several days of temps at or below -20F, and wind chills of -60. My schedule was such that I had to walk back to my dorm every afternoon into the wind. My legs (even through my jeans) had white circles inside the red ones on the front of my thighs. And you had to allow time, when you arrived at class, for the ice to thaw off your facial hair. . . ;)

    2. I lived a mile off campus and walked up the hill everyday. Uphill both ways as I recall? ;-)

      Had a buddy from Hawaii who was determined he was NOT gonna waste money on a damn coat for 'just' two years use. Used to walk it with me a couple days a week. Took one below-zero day for him to finally take me up on my offer of borrowing a jacket and a pair of jeans ..... all he had were beach shorts and surf pants .....

    3. At Michigan State, we had a similar guy whom everyone called The Mad Hawaiian. Same thing - didn't want to invest in a whole alternate wardrobe for three months of the year, and 'cold is just a state of mind', etc. He would be out and about in shorts and a T-shirt in zero degrees and snow flying. As far as I know, he never did back down. . .

  6. I think maybe it's become more widespread because the news some to all of us at the same time from the same place.
    The really cold weather, or really hot weather weather, that some of us endure ...or even thrive in ...sounds like bad news to those who haven't experienced it. Thus, it sells and makes headlines. The worse it can be made to sound, the better it is for the media and they don't even have to blow up a space shuttle.
    My own experience with wind chill goes back to the days when I delivered a daily newspaper on my bicycle.
    The speeds at which I rode created enough wind on a chilly evening to create havoc with my fingers and hands. It was worse when the wind was actually blowing. Add a little moisture and it was even... get the picture?
    I would run cool water over my hands when I got home so I could get the appendages to function again.
    I don't believe the ambient temperature was ever much below about 50°F.
    I don't miss that.

    1. I've actually noticed, over the years, that the more I have personal experience of something being reported in the media, the more I know that it's, um, garbage. I guess I didn't think you could get the weather all that wrong; but it seems you can. . .

      Over the years, I've ridden my bike whenever the temps were above freezing, and there wasn't ice on the road (when I was younger, I would go all the way down to 20F, if there was no ice). And my experience was that, if the temp got much below 50F, I needed to wear gloves, if only because of the self-generated wind-chill. When it got below 40F, my feet/toes, and then my ears, also needed special protection. . .