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?