Baby, it’s cold outside.


Apparently it’s gotten pretty cold out. This is big news. Hey, it’s January. It’s Minnesota. Yeah, it’s cold. The kids are getting one more day off school thanks to the weather.
<geezer mode>
Back in the early ’80s, now that was cold weather. In January 1982, I went cross-country skiing one night when the air temp was -30 F and the wind chill was in the -60 to -70 range. By the time I’d gone 50 yards, my glasses were completely iced over, so I had to put them in my pocket. That was probably a good idea, because the cold metal of the frames might have chilled my ears even more. (I did get a little nip of frostbite, not too bad).
In December 1983, there was a period where the weather was far below zero for a week or two. Two pairs of gloves, T-shirt, regular shirt, heavy flannel shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat. Long underwear, jeans, sweat pants, and still it was really cold walking four or five blocks. At those temperatures, it hurts to breathe, even through a well-wrapped scarf. That’s where the cold-receptor nerves just give up and send pain signals instead.
January 1986, first year of grad school, was pretty darn cold. Our Sri Lankan classmate gave up and transferred to someplace warmer.
</geezer mode>

And that was my introduction to seriously cold weather. I lived in upstate New York and Connecticut as a kid, so winter wasn’t a new phenomenon. But the multiple layers, the real frostbite risk, the feeling of truly bone-chilling cold, the point where a rapidly inhaled breath is cold enough to give you that ice-cream headache, that’s a Minnesota thing.

In the last thirty years, we’ve had enough global warming that our current cool weather is an unusual event. It hasn’t been this cold in 17 years. Now, I’m not going to do the climatology statistics, you can see that here and an analysis here. The take-home message is that, yeah, it’s cold, but it’s not as cold as it has been. Of course, the older I get, the more winters I’ve had and the more comparisons I can make. If you’re under 30, the 1980s are ancient history. I don’t remember the cold spell of December 1963, but that was a long time ago.

Now they are saying one good result of the cold may be a die-off of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer bug, which is chewing up our ash trees. Maybe a similar effect will help save the pine forests from their insect-related problems. But as very cold winters become the exception rather than a commonplace, we’re going to have more and more problems with these exotic species.

Take-home message: it’s cold, but not as cold as it has been. Buck up, weenies.

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