Weekend Question Thread: BRRR

In light of everybody freaking the fuck out aboutthis, what’s the coldest day you remember?

A few years ago it was like six below outside and I usually walked to work. I figured eh, it’s 20 minutes, you have a good coat, don’t be a pussy, you can do this. After a block my eyelashes froze together and I called my boss and said I’d be working from home that day.

Close second was a February UW hockey game at Lambeau. Yeah. I don’t know what we were thinking either. All the girls in their little fashion boots and the boys in their thin hoodies were huddled in the bathrooms between periods chugging whiskey and trying to keep warm. My dad had hooked me up with some of his rank-smelling goose down canvas hunting gear, including these gloves made out of I don’t even KNOW, so I was warm and toasty, even if I reeked of fake fox piss. A game last year at Soldier Field in February wasn’t nearly as cold, but without the hardcore gear, it was much tougher to take. Thank God for Mr. A and his flask full of scotch.


15 thoughts on “Weekend Question Thread: BRRR

  1. January, 1977, Chicago. Three weekends in a row where it got to -25 during the night. We get that kind of cold here in the Finger Lakes, but without the city canyon winds. If you don’t have to walk backwards to breathe, it ain’t wind chill!

  2. Sleeping in a boy scout cabin in Northern Vermont — the stove draft was busted, so it burned all the wood extra fast, and I went from sweating in my underwear on top of my bag, to inside the bag, with socks, long johns, jeans, understhirt, sweater, and sock hat on. And then I had to go to the bathroom, and it was about 15 below outside.

  3. Many to choose from — a few times during the periodic Madison deep freezes, the kind where you have to stop into places if you’re walking more than a few blocks. Never froze my eyelashes, but had more than a few ice cream headaches, but minus the ice cream.
    I do recall, though, just before moving back south, I took a trip to California, got back to the Midwest, and went from 60 above to 10 below. After landing the plane got stuck in the snow on the taxiway, the Van Gelder bus was hours late…and I had to walk from the Union to my apartment, which was a fair distance. I had my winter coat, but hadn’t layered and didn’t have anything to layer with, since I’d packed for California.
    I think that was when I decided enough was enough. I’d graduated the previous semester. Time to move.

  4. You and your hardy readers may laugh…but 10 degrees in New Orleans, Christmas week 1989, New Orleans. Almost one full week of “hard freezes” in a raised double without insulation (the norm for here). My brother had died in October and Peter had had pneumonia since Thanksgiving and we were living in a mostly student neighborhood which had emptied out for the holiday except the family across the street. We had a floor furnace cranked up and lots of quilts and 3 cats to keep us warm. Every night before I went to bed and every morning when I woke up, I checked the all the spigots in the 2 apts in our building…I was dripping the water to prevent freezing pipes. We (and the family across the street) were the only houses that didn’t have burst pipes…some people didn’t get running water until February. Worst Christmas ever. And the coldest I remember…although I am sure I had been in colder growing up (I just didn’t have the responsibility to keep warm!)

  5. It’s a tie. January ’79, Shreveport Louisiana, the giant (it still holds some records) ice storm. My field jacket froze to the boards in the back of the range-tower lookout’s chair.
    Then in July of 1990, my first trip to Tres Ritos, the night the tent leaked and I got wet in a 20 degree F overnight … nasty.

  6. The coldest I’ve ever been was a 0F afternoon standing on the shore of a reservoir SE of Denver, with the wind blowing 15-20mph across a mile of ice to get to us. Got the Mew Gull and a mild case of hypothermia that day. I’ll take Phoenix, thankyouverymuch!

  7. I had a few spots of WTF (Windchill Totally Fucked):
    – When I was in college, I went back home for a Christmas and was working at the garage and we had a snap of -25 with -50 or more windchills hit the area. There were stories about old people who went out for their paper and who died on the stoop (might have been legend, but that was not all that hard to believe at the time).
    In any case, we had two stalls for cars and about eight parking spaces for cars we were going to work on. The day I remember, we had about 30-40 cars on the lot. We even had them on the street. People couldn’t start shit.
    The rule was this: test/charge the battery, swap out the plugs and see if you could get it to start. If you could, call the person and say, “Come get your car.” Well, we couldn’t bring the cars into the bays because it was so crowded and you couldn’t really work with gloves on, so there you go.
    Cold metal at that temp is painful. Even more, I was trying to crank a 100-year-old spark plug out of a shitty engine and getting nowhere when I braced my left hand on the block and pulled like hell with the ratchet. The plug gave, but the ratchet slammed into the base of my thumb and took out a divot. It hurt, but it was kind of numb and it wasn’t bleeding, so I went on with what I was doing.
    I got pulled into the snack shop to warm up and the person behind the counter freaked out: “WHAT DID YOU DO?” I had no damn idea what he was talking about until I looked at my thumb. Blood was pumping out of it like a damned special effect. I still have that scar.
    – In college, I was working at the local paper and I needed a car. In Madison, parking is ridiculously hard to get and I had to rent a spot about two or so miles from my dorm. During some sort of wicked blizzard, I parked the car and started the walk home. The damned snow would hit the legs of my jeans and melt and then refreeze. By the time I got home, I had slabs of ice on my pants and my legs were beet red. I went to my room, took off my pants and put on a fresh pair of sweats. I then went down to the stoop and beat the pants against the concrete post near the door to break off the ice. Then, the pants went over the radiator in my room.
    Enough… This is already making me cold.

  8. There’s a web site, wunderground.com (thank you, Nate Silver), where you can check historical data on weather conditions for a particular location on a particular date – assuming their data goes back that far. My ‘coldest days’ all fall into the same -10 to -15 below air temp range that we’re going to be seeing tomorrow. One of them…
    Sophomore year in college, I went up to visit a high school friend at St John’s College in Minn, about an hour or so northwest of the Cities; I was between semesters, he was on the basketball team, with a home game that weekend. I’d gotten a ride there from a third friend who had to leave earlier, with the plan being that I’d hitchhike back to Eau Claire WI on Sunday, pick up her parents’ car from her, and drive it back to Appleton WI, where we’d all grown up.
    Of course, that weekend was cold as hell. That Saturday, I walked outside from the dorm, and I guess the difference in the rate that the glass in my glasses contracted from the cold was different enough from the metal frames that one lens simply dropped out and smashed on the ground. So now I’m screwed; how am I going to drive the car back? Well, we found another guy on the basketball team who had an extra pair of glasses that were ‘close enough’ that I could borrow.
    So Sunday morning, with pretty much no other option, I set out to hitchhike from St John’s back to Eau Claire. I got a ride pretty quickly as far as Minneapolis. But then I stood out on I-94 in the wind for what seemed like an hour with relatively few cars going by. Finally, somebody who said they had to loop back around to get me finally stopped, and got me to Eau Claire. They even let me sit in the front seat, closer to the heater. I had a small spot of frost-bite on my cheek where the borrowed glasses touched my face. The high that day in the Cities according to wunderground.com was -11, with a (new scale) -27 wind chill.

  9. I carried an evening newspaper route in North Iowa 1964 to 1967 – thirty to sixty minutes of walking from house to house. Wind chill was not yet something that was reported.
    One of those winters, we had two separate spells of a week each in which the temperature never got up to 15 below F. That same winter, we hit minus 33 F one clear night when I was out collecting.
    I wore cotton long johns under my jeans, a knit sweater under my fleece-lined
    “sheepherder” winter coat, a good stocking cap, and gloves. The coins in my collecting bag burned like fire when I had to make change. Fortunately I was inured, and many of the folks on my route were kind enough to let me come in and warm up.
    But the stars! My route was on the edge of town, with dark skies: you could look up and know that you were on the dark side of a little ball in the cold vastness —

  10. Two times come to mind – a late fall camping trip in Northern WI – my soon to be husband told me we would be spending the night with friends – he left out the camping part – I was so unprepared and so cold. (Love makes you do funny things)
    The other must have been in about the 2nd grade – school had been cancelled because of the weather, but somehow my father missed the news. He dropped me off at school (ignoring the empty playground, etc, etc) and let to drop my mom at work. I couldn’t get in school, it was too far to walk home (and I didn’t have a key anyways), I was worried if I went to a friends house my parents wouldn’t know where to find me, so I huddled up on the concrete stoop outside the school until my dad finally came back.

  11. I teach English in Changchun, Jilin, China. North of North Korea and south of Siberia. The province to the north of us, Heilongjiang, is even colder. So every winter there is a World Famous Ice Festival in Ha’erbin. They cut blocks of ice out of the river and carve ice sculptures which are illuminated by colored lights. They also use the iceblocks to build houses for places to get out of the elements, and to drink Russian vodka in. -25 C (-13 F) when I left Changchun with my friend. I never really determined how cold it was in Ha’erbin, but a lot colder than Changchun, and windy. Long johns, blue jeans, sweatpants, two pair woolen socks, winter boots, thermal top, flannel shirt, cashmere sweater, Peruvian wool sweater, down vest, winter coat, polar fleece gloves, thick wool mittens, scarf. My head was warm only because I had purchased a surplus Chinese Army winter hat, you know the kind with the fur earflaps that fold down. My fingers and toes started to tingle again just typing these few sentences.

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