Baby, It’s -20 Outside
A recent polar vortex, which usually hangs around the Arctic Circle, has brought extremely cold temperatures to parts of the United States.
Where I live, it dropped to -5 °F, with wind chills making the air feel much colder. While I’m used to the occasional bout of negative temperatures in New England, these seem to be getting much more frequent.
Some people point to the cold weather as proof that global warming doesn’t exist. However, climate change can cause extreme cold as well as extreme heat. Australia is currently experiencing a heatwave, with temps reaching as high as 116 °F.
In cold temperatures, frostbite can set in within minutes. In many states in the Midwest, schools or workplaces were closed, as walking in the significantly sub-zero temperatures was unsafe.
Extreme cold is expensive, too. One estimate is that the polar vortex cost $5 billion due to economic losses. It sounds high, but think of the impact: cancelled flights, closed workplaces, increased natural gas or electricity use, storm cleanup, and damage from burst pipes. It all adds up.
I still had work and classes, so this season, I had to step up on my winter weather gear. I don’t have a lot of money to spare, but I did buy new boots. My old ones finally wore out, and they weren’t that warm to begin with. Someone also gave me a fleece face mask, which was a lifesaver with -20 °F wind chill, with snow whipping sideways at me. I didn’t go outside once without bundling up: wool gloves and hat, heavy coat, the works.
I also kept on top of my car maintenance. Six-year-old car battery not starting? We jumped the car once, then the second time it wouldn’t start, the battery was replaced. Headlight bulb burned out? I had it replaced the same day. Gas tank running low? I filled it, since a low gas tank can freeze in very cold weather. Even my windshield wipers, working to clear a lot of rain and snow, needed to be replaced. When we pulled an old one off, it snapped in half from the cold.
My home is fairly energy efficient. A few years ago, I spent thousands of dollars making sure it had an energy-efficient boiler and new insulation. That paid off, and I can’t imagine what my energy bill would be this winter with the old, inefficient furnace and drafty walls.
Yet there’s not much you can do when the temperature is in the negatives, every single day. My heating system clicked on frequently, trying to keep my home a respectable 68 degrees.
And when it’s that cold, snow doesn’t melt. That meant I was wearing boots all the time outside. Walkways that had been shoveled and salted still had plenty of snow. Roadways either had packed-down snow, or were icy. Had it been even a little warmer, the sun would melt the snow on pavement after a few days.
The cold took a psychological toll, too. I’ve never been a fan of freezing weather, but this recent stretch of bitter cold made me miserable. Simple tasks, like getting the mail, took longer because I had to bundle up; afterward, I had take off all the snowy gear. Defrosting my car’s windshield to go to work took longer, up to 10 minutes. I stopped going out for lunch, choosing instead to have a sandwich in my small cubicle.
I think I’ve finally gotten used to the cold. All of my gear is piled up by the door, and I can put it on without a second thought. And I’ve found that when you’re bundled up properly, you really don’t feel the cold (at least, at first).
Fortunately, warmer weather is in sight; temperatures are set to climb early next week. But as climate change continues, another icy blast could be right around the corner.