Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Where the hell is that global warming I've been promised?

This is what fighting an apartment fire at -13 temps looks like
(two nightsago on the U of M campus near where I once lived).
Since we had just a taste of unseasonable winter warmth when the mercury reached 46 degrees last Saturday, the most recent five days have looked like this: morning low -13 to an afternoon high  of 1; low of -13 to a high of 2; low of -8 to a high of 1; low of -12 to a high of  1.

If you average the hourly figures, the average temperature during this stretch has been -7. And that's been in the balmy urban island of Minneapolis. A couple hundred miles to the north, the lows have been -27, -33, etc.

Back in high school physics class, we were taught that cold is really nothing more than the absence of heat energy. That is utter horse shit, because anybody who lives in a northern climate can tell you that cold is an aggressive,  active force that is much more than the mere absence of some other principle. Cold hunts you in the winter here, aggressively and slyly. To say that cold is the absence of heat is like saying Mike Tyson is the absence of Scarlett Johanson.

Another falsehood is the claim that once you get below zero, all cold feels pretty much the same. That's also horse shit, because cold takes on a different feel when you get down to about -15. This is the point where a car when started in the morning will have squared off tires for a few minutes until they roll themselves out to roundness again; where the foam seat cushions in a car are stiff as hardened sand; where the power steering system shrieks at you before the system warms up enough for fluids to flow liquidly. This is also a temperature where the snow will squeal in pain when you walk on it, and where the inside of your nose will crust with ice after moments of breathing through your nostrils.

And it doesn't end there. The coldest air temps I've personally experienced are  in the -35 to -40 range, and at this temperature, actual clothing begins to stiffen, and ice will form on the liquid lubricating your eyeballs. If you spit into the air at this temp, the spittle with freeze with an audible snap and drop to the ground like a hail stone.

And it doesn't end here, either, though I'm fortunate not to have experienced the -55 to -60 below
Not a terrorist. Just a typical business executive commuting
by bus in a Minneapolis winter. 
temps known in parts of northern Minnesota. That's a zone where home furnaces can really never keep up with the attack of the cold on a dark winter night, and where you'd damned well better have a wood-burning heat source to back you up in case the furnace breaks down altogether, which does happen when a furnace is forced to roar constantly for six or seven days at a time without a break. People up there sometimes sleep in fully insulated snow-mobile suits, because furnaces may be able to keep indoor temps only slightly above freezing, and if they break down may cause death to sleepers. I've known cabin owners in the north who literally burned all their furniture in the wood stove in the dead of winter when a propane furnace went bad during weather that left roads impassable.

This morning, before walking to the bus, I donned:

Two pairs of socks, including a thick woolen pair
Long underwear bottoms
Sturdy pair of gabardine business casual slacks
Long-sleeve undershirt
Long-sleeve dress shirt
Long-sleeve v-neck sweater
Thin fleece North Face jacket
Insulated boots
Thick full-length woolen overcoat, reaching to mid calf
8-foot long woolen scarf, wrapped several times around my neck
Woolen driving cap
Woolen earmuffs.

At the bus stop corner, I first bought a cup of steaming coffee from Starbucks, but could not drink it fast enough, because ice began to form on the surface within five minutes of standing outside. And despite the sartorial statement my clothing made, I was experiencing numbness in my toes, hands, and face within 20 minutes of waiting for a bus that was running late.

At the shop downtown where I bought a breakfast sandwich, the clerk mentioned that he had found a great spot to ice-fish for crappies (a pan fish similar to a sun-fish) on one of the city lakes over the weekend. "How's the ice?" I asked. "Okay so far," he said. "Two feet thick right now, but I'm afraid it won't be by end of January. Could be three feet thick by then. My auger may not reach far enough."

This is a climate where a common winter complaint is that the lake ice is too thick to allow for ice fishing.

* this grumpy essay is spoken entirely tongue-in-cheek. I'm well aware that man-made climate change is real, and that the overall temperature of the planet has increased dangerously  in recent years. I just wish a little of that heat would visit us in Minnesota in December and January.


  1. And next week it's supposed to get REALLY cold. I wish that was a joke.

  2. Your walk to the bus clothing is my Spring outfit. It takes me longer to dress to take the dog for a walk than the actual walk lasts. The icicles were even shivering this morning, unless that was just the wind chill.

    1. Bad as it is here in southern Minnesota, I bow to you hearty souls on the North Shore, off Lake Superior.

      Keep 'em warm, my friend.

  3. Enjoyed the entire post very much, but the line that still has me laughing is this one: "To say that cold is the absence of heat is like saying Mike Tyson is the absence of Scarlett Johanson."

    Snow is coming in from the east-northeast around here right now, which usually means it will amount to something this time. We'll see. However, it likely will not reach the extremes you've described...I hope!

  4. I have not endured that kind of cold since the winter of 62/63, when my classmate and I struggled to finals on the other side of the campus building by building. The temperature in Cleveland was below zero for several weeks. Compounding our agony she was a California girl who thought a windbreaker would get her through the winter. Between us we wore all my clothes, and I remember she wore my winter coat and I wore the spring coat. I wore my mittens however, she had the best pockets.

  5. I don't know how you cope with such temperatures; physically and psychologically. When reading your section about cold merely being the absence of heat energy, it occurred to me that many people take the same attitude to good and evil. A form of denial perhaps. In the same vein, I remember reading a science fiction novel way back, and one crew member of a spaceship said to a visitor aboard, or a rookie, that one should not think of space as the absence of air, but as a powerful negative force trying to get in at you. There is much to be said for looking at life from a different viewpoint.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post, particularly the comparison between Mike (let me nibble your ear, sunshine) Tyson and Scarlett Johanson.

  6. I've sometimes caught myself thinking of the same thing about global warming during one of our cold snaps. Both tongue and cheek and why can't it be just a bit warmer up here now?

  7. How do you people live like this? Give me hell fire over freezing cold.

  8. Wow. that's a really scary picture. Just kidding, although if you got on my bus I would duck. Thanks for visiting my blog, Geezers. I enjoyed your account of the Northern weather. I'm from Maine-I thought that was pretty cold-but I've never experienced anything like you are talking about. In our area, today, they are talking about the 10-minute frostbite warning sent out to Wisconsin residents for this weekend. Yikey McYikes. (I just made that up and I like it). Would you like a side of fries with it?

  9. Your line - cold being the absence of heat like Tyson minus Johanson is a classic! Your description of life there in the north is frightening. We endured cold in Indiana, though I think you get a nod for more arctic stuff. I always wondered by settlers stayed after their first winter. Eventually we fled, escaped to California and when reading an account as torturous as yours, we are even more grateful. I won't complain about starting tennis at 36 degrees the other morning. Thank heaven that is a rare-by local standards-a terribly cold morning. I wish you well and
    a warming spell.

  10. It now seems like Michigan is the new Minnesota... Ice fishing is a poor excuse for drinking, in my honest opinion

  11. I can remember once the temperature (actual, not wind chill) being 52 below once in my time in Bismarck. No surprise that I now live in Arizona.

    1. Northern North Dakota, Minnesota are like that. Winters are a positively Melvillian landscape, where cold temperatures are the "Moby Dick" proving that nature is hostile to the well-being of our species.

      Not that facing 120 degrees in the middle of the Arizona desert is a kinder environment.

  12. You left out one of the best parts of January in Minnesota. Snotcicles. Those of us with facial hair, especially moustaches, must expect that any time spent outside will result in a certain amount of icing. When it gets really cold, like the last few days, the snotcicles get so hard that you must spend the first few minutes indoors blowing into your hands and then surreptitiously breaking away the bigger chunks as your face begins to melt. Almost makes me want to shave.