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.