I spent some time in Winnipeg before the holidays. While there, I had the dubious pleasure of experiencing, among other things, a goodly period of the city’s second coldest December on record.
I grew up on the Prairies, and I thought I knew what cold was. But apparently my years in Alberta were misspent. My time here in Victoria has made me weather-wimpier.
As many prairie-folk-come-to-Victoria can attest, -46-degree windchill is Something Else. Minus 46-degree windchill atop -35 degrees out of the wind, for day after day after day, is also exhausting and, in my case anyway, cranky-making.
There were a couple of evenings while I was away when I’d check the forecast for the following day, then go to bed dreading the coming morning’s weather-endurance test. Who needs nightmares?
Oh, sure, I did everything I was supposed to. I layered my ancient, prairie-proof, windproof anorak over multiple fleeces and sweaters, my ski pants over long woollies and fleece pants, and my two hats over each other, my two pairs of mittens, ditto, and my two scarves around my neck, face and head. I had so many layers to put on before I left my accommodations, it took me a full 20 minutes to get out the door.
And, because of the way the house I was staying in is configured, I had to bundle up before I put on my boots. You try bending over to lace up your Arctic-ready boots when you’re dressed like a stuffed sausage about to split out of its casing.
Under all those clothes, I was toasty. Well, except for the two-centimetre sliver of flesh around my eyes, left exposed in the gap between the bottoms of my hats and the tops of my scarves.
Those temperatures cause eyes to water. Those temperatures freeze the tears on your eyelashes.
Those temperatures make you want to keep your eyes closed as much as you safely can to keep your corneas from crystallizing. You get the picture.
Or maybe you don’t, because your eyes are frozen shut. (Who knew you would need ski goggles in flatland Winnipeg?)
Some Winnipeggers tell me those temperatures can also cause the insides of your nostrils to freeze together. I didn’t stick my nose out of my scarves long enough to test that, but now I wonder.
We’ve heard many stories about the weather east of the Rockies. Dark-of-the-year atmospheric forces are causing snowstorms, blizzards, ice storms, blowing snow, more extreme windchill and more extreme freezing temperatures to spiral across the continent.
Meteorologists and journalists identified the culprit, over and over again. That Which Is Repeatedly Being Named is a polar vortex. It holds much of North America in its icy, unforgiving grip, blasting the land with deadly Arctic air, bringing down power lines, coating roads and airport runways, bursting water pipes and playing havoc with schedules.
I escaped Winnipeg after seeing it at not quite its best. But friends and colleagues remain behind, gritting their teeth, bundling up like kielbasa, and hoping normal temperatures return some time before April. However, although the vortex is retreating to polar latitudes this week, Environment Canada predicts a colder-than-average winter for all of us.
The thing is, since I’ve been back on the coast, I have spent more hours of each day feeling chilled to the bone than I did during those weeks in the ’Peg.
It’s that damp cold, you know.
It’s also the slow electrical heating systems and large picture windows so many houses here come equipped with. And, one brainy acquaintance who makes a point of knowing such things tells me, it’s being at sea level. The air here, he says, is denser, so requires more energy to warm it.
I wonder ….
The near-100 per cent humidity compounds the issue, he assures me.
Well, that’s all right, then.
Who’d have thought I’d be warmer out of doors in Winnipeg in December than indoors in Victoria?