It Could Have Been Worse

According to the weather app on my phone, it’s 56 degrees outside right now, and the temperature today is supposed to hit 70 degrees.  56 degrees, in itself, is like a tropical heat wave, but . . . 70 degrees!  Sure, it’s supposed to rain during the day, but still . . . 70 degrees!  After the long, dark, dank, cold winter we’ve endured in the Midwest, outdoor temperatures that will actually feel warm seem so wildly improbable they can scarcely be imagined.

I’ve written before about the lousy winter weather, and those of us in the Midwest have been feeling pretty sorry for ourselves about it.  And, in fairness, it has been an exceptionally crappy, frigid, snowy winter, so there has been cause for the muttering.  But I do want to note that, as bad as it has been, it could have been worse.  Much worse.

d2e991b7-2bbf-4062-a886-47c3386c060d-02172019_giant_springs_weather_art-bConsider Great Falls, Montana.

Our friends in Big Sky country have been through one of the coldest, most brutal continuous stretches of weather in recorded American history.  As a slack-jawed article in the Washington Post recently recounted, in many parts of Montana temperatures for the entire month of February averaged — averaged — 27 to 28 degrees below normal .  That’s hard to even conceive, and it is the most extreme, extended variance from normal temperatures seen in the lower 48 states in 50 years.  And March began with temperatures going even lower.

Great Falls, Montana, was in the heart of the bone-chilling zone.  The Post article notes that, in that city:  “The mercury didn’t rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal.”

“The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.”

So sure, our weather sucked this winter — but the frozen souls in Great Falls had it much, much worse.  Imagine a March day where temperatures were 50 degrees below normal, or a nearly two-week stretch where the temperature didn’t rise above zero, even once.

It will make hitting 70 today all the sweeter.

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Thinking Mainely Positive Thoughts

One way to combat the Midwestern mid-winter gray sky blahs is to consciously think about a better, sunnier, place and time.  It’s even more effective if you really try to lock in specifics about where you’ll be and what it’s like.  My happy mental place of refuge these days envisions a bright, cloudless, pleasantly warm summer day in Maine, sitting on a deck overlooking Stonington Harbor and feeling a slight breeze ruffling by.  Russell’s Christmas presents — he made us a smiling, radiant Mr. Sun and a cool Maine key ring holder — help to keep the mind focused on those ultimate summer days.

February is always a tough month, where it’s impossible not to be sick of winter because it seems like it’s been winter forever.  Rather than despairing of ever becoming truly warm and blessedly free of a drippy nose again, why not indulge in some of the power of positive thinking?  Better days lie ahead, and the current crummy weather is just going to make the eventual sultry summer all the sweeter.

The Winter That Wouldn’t Leave

Last night we received breathless reports of another winter storm “bearing down” on the hapless residents of the Midwest.  I groaned when I heard them.  The winter storms always seem to be presented as evilly “bearing down,” as if they are a malevolent living thing bent on doing us harm and moving intentionally in furtherance of that goal, rather than the random product of atmospheric conditions, ocean currents, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, solar flares, butterfly wings, and other unthinking variables that produce what we know as weather.

Sure enough, this morning, when I woke up and looked out the front door, an inch or so of snow had already fallen and large, heavy snowflakes were pelting down like raindrops and accumulating rapidly.  Sirens sounded in the distance because — of course — the latest winter storm just had to hit Columbus on the front edge of rush hour, when it could cause maximum disruption and havoc and misery for the unfortunate souls commuting to work.

Maybe there really is something to this “bearing down” stuff.  Maybe a Midwestern winter really is a living thing that just wants to hang on, like the unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave, and make us cold and wet and drippy and put us in an ugly funk for as long as it can.

When another winter storm hits on February 20, you can’t help but think grim, gray thoughts.  You wonder when it will finally end, and we’ll finally — or ever — get to see the blossoms and green shoots of spring.

In The Rhinorrhea Zone

This winter I’ve been experiencing rhinorrhea pretty much on a daily basis.  In fact, I’m hit by a bout of rhinorrhea whenever I go outside for a walk on a cold day.

img_8058No surprise there — rhinorrhea is the high-falutin’ medical term for a runny nose, from the Greek word for nose.  (That’s why plastic surgery on the nose is called rhinoplasty, incidentally, and it’s got nothing to do with comparing the size of the schnoz being operated on to the horn of rhinoceros.)   My daily dose of rhinorrhea therefore isn’t a cause for alarm, it’s just an annoyance.

I begin my walk in the bracing cold, take some deep breaths of the crisp, clear air, and about halfway into my stroll my nose has turned into a roaring mucus machine and I’m leaking fluid like a sieve, leaving me to either sniffle it back down or remove the glove for a quick wipe-off with a tissue.  But it’s just a temporary fix, because inevitably the sputum production ramps up again for however long I’m outside, making the Kleenex box my first stop after I get home.

Why do our noses run during the winter, even if we don’t have a cold?  The medical websites will tell you that it’s just our noses working overtime at doing their jobs of warming and humidifying the cold, dry air we’re breathing.  The nasal membranes produce more mucus and fluid in the winter to protect our delicate lung tissues from the frigid air onslaught.

So congratulations!  That irksome runny nose means you’re perfectly fine and your body and its defense mechanisms are working as millennia of evolution intended.  Just be sure to keep an endless supply of nasal tissue on hand for the winter, because you’re going to need it.

Deploying The Mad Bomber

The weather app on my iPhone cautions that it’s 2 degrees Fahrenheit outside, on its way down to a low temperature below zero.  There’s a brisk 14 miles per hour wind blowing steadily from the west that, combined with the temperature, has created a wind chill factor of minus 16 degrees.  And the National Weather Service has issued a warning that the extreme cold and wind could produce wind chills as low as 40 below zero, which could cause exposed skin to experience frostbite in as little as 10 minutes.

That kind of scary cold is an assault on all that’s holy and everything warm and pleasant in the world.  But nevertheless, in a few minutes, I’ve got to take an exuberant, cold-loving dog out to do her business.  What to do?

Alert the armed forces!  It’s time to deploy the Mad Bomber!

The Mad Bomber is easily the warmest hat in the house.  In fact, it’s easily the warmest hat in any house.  Made in China, it features a nylon shell, natural rabbit fur trim and interior lining. It even has a little clasp that allows you to lock the hat around your chin, the better to protect those delicate, flabby neck wattles by swathing them securely in fur.  When you don the hat, your encased head immediately begins sweating.

Of course, it’s not a stylish piece of headwear, as a bit of doggerel I composed some years ago acknowledges.  The Mad Bomber belongs on the head of a rustic villager trudging across the windswept Siberian tundra, or perhaps your high school janitor out salting the teacher’s parking lot on the coldest day of the year.  But then, no one turns to the Mad Bomber for style.  It’s deployment is purely a defense mechanism, designed to give humans a chance at surviving the most brutal temperatures and crippling cold.

Brace yourselves, Columbusites — it’s Mad Bomber time!