Yesterday the temperature plunged about 40 degrees over a few hours, then a winter storm slammed us with snow. So this morning I hauled out the back-saver snow shovel and cleared off our sidewalk and front steps.
Every Midwesterner knows you need to shovel as soon as the snow fall stops, before people start walking on the snow and compressing it to the point that it needs to be chipped away — which is a much bigger pain. Now that the snow is cleared I can feel a sense of keen accomplishment, and if the sun comes out Mother Nature will do the rest of the work.
We’ve reached the depths of winter in the Midwest, and the part of that dismal season when changes in temperature mean melting snow, then refreezing, then melting again, then refreezing again. It makes walking outside a treacherous exercise that is not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re walking on ever-slippery brick.
But there is an alternative to outdoor exercise for those of us who are too cheap to get health club memberships but who desperately need the exercise if they hope to stave off the condition of Rapid Waistline Expansion. It’s called the stairs. And if, like me, you toil in an older building where there are lots of stairwells with different designs, like the stairwell shown above, the stairs can be a pretty cool option aesthetically, too.
According to the medical experts, taking the stairs does have the effect of burning some calories — although not enough to allow you to rationalize eating a Snickers bar a day, unless you’re walking to the top of the Empire State building on your way to work — and other health benefits as well, including building and maintaining health bones, muscles, and joints and improved aerobic capacity. I like doing it because it gets me moving and gets the blood flowing during the day, and I feel like I’m at least doing something to maintain or even improve my health while at the office.
Of course, it’s a lot easier taking the stairs going down, than going up.
A cold snap has hit, and the temperature has plunged down into the teens. It was a brisk 15 degrees Fahrenheit when I took a very insistent Betty on a walk around Schiller Park this morning. There was a thickening sheet of ice on the pond, which would have been totally sheathed in ice but for the bubbling devices that are intended to maintain some of the surface as water for the Canadian geese.
It may only be a matter of degrees — literally — but there is a significant perceptual difference between temperatures in the twenties and temperatures in the teens. When the thermometer dips into the teens, the air suddenly has a marked, almost solid physical presence, especially when there is a slight breeze. It wraps every inch of exposed skin in its gelid embrace, sucking out every trace of heat and moisture and leaving the face feeling raw and stiff. It makes a morning walk feel like a real accomplishment.
After a walk with the temperature in the teens, a hot cup of coffee tastes mighty good.
Yesterday we saw an odd phenomenon in Columbus: the sun was out, the sky was a brilliant blue, and there were actually shadows on the ground.
If you think that’s not a big deal, that’s because you haven’t spent a winter in Columbus. Columbus is one of the cloudiest cities in the United States during the core winter months of December, January, and February. According to statistics compiled by the National Climatic Data Center, Columbus experiences dense cloud cover on 67 percent of the days during those three months. That puts Columbus 7th on a dubious national list of the cloudiest major cities in the country during the winter. (Portland, Seattle, and Buffalo are the top three.)
And I’m not sure that the 67 percent figures really captures the bleakness of a Columbus winter, either. The NCDC “dense cloud” standard purports to measure the grey (or in some cases, white) winter days when more than three-quarters of the sky is covered in cloud. That doesn’t mean that the other 33 percent of Columbus days feature bright sunshine, it just means that they don’t quite reach the required three-quarter cloud cover standard. So, they might be two-thirds cloud cover, or half cloud cover. A day where the sky is a bright blue, like yesterday, is as rare as hen’s teeth.
Columbus is not a place where you’d choose to spend the winter if you’ve got Seasonal Affective Disorder — but it you have to be here, regardless, you relish the non-SAD days, and you try to remember that the spring, summer, and fall days will restore your spirits.
Grandma Neal often said: “Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can; it’s seldom found in woman, but never found in man.”
Winter in the Midwest has a way of teaching patience.
Consider freezing rain. When it hits, as it did this morning, there’s not much you can do. With your car windows and windshield covered in a thick coat of wet ice, you’ve got to wait until the defroster melts part of the ice before you can even start scraping. And you’d better take you time walking, too.
There’s a turning point each winter. For weeks the trend has been gradual cooling, to the point where you’re acclimated to temperatures that are about 40 degrees. Then, suddenly, the mercury plummets, and you’re dealing with the first significant snowfall, or the first truly frigid day where the temperature falls below 20.
This used to be a surprise. Unless you were someone who actually watched the local news — and who under the age of 90 watches the local news these days? — you had no idea what the weather was going to be. There’s a reason why the nuns in The Sound of Music sang about Maria being as “unpredictable as weather.” The weather was a constant surprise.
But that was in the days before weather apps on smartphones became ubiquitous. Now, when you tap your weather app to see if it’s supposed to rain today, you’re automatically exposed to a solid week’s worth of forecasts — and you can’t help but look at it. And when I checked the app this morning, I saw that we’re supposed to get a steady diet of lows in the teens, then two days of snow, and finally a day where the low is three degrees. Three degrees! I like the song When Will I See You Again? as much as the next R&B fan, but “three degrees” isn’t a word combination I want to hear right now. It means that the turning point is here, and winter is about to strike with all of its brutal iciness, and it’s time to rotate to the heavier coats and clothing and to start eating hot food at every meal.
I liked it better when the turning point caught me by surprise, and I spent the last few days of pre-winter unaware of what was to come right around the corner, rather than bracing myself for the onslaught.
We touched the 20s overnight last night, and this morning we had the first notable frost of the season — one that coated the mums and grass and fallen leaves at Schiller Park.
We’re supposed to have a few more days of moderately warm weather, but the overall message is clear: it’s time to quote the Starks’ favorite saying.