It’s been the kind of winter that when I was a kid, we would have wrapped one of Mom’s dish towels around our face to protect us from the cold wind. It was great fun to breath heavy, allow it to freeze then remove the towel as an icy mask.
We also took a pair of Dad’s socks, cut a hole in for the thumb and wore them under our mittens. That is if we still even had both mittens left by December. If we didn’t, we just doubled up on Dad’s socks. The nice part about socks is that they could be pulled up under your coat to the elbow. This protection was important when sledding, as when snow gets up your sleeve and onto bare skin it causes what surmounts to an ice cream headache to the wrist.
You also never went outside and into the snow without first lining your boots with bread bags.
This is how we dealt with cold spells some forty years ago.
Up until about twenty years ago, Wisconsin winters were a lot colder than they are today, and it was common to have a week or two of sub-zero weather.
We had never heard of the impressive “polar vortex,” and these regular cold spells were simply referred to what they actually are – an “arctic blast” – cold air trapped in the arctic forced south by the Jet Stream. Nobody panicked either, as it was simply a normal part of a typical Wisconsin winter.
Schools and businesses didn’t close and our fourth grade teacher old Miss Dorn made us play outside whether we liked it or not. I never have heard of a single child who froze to death at recess at Schurtz School or otherwise. Well equipped with Dad’s socks and a dish towel, the frozen schoolyard echoed with the crunching of all of those bread bags.
Car batteries tend to lose charge in the cold, and we knew how to deal with that, too. If you were going to be parked for any length of time, you simply left the car running. At night Dad would go out and run the car for about a half hour before going to bed. In really extreme cold he would bring the battery in.
Because winters were colder, the highly inaccurate pseudo science of wind chill measurement didn’t exist to give the impression that it’s colder then it actually really is. Instead of using the actual temperature of say five or ten below, meteorologists now stress ‘real feel’ temperatures of 25 to 60 below. Twenty five to sixty? That’s a thirty five degree difference. What kind of measurement is that?
What if police used this sort of accuracy to describe a suspect? “We are looking for a white male between three and six feet.”
When winters were in fact colder, there was no need to exaggerate. Twenty five or thirty below is cold no matter how you measure it, and even amongst twelve year olds common sense prevailed. If you sledded in an open field in thirty mile an hour gusts, yes, it feels colder so sled behind the protection of the barn where it doesn’t.
Science has proven that the climate is changing and the earth is warming. It’s a proven fact that recent winters are milder. I find it refreshing to have a good old fashioned winter for change. There is nothing shocking about it. This is Wisconsin in January and Miss Dorn did not have wind chills nor polar vortexes to impress her; “You want warm!” She’d bark, “Move to Florida!”