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Heard an interesting factoid on the radio the other morning: the temperature at the airport in Minneapolis was the coldest on record since 1996. This was in the middle of a “polar vortex” causing dangerous conditions including frostbite-inducing wind chills. Climate change includes cold, not just increased heat.
Who’s afraid of cold?
Apparently the media assume anyone born much after 1996 can’t figure out how to take a cold snap, which is what we used to call it. Well, it takes preparation, determination and diversification to get through subzero weather. Not to mention plenty of white bread and milk.
In the mid-1990s I remember going to work at 8:30 AM with the temperature at -40. At that temperature there’s no difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit, by the way. By midday if we were lucky the temperature would climb 20 degrees. If the wind blew you felt colder.
We own heavy down jackets for just such an occasion. Our first venture in Vermont was a hydroelectric plant about a quarter mile’s walk from the house. It was nearly always breezy, and nearly always in your face because of the geography. One of us had to walk down to the hydro and back at least three times a day when it was cold to make sure the works didn’t freeze up. Thus the arctic jackets.
Those jackets are with us still. If you zipped one up indoors you needed to go out right away or burn up. If the zipper was stuck when you came home you needed to struggle with it in a cold place, such as the garage, or overheat yourself.
We still have pac boots, with removable felt liners, for the deep cold too. Worn with wool socks, they kept our feet from freezing. We doubled our hand coverings, wore hats under the jacket hoods, and wrapped scarves over our noses. And we went out to work, or to the hydro, or whatever.
Cars in the deep cold
I have been fortunate enough to keep my work vehicle in the garage while employed. That gave me a bit of an advantage starting it in the morning. Back in the early 1990s we made sure our vehicles had engine block heaters to keep things warm enough so the vehicles would crank in the cold.
The block heaters came in handy. Many people had them; they weren’t exotic here in northern Vermont. Once my fuel filter froze at work and I had to have my husband push my car with his pickup up to the building where I worked. That way I could run an extension cord out to my car and plug the heater in to heat the engine and defrost the fuel filter.
Climate change comes to the North Country
In the 1990s our town was sometimes the coldest one in the nation, more often than Old Forge, NY or International Falls, MN, the other two cold spots. Now I am not sure, not having TV to tell me any more about where it’s coldest. I remember, though, that in 1996 we had summer temperatures in the high 90s F for a while. This in an area with precious little prior need for air conditioning.
That was our first sign.
The next one was the big ice storm in 1998. It took out our power for five days. The first three days we were out with the rest of the town. The following two days, our neighboring empty farmhouse kept blowing fuses on our line. The power guys thought we were nuts. They’d no sooner fix it than it went out again.
To get through that one, we used bottled water because our pump would not run. We burned wood for heat. The fridge was no good so all the cold food sat on the porch. We’d just remodeled the kitchen with a nice gas stove, so we could cook.
A few months later, we bought a generator. We had to wait for the shops to restock them and drove 3 hours each way to the store that had the best deal.
The last straw was at the turn of the century when we bought an air conditioner so we could sleep. The summer nights weren’t cooling off as much as they had, and the house stayed hot with all the heat in the attic.
Now we have one in the living room too.
Changes in nature
When we first came here in 1989, our property had lots of raspberry canes. Every summer we’d pick enough for at least five batches of jam and syrup. Now we have a few stragglers, but most of the canes are now blackberry canes. I don’t can as much any more, but we still pick what we can get.
Pine trees are growing further north now than they used to, and with them comes the pine marten, or “fisher cat.” Pine martens are big weasel-type animals that are fast, climb trees, and kill cats because the cats can’t get away from them. In 2014 cats disappeared in the town next to ours, and by that August there evidently was a pine marten in our area. That’s when our cat went missing for good.
In the past five years or so we’ve gotten ticks up here. We never used to have them. Now the moose are so weakened by ticks that they just die of blood loss. They weren’t evolved with the habits it takes to get rid of ticks. They’ll die here and live on farther north, where ticks don’t survive winters.
Our current winters feature a lot more freezing rain and intermittent thaws than before, with cold snaps of -10 or so at night and single digit days before windchill. I’ve worn my big down jacket maybe twice since the turn of the century. Now I get along with handknit accessories and a synthetic coat, though now my feet freeze easily so I have the wool socks still.
So the “polar vortex” makes its way east towards us here in Vermont. It’s still not as cold here as it was back when Minneapolis last saw -28F, and it probably won’t be. Our mailmen never used to not deliver mail because of cold, and kids went to school in it and didn’t die. Things change, though. I hope that climate change reporting is not changing us too much, or we may not make it when things get really tough.
What climate change have you noticed where you are in the past 20 or so years?