The other morning when I left for work, it was 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
How you feel about that statement probably depends on where you live. Well, first, if you live outside the U.S., you might be wondering what that means, so I’ll tell you: it’s -11 Celsius. You’re impressed now, right?
If, like my relatives in Michigan, you are under several feet of snow, you might think, “pshaw, 12 is tropical.” (It was -5 F/-21 C in their town the last time I checked, Sunday at 11 pm.)
But if you live somewhere warmer, you might think something between “brrr” and “holy cow, people can live in that?”
Yeah, we can live in that. We are tough, we humans. For one thing, we have buildings and thermostats. Also, our bodies have ways to deal with cold. They cut back on blood flow to the periphery, keeping the temperature up in the core. If things get interesting they can put the muscles to work at generating heat by shivering.
I walked to work through that 12 degree air and, while I wouldn’t say I enjoyed every step into the wind, I didn’t hate it. In the 30 minutes between home and office my nose got chilly as did, oddly, my left elbow, and my eyelashes froze, but I arrived with all my parts.
I mean, I went to college in Minnesota. I know what cold is. It was -37 F (-38 C) one morning my freshman year. I grew up with outdoorsy parents, and I know how to dress. That’s the main thing that makes it possible for me to enjoy this weather: textile technology. In college, it was a massive, down-filled Eddie Bauer coat. A couple of years ago, for long days of reporting in the High Arctic, it was a snowmobile suit and about 20 other articles of clothing (long underwear, wool sweater, mittens, more mittens, socks, more socks). This winter the most valuable garment has been a strangely warm, fuzzy green hooded fleece from the REI clearance rack.
One weekend in January I set out on foot for a brunch, five miles away, at 18 F (-8 C). Long walks are one of my great urban joys, but it soon started to seem like a terrible idea. I imagined a frostbitten nose, or having to admit defeat and catch a bus. But within a few minutes I was moving south, sun in my face, wind at my back.
Why, 18 degrees isn’t bad, I thought to myself. All you need is…I did some math in my head and realized I was wearing about $350 worth of specialized clothing, while occasionally passing some poor soul hunched down in a hooded sweatshirt.
So yeah. 12 degrees is warmer than a lot of other temperatures. But, if you’re a human…it’s still pretty cold.