29 November 2005
Siberian winter in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. 2002.
I want to tell you about Russian winter, and other seasons in Siberia. Hopefully this will clear some common misconceptions about cold Siberia :-)
The reason for creating this we[b log] by me is that my short comment on cold weather was published in AWAD ! And I'd like to share it with you!
I'm receiving A.Word.A.Day e-mailing by Anu Garg from http://www.wordsmith.org/ with interesting rare words of English language, pronunciation, visual cue and a quote. In A.Word.A.Day e-mail I received on 21 November, 2005 featuring word bight, Anu Garg, who grew up in India, wrote in foreword:
"Columbus, Ohio December 2000
It's 23 degrees F (-5 degrees C). ...
My daughter Ananya and I are getting ready to go out. The peak of winter has its dress code. "It is too cold out there," I tell her. "Let's wear two pairs of pants." ...
Even with our heavy coats, gloves, mittens, caps, mufflers, socks, boots, and two pairs of pants, cold is beginning to seep in. Our noses have turned red and it's time to go back in...
I hold the friends and sister (her toys) while she eagerly fills the sled with snow for the snowman we'll make in our living room.
* * *
After I read this I could not resist to write a brief feedback to Anu about my version of Siberian cold weather scale. To my surprise and delight my comment was published as a first entry(!) on 26 November 2005 in the AWADmail Issue 188 - A Weekly Compendium of Feedback! Which in turn brought to me a couple dozen very interesting replies from readers of AWAD from Arctic and Canada to India and Australia, ranging in emotions from disbelief - "I read this with mounting horror, but now know you were either mad or joking", to shock - "It's so shocking, that it has now become a popular chain forward in my country (India)!! No one here can relate to -5 degrees C, let alone -40!!".
However, people from Central Arctic well surpassed me on cold exposures :-( "...coldest we ever saw was about -70 C / -94F with a wind. The schools closed, but the kids stayed outside and played. When one kid saw white frost on the cheeks of another they would head inside the nearest house and thaw out. The anti-freeze in the school radiators froze."
People also surpassed me on hot experiences as well :-( "...warmest temperature I've ever been in +47C / 117F".
Oh, well, what I can say, I'm from Central Siberia, which althou has a sharp continental climate, yet it's not all Arctic or Tropics. Not all Siberia has tundra, arctic climate and permafrost, only in parts close to and above Arctic Circle. So, Siberia doesn't mean uniformly cold and snowy place year around!
By the way, Siberia is a geographic term. It's a vast area from Ural mountains on West to Atlantic Ocean on East, and from Arctic on North to China and Mongolia on South.
And yes, sometimes brown bears visit Siberian towns, but very rarely :-).
To say now, that Siberia is criminal exile place is the same, as to say, that Australia is a prison camp ;-) Although in the past centuries it was used for such purpose, yet it never was ONLY, nor MAINLY for that purpose.
Generally, and in Siberia as well, the coldness of climate depends on how far North the location is, and here every kilometer counts! E. g. in Motygino, which is on North from Krasnoyarsk, people are able to grow tomatoes, etc. in open gardens, but just 30 km North from them in Razdolinsk it's possible only if plants started in hot beds or green houses.
In Central Siberia, Russia, my young birth-town Divnogorsk (30 thousand people) located on Yenisey River, 40 kilometers South West from 375-years old Krasnoyarsk city (1 million people). Both cities are way below Arctic Circle, so we do not have permafrost, do not have Polar Day or Night and enjoy all four seasons with a range of temperature from -40C /-40F in winter to +40C / +104F in summer. Snow usually falls in late October and melts in April (good time to suck on icicles).
Krasnoyarsk Hydro-Electric Power Station.
Our town was build during construction of one of the most powerful in the world Krasnoyarsk Hydro-Electric Power Station - dam on the river. Because it takes warmer water from 40 meters (~50 yards) deep upstream, where it is +4C / +39F year around - the river downstream never freezes thru winter for several kilometers passing us and Krasnoyarsk city to North, adding humidity to air and making the climate more cold in winter and water a bit too cool to swim downstream in summer.
Dumping of excess water in the Spring.
(Divnogorsk, Russia location:
Latitude - 55°58' N (lines of latitude = parallels),
Longitude - 92° 22' E (lines of longitude = meridians).
Below I'll write an extended version of my comment on Siberian weather scale.
Foreword by Anu on cold weather (-5C / 23F) and the word "bight" in the same AWAD issue brought in me homophonic association with frost "bight" ;-).
To start with - I was born into winter - in January and in Siberia, as a third generation Siberian!
My ancestors moved there voluntarily, as settlers, looking for better life in mostly undeveloped territory, in the early 19th century from poor conditions of Central Russia (Samara city), where was no free land, no wood to use in the stove - had to use straws, etc. They really prospered in Siberia on rich free resourceful land and vast free forests! They moved even before tsarist government Stolypin's reforms, that started to offer lucrative incentives for people to move to Siberia and develop it.
After growing up, I also lived in Northern parts of Russia and Alaska till I was about 30 years old. So, I have some experience in cold climate.
Russian word for North is - 'Sever', most likely from English 'severe'.
And my earliest childhood memory is also about winter - it's me drowning in the ice hole on the lake... No kidding! I was almost four years old, when we lived near small lake.
On that foggy day my mother went for ice skating on the lake and I followed her on foot. She quickly disappeared into the fog, while I was running behind and... Splash... Fall into a hole in the ice, made to get water from lake for people's needs.
Luckily for me, it was not very wide! I remember trying to get out by pushing my arms against edges of ice to no avail... Bulky winter clothes heavy with water... All I was able to do - is to push myself up a bit, and slide back down again... over... and over... But my pushing kept my head and shoulders above the water. I did not yell for help, as I was too busy keeping myself above the water. Then Fortune smiled at me! From the fog came skating right at me our neighbor girl of school age. She saw me and pulled me out of ice hole! That's all I remember... She walked me back home, my grandmother warmed me up, and, as I was told later - I did not even get sick with a cold!
~1968. My grandmother Aleksandra holds me,
aunt Polina, aunt Raisa, two neighbors
and my mama Nina. Divnogorsk, Russia.
PERCEPTION OF COLD.
People often telling stories about their experiences in cold weather, claiming various conditions and places as coldest on Earth. But when asked what temperature was, their reply is often surprizing! You hear - "Oh, it was about -15C / 5F..., etc." :-)
Yet in actuality what really matters in personal individual perception of cold is:
1. Actual temperature (lower => colder),
2. Humidity (more => colder) ,
3. Adequate clothes (more and better => warmer)
4. Physical / physiological condition of a person on that occasion,
5. Acclimatization (physiological adaptation) to climate in the area,
6. And last but not the least - level of personal cold conditioning - psychological attitude.
That's about it, pure physics and physiology, no mystery or miracles here :-) !
The coldest day for me, as I FEEL, was when we returned to Siberia from Uzbekistan, where we lived for almost two years, and where snow is a rarity, and -10C / 14F is the coldest and very rare winter temperature. I was 10 years old, and I still remember how I was shivering in seemingly unbearable cold after stepping out of a train in Krasnoyarsk. But it was no more than -20C / -4F ... :-) Before and after that I had much colder experiences, but never FEEL that cold. That's a perfect example of a loss of acclimatization. What person FEELS and how cold it really is could be very mismatched!
I heard a story of one man being locked up by mistake in a commercial refrigerator, and being found frozen to death the next day... Although all experts agreed, that he could surely survive even for a few days, if he would not give up struggling - worming up by moving!
So, in Siberia we have a "slightly" different perception of cold. Also we never add wind chill factor, only considering "with wind" or "without wind", and our Siberian cold scale would look like this:
SIBERIAN COLD SCALE.
-5C / 23F = considered very warm, very comfortable winter temperature. Nobody would put on two pairs or sets of any clothing to play outside for hours. Perfect weather to make snowballs and throw them at what you wish, because snow is soft and very pliable. Also good to make Snow Babes! We never call them Snow Man.
At such weather in early winter and spring it was hard to get into School without being hit with a few snowballs thrown by fellow pupils, your schoolmates. So, to avoid it, you'd either join the fun, or wait with girls for a teacher coming to School, and go along. Teachers were spared, of course.
-10C / 14F = warm, comfortable. Still not warranting double layers of clothing. No restriction on time to play outside, except for completion of school homework.
-15C / 5F = cool, still comfortable. Requires a bit warmer clothes. Some scary kids might put double layers, most mothers would try to pressure kids to put on more clothes, with some success.
-20C / -4F = chilly, but bearable. Most kids go play outside double layered. Mothers would try to set time limits on play, with limited success.
-30C / -22F = cold ('Moroz' in Russian). Kids go outside double- and triple-layered, and play only for short time, but go home to warm up only when absolutely necessary, because it's dangerous - mothers might not allow to go out to play again. Often kids go to warm up to stores and other public places.
-40C / -40F = very cold (strong 'Moroz'). Very few kids allowed by mothers to go play outside, multi - layered, if there is no wind. But it's hard to find partners to play with...
At this temperature it is easily possible to get a Frost Bite on the nose, ears or cheeks! It's a painless white, pale skin with completely shot out blood circulation, following short period of intense pain. Surrounding people immediately will tell the unlucky sufferer to worm up!
Schools gets canceled, yet half of the kids and most teachers will show up anyway and will have fun on a school day. Most of the others will be in movie theaters, sport sections, etc. Some unlucky kids wouldn't be allowed to go anywhere and will stay home reading, or playing chess, checkers and other board games with neighbors, or watch TV if there was a kid's program on "Ether". We usually had just a few days that cold each winter.
-50C / -58F = ... Relax, I never had it :-) Never had it below -43C, on which day, being an adult already, I set my personal record by jumping into the snow and rolling over, bare bodied, after a Russian banya (sauna)!
We, kids, loved winter as much as other seasons, may be even more, waiting anxiously for the first snow to fall. If that happened overnight, parents did not have any problems to get kids out of bed in the morning - all they needed to say was - "Look in the window!", and kids would come running! Pretty soon the windows would be covered solid with frost "paintings". We knew it'll be cold in the winter, but winter is supposed to be cold, right? Every winter we had lots of snow, from 1 to 1.5 meters/yards deep!
On my memory we had only one tragic accident related to snow - three kids from my parallel class in middle school were sliding down in deep snow on the sides of a big gully, and set off an avalanche, in which one of them was buried and suffocated... There was also one fatal accident involving ice too - in early spring huge icicle fell down from five story building and killed a woman...
In addition to regular winter activities, such as rink skating and cross country skiing, sledding, etc, some of the fun activities were to build snow houses, making tunnels in deep snow, jumping into the snow from roofs and waging snowball wars.
I grew up in one story house (4 apartments, frame type - wooden boards with insulation in walls). We had electricity and a wood stove (made of brick) for heating and cooking and... that's it.
Russian style stove. You can cook in it and sleep on it!
Taseevo, Krasnoyarsk region, Russia.
Since my father died from lung tuberculosis when I was very, very little, leaving me the only man in the house, I had to help my mother and grandmother as soon as I could - and so I did.
I started to split wood since I was able to hold an axe (do not remember exactly, some time around 5-6 years old). And bringing split wood home, starting fire in the stove was my favorite duty.
We did not have running water. We had to get it from the frost proof water hydrant on the street, on which we had to pull down a lever and water would run into the bucket. I started to help bringing water home early also, first carrying it with 3-liter (~1 gallon) jugs, then 12-liter (~ 4 gallon) buckets, and in the winter bringing 20-liter (~6 gallon) tub on a sled.
We did not have a bathroom - at any weather we had to go outside to outhouse. :-)
To take a bath, shower and for sauna we were going to city Banyas (Saunas).
In our unheated hallway to the front door every winter stood a barrel with salted/fermented cabbage (sauerkraut), which my grandmother and mother prepared for the winter. It froze to snow/ice - like mass. I used to scrape handful of it and eat it as a snack on the way out. Also, sometimes I placed apples in the snow near the house to eat them later frozen, when get hungry playing outside. I did it to avoid coming home with a risk to be hoarded inside for the rest of the day. That was in addition to eating snow when thirsty and overheated by playing, and drinking water, running from hydrant's spigot, making sure not to touch metal parts, as a tongue would freeze to it.
Only at my age 15 we were provided two room apartment by the government in brick building with central heat, running water, bathroom with bath tub and a toilet! It happened, because my grandmother had her two only sons killed at World War Two, but paperwork was done late and took some time.
Our neighbors were visiting to marvel at conveniences.
Town was divided half and half on these conditions, with former giving way to new buildings, as old were demolished. In my class I was the last one with the wood stove - and I felt so lucky!
All the rest already lived "conveniently".
The folk's wisdom in Siberia says - "There is no bad weather - there is bad clothing!" and
- "Not that is a Siberian who is not freezing, but that who dresses well!"
Winter dressing code for kids was designed to prevent snow from entering orifices in clothes. Kids usually used warm felt boots with pants over them, and mittens covering sleeve openings. Smaller kids had mittens on the strings, so they would not lose them in the snow. Below -15C / 5F kids usually pull down ear flaps on hats, yet almost everyone, including me, got their ears frostbitten to various degrees, which makes them cold sensitive for several years. Proper attire was bulky and inconvenient to play, also causing quick overheating, and often was intentionally and unintentionally disassembled, leading to snow getting into openings, and to icing and wetting of clothing around sleeves, legs... Which led to necessary visit back home, shaking, getting scorned by parents, putting wet closes around stove to dry, changing in dry and warm closes, and go out again after warming up, short rest and a snack.
I had only three sets of outer clothes, so on the last one I was trying to stay out as long as possible.
After cold exposure, coming back home we eat something warming - hot soup was a favorite, and when we grew up older, we developed, as most Russians, the taste for freshly brewed hot Indian chai (tea). Preferably Ceylon, as Chinese chai was rarely in stores, and we did not develop appreciation for its taste. Chai is warming you up very well after coming inside from cold.
No sugar put into chai(!) - that ruins its taste! Eat sweets - berry preserves, honey, chocolate, not just a lemon(:-) along(!) with chai, it tastes better!
Two of the most beloved holidays of the year were in the winter - New Year celebration, for which city built huge colored ice and snow figurines, and also a winter park, where were big iced hills to slide from on sleds and on makeshift stuff - fragments of card board boxses. We had fresh apples, oranges, mandarins and candy on that holiday! Usually celebrated all night, and for at least a couple of days!
Freaky weather surprises us sometimes... Around 1975 it was so warm on New Year, about +3C / +37F, that snow started to melt and water dripped from roofs! It was too hot to go around in winter closes. Sliding hills became soft, impossible to use... only living snowball throwing for fun.
The second favorite holiday was old traditional Farewell to Russian Winter in early spring! With city parade of folks tales personages and a huge Fair at city stadium with various contests and attractions. One such contest, that always draw a big crowd was Pole Climbing! Ten meter/yards slick, waxed(!) pole was erected with a hook on top, to which prizes were hanged. Some of those prizes invariably were - live rooster, and in one of the bigger boxes was a small toy in lots of packaging. Volunteer men would try to climb that pole, partially undressed for better traction and only few would succeed of getting a prize with mighty approval and laughter of the crowd! We had so much fun on this holiday!
Mama Nina near shopping center. Father Frost
(Santa Claus) on background in red. Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
No level of cold prevented us from regular activities - movies, sport, visits, etc. Ah, a beautiful time! I would never trade my childhood with any other!!!
WAYS TO COPE WITH COLD - COLD CONDITIONING!
People in cold climates developed ways to cope with cold.
One way is - dressing well, preferably in wool, fur and down clothes. As kids we had wool as a supplement for cotton clothes and rabbit fur hats.
Another way is - conditioning to cold.
I. EVERYDAY CONDITIONING.
It can be done after every hot shower or bath, by turning off hot water and turning on only cold for 1-2 minutes to get you started. And when you get used to it, a really good thing to do after shower is - to slowly pour two buckets of cold water in sequence on yourself!
Me and mama do it every time, for years and love it.
II. BANYAS AND SAUNAS.
In banyas or saunas it's good to plunge in cold water after heating up by whipping yourself with soft 'venik' (bunches of softened in hot water leafy birch or pine twigs, harvested in Spring), or if possible, jumping into snow and rolling in it (my favorite!). It feels so-o-o good! Seriously!!!
Snow fun! Or is it a Snow Man?
Just -20C /-4F. Taseevo, Russia.
First you heat up to the point that you'd do anything to cool down, all blood vessels in the body expand little blood coming back to heart - that's why it's beating so rapidly. Then, when you jump in the snow your skin blood vessels (veins) contract, bringing almost a liter of blood back to circulation - easing work of heart and slowing it, and you feel better immediately and cool down at last! Also during this temperature shock body produces endorphins, hormones of pleasure, same way as it happens after physical exercises or work! It really is a pleasure, not suffering for health sake! Conditioning also stimulates immune system!
Comfortable enough, only -20C / -4F,
except wood against the head,
and snow not really deep...
Yet another way to condition yourself to cold is "walrusing" - swimming in Oceans, rivers and lakes in the winter, in the portions with cut out ice. These clubs are in almost every relatively big city in Russia. There is even a Walrus club in Long Island, New York! But I have done very little of it... Swam in Pacific Ocean in spring in Providenia, Chukotka, Russia and took part in 1993 annual Nome, Alaska Polar Bear swim in 3C / 37F water, where I proudly swam longer then anyone of ~ 100 people, and came out of the water the latest!
Some people in Siberia going all winter without hats, gloves and even outer coats. One of our young institute teachers went thru winter without a winter hat, wearing only thin rain coat. I only went thru one winter without gloves, just to see if I could do it.
Cold conditioning really works!!! Unfortunately, not all people do it... However, some lucky ones start very early, while they learn to walk.
Early start on cold conditioning!
Russian woman Sonia with her 7 month old son Vladik on snow.
Ekaterinburg city, Ural Mountains region, Russia.
When I last time visited Siberia in 2002, some of my friends got sick with colds and flu twice, and I only once got just a running nose without fever, after walking for half an hour against the wind in -30C / -22F. And that's after living in warm climates for ten years, and partially loosing acclimatization for cold!
So, my dear friends, please try to Cold Condition yourselves!!! After you overcome first period of acclimatization you'd be hooked and love it!!! It has many benefits, and good for anyone, in any age, and in any climate!!! You'll be glad you did!!!
Cold Conditioning makes sense! People always like to experience opposite ends of sensation scale - comics and horror movies; sweet and bitter taste; music and silence; total relaxation and vigorous exercises, etc. That's why sauna (banya) and cold water or snow also exist in human practice! Why not to include it to your life? It's beneficial and rewarding!
After finishing six years studies in Institute, I worked on North from Krasnoyarsk in Razdolinsk - small, five thousand people town. In one year there, last winter snow was falling on 10 June (but did not stay) and first was falling on 10 August (did not stay either) - just two month between snow falls!
In February of one winter we had a whole month as a cold spill: ten days on the row it was hovering around -30C / -22F, then went down to -40C/F for another ten days, after which came back up to -30C/ -22F again for yet another ten days, and finally warmed up to -20C / -4F in March!
During that month I was constantly doing outside household maintenance and physical work for a few hours after work, only taking couple of days off. All repairs needed to be done out of hunting, fishing and berry, mushroom picking seasons, so not to interfere with it!
Yet Razdolinsk is considered a mild 'Sever' :-)
My aunt Polina and cousin Aleksandr lived way North from us in Norilsk (140 thousand people city) above Arctic Circle, where the coldest temperature registered was -57C / -71F ! Often during winter it was about -40C / -40F or even lower with hard winds for weeks on the row, Schools were canceled for months straight as well.
This is real 'Sever'!
That's a place where I, born in Siberia, had my winter, or should I say summer shock! During student years in Institute we went to work during summer for railroad to repair tracts in an open copper/nickel mine near Norilsk. First day we were laughing when were given worm winter closes at the end of June! Next day, July 1st (!) we came out of dormitory in sandals and saw 5 cm (2 inches) of fresh snow on the ground!!! We, all Siberians, were astonished!!! All we could say was - "It's a real 'Sever'..."
It gave as good reason to write back home at night - Polar Day, no lights needed! There was no snow after that, thankfully, and we did not use most of that winter closing.
My other aunt Raisa and cousins Valeriy and Ludmila lived around Yakutsk, and also had much harder winters, then we had.
Then I also lived and worked in Providenia, Chukotka, Russia. Which is considered a Far 'Sever' (North). It is closest to Arctic Circle, as I ever lived, and has coastal, milder climate. With a short distance of walk to work (~ 10 minutes) I don't remember it being very cold place, with - 40C / -40F being coldest.
During frequent snow storms it was usually warmer, about -20C / -4F. Yet people perceive weather differently. I remember going to store during a mild snow storm and passing a woman (judged by style of her coat), walking all packed up with a whole face covered with wool scarf and wearing goggles! Imagine what kind of stories she would tell about Far North!
Some places on hill sides in Providenia accumulated more snow, then I ever saw anywhere - in one passage to work, we had to walk thru the tunnel, cleared by tractor, with snow walls 5 meters / 5 yards high!
From Providenia, I flew to Nome, Alaska on the small 12-passenger plane.
Landed after about 2 hours of flight, and got stuck in USA, because I love it here, North or South.
I went thru classical way of an immigrant, starting as a dishwasher, learning English on the way, and reaching telephone technician job in lower Manhattan, Wall street area. Now I pursue other goals.
In Nome, Alaska weather was almost identical to Providenia. I was working in Fat Freddies restaurant, which was only a few minutes walk from my apartment. After my coat started to stink like restaurant, I washed it and never wore it to work again, walking in a tennis shoes, jeans/pants, t-shirt and without a hat, for amusement of passing by heavily dressed tourists.
I missed Alaska dearly! It's a beautiful land, as Aleuts call it. Anchorage city has around itself an Ocean, vast Forest and Mountains, with mount McKinley, northernmost 6 km peak in the World! What else can you dream of? For hunting and fishing there is no better place on Earth!
I think I'll go back there some time in the future.
Then I lived in Missouri, where during -10C / 14F newspapers scream of "bitter freezing" cold :-) There I acclimatized to hot weather, being able to work outside all day, e.g. on the roof in +40C / 104 F in September! Lived without A/C - Air Conditioning (cooling) of the house, using fans and breeze from open windows. After that I was able to drive for 10 years without A/C in New York and South Carolina, and never used A/C in the house, even if I had it.
Guess I've got the best of both worlds?
New York blizzard 1995. Mother Nina, niece Anutka, sister-in-law Olga
(and I, taking a picture :-).
East 5 street, Brooklyn,NY.
Most interesting American winter experience was in New York during Snow Blizzard of 1995 - with about 1 meter / 3 feet of snowfall, which paralyzed the whole city for three days.
To me, here in Lower 48 US states, with the exception of central continental states (Minnesota and vicinity) it never gets any colder then mid-October compared to my birth-town, where December, January and February considered winter months and are the coldest. :-) In March it starts to warm up, and snow starts to melt, but usually it really finish melting in April.
Now I live in South Carolina... The coldest I had here was in 2003, when my mother and I came back from Moskva (Moscow) Russia, where it was -10C /14F and here in Greenville it was colder (!) -12C / 10F !!!
Nival - Miss South Carolina 1999 and I.
Here we bought an old house, without heating/air conditioning system. First winter we went by on most reliable heat source in the world - ... Body Heat :-), because we were not ready to install heating system... It was mostly OK, only feels cold when it was 5C / 41F and below. When it went down to -3C / 27F for couple of days straight, plastic pipes under the bathroom froze, and I had to repair them after the weather warmed up. At that same time, when I got up in the morning, I had a rare opportunity to have a sight of water in the toilet frozen... Too bad I did not think of taking pictures. (Well, maybe other winter ;-)
We are still not ready to install heating system yet... But it will be hopefully soon, and this winter it will be warmer inside, because I installed all new windows on the second floor, insulated the attic, and put on new roof! Right now it is 5C / 41F at home, but feels warmer than last year, only a little uncomfortable to type...
Please be assured that this is my own true personal experience!!! I did not try to empress anyone, I just gave my Siberian perception of Weather. It was a pleasure to recall a childhood and some extreme cases from my life in the Cold and Heat.
Siberia also has many pleasures in other seasons!
Best wishes for all!!!
Be warm in Cold and be cool in Heat!!!
Here I put the most interesting email replies to my AWAD posting, from people on the opposite ends of Weather scale.
Reply from Jonathon VS ( BC Prairies, Canada):
Just wanted to say that your article on A.Word.A.Day was very amusing! I think I've got you beat as far as cold temperature goes, however. I grew up on the BC Prairies in Canada, where, in December 1991 it was -61C outside. (I was young then so I don't think I actually went outside). One of the most uncomfortable experiences in my life was when the temperature went down to -56 (including wind chill) in 2003, the year before I moved, and we had to change a flat tire in the middle of the highway. We had the heater cranked to maximum and we couldn't be outside for more than a few minutes before we came racing back into the car. It was one of those times when everything went wrong - the tire had frozen to the car, so we needed a crowbar to get it off; then we realized the spare tire was flat; I called my dad and he helped us take the tire into town, but when we reached the gas station, the air hose had a hole in it so we had to hold the hose while filling the tire. After finally thanking my dad and sending him home, I and my friend eventually arrived at our appointment - 1.5 hours late, when many people left.
With the warmest temperature I've ever been in being 47C, I like to say that I have a temperature range of 108 degrees! (That's pretty much enough to bake fries.)
Just wanted to say that I too know what a true cold bight feels like.
Reply from Conor MG (near London, England):
I read this with mounting horror, but now know you were either mad or joking.
Reply from John McGrath (Central Arctic, Canada):
My wife and I lived in the Central Arctic for 5 years or so and in Labrador for another 15 or so. We now reside in the Ottawa Valley (Ottawa is the "coldest of western capitols"), and I feel qualified to comment on your " About the foreword on cold weather "(-5C / 23F )" item.
A) -5C /23F -- I agree, comfortable. I have slept without a tent in this range.
B) -10C /14F -- Arctic spring evening.
C) -30C / -22F -- Early winter, bearable by all and not notable.
D) -40 ( F and C meet here) -- This was the norm in the Central Arctic community of Spence Bay (now Taloyoak) from late November until about late March. No change in schedule of school, Gov't office, municipal services, etc.
E) - 50C /-58F -- The coldest we ever saw it was about -70C / -94F with a wind. The schools closed, but the kids stayed outside and played. When one kid saw white frost on the cheeks of another they would head inside the nearest house and thaw out. The anti-freeze in the school radiators froze.
F) My youngest daughter, Karla (AKA Sikitula) and her older sister Janey ( AKA Tamilik) remember taking off with their school pals for Gjoa Haven, about 100 miles away, by Skidoo (generic name for snowmobiles at that time) and the temperature was hovering between -20 and -30. Karla was 7 and Janet was 12. This was not seen as unusual.
Reply from Murray Stone (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Western Canada):
I really enjoyed your A-Word-A-Day contribution about growing up in cold places. It brought back lots of childhood memories. I grew up in Western Canada (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), which has the same sort of climate. I still recall the most important winter time rule, which was that official outdoor hockey games were cancelled if the temperature went beneath 25 below Fahrenheit (the scale we used back then). This was about -31 Celsius.
We eager young players would argue mightily with the rink officials that the temperature was only 24 below, and we would urge that the thermometer had to be looked at from the proper angle to realize this. Sometimes we got our wish and got to play out the entire game. Then came the worst winter experience: removing our skates. The circulation would slowly creep back into our frozen feet, causing intense pain as the nerve endings woke up and protested. I have seen this reduce grown men to tears. Thanks again!
Reply from Rabbi Vander Cecil (Guam island, US Territory):
Dear Viktor, thanks for your brief essay on relative cold. I found myself suddenly understanding how Cro-Magnon people dealt with the Ice Age. It really is a matter of perception - & maybe attitude - isn't it? Thanks again! L'Shalom, P.s. Here on Guam is seldom gets below 76F /24C ... & that's at night.
Reply from Gene (Minnesota, USA):
Viktor, I loved your e-mail about your childhood in Central Siberia. I grew up in southwestern Minnesota--way out on the prairie. We used to joke that the reason it was so windy was that there was nothing between us and the North Pole except a few trees.
The temperatures were slightly more severe where you grew up, but the attitudes were marvelously congruent. So were the attitudes of the mothers.
I recall with horror the "outhouse" on my grandparent's farm on a winter's day when the snow was blowing so hard one could not see it from the house. As a small child, I was always frightened that I would get lost between the two locations. The barn was somewhat more distant from the house and I recall a winter storm that was so severe for so long, that my uncle tied a rope between the house and the barn so make sure no one got lost on their way to do chores or on their way back to the house.
If a lot of snow or very cold weather was forecast, we used to break into our school through an unlocked window and play basketball for hours and hours. There was a network of boys who knew exactly which window in the locker room to leave unlocked because it wasn't visible unless one contorted his body and squeezed through a small space at the end of a bank of lockers, and we knew that no adult would do that. Occasionally, we would get into a bit of trouble when one of the mothers could not find her son, but mostly it was good fun.
There is a winter carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota each year. They build an "ice castle" and have ice carving competitions. It is quite lovely.
On New Year's Day, on the Lake Minnetonka, there are people who take a plunge into the lake through a hole cut into the ice.
Thanks for awakening these wonderful memories.
Reply from Jitendra D Desai (Gujarat, western India):
Dear Mr. Viktor [ or should I say comrade?!]
For us, living in western India, anything below 15C / 59F [ + and yes] is cold ! It was " shivering" to read a child enjoying the cold comforts at -30C / -22F . We have seen and known Siberia only through movies like Dr Zhivago. I always wondered what people could and would do in such freezing cold. Now I know. Thanks and best wishes for a warm winter of -43C.
Reply from Jo (west central Minnesota, USA):
Hello Viktor, I must write and tell you how many memories you stirred in my brain with your letter about being a kid in a cold, snowy climate. I grew up in West Central Minnesota, where we always have some -40F / -40C or -50 F / -46C below zero temps after Christmas and in early January. Our school always released us when it got to -20 F / -29C below and happily, we would either go to town to bother people in the stores, or stay outside and play (sledding or skating!) I am an old lady now, and still love the winter! Cheers!
Reply from Paula (San Francisco, USA):
Privet Viktor, I read your account of life in the cold of Siberia, and was astonished. I was in Yakutsk in July. It was a fascinating experience. I went to an institute that studies permafrost. But it seemed to me from the conversations I had with the locals that life was hard in the long winter. Your account makes it sound like Hawaii. I guess attitude is everything.
Reply from Frank Brown (Atlanta, USA):
Hi Viktor, Although I live in Atlanta, Georgia USA now, I am from New York originally and while it doesn't get to -30C /-22F very often, it does occasionally. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, -23C / -10F was considered serious cold in New York City. Anything below zero Fahrenheit and folks started having car troubles and schools might close and parents would want their children to stay home. (We didn't use "wind chill" then either.) My two grandsons have grown up in Atlanta Georgia and they think that "it's freezing cold" out when the temperature hits 0C / 32F because that's when water freezes. It doesn't stop them from going outside to play, and they love going "up north" to visit and play in the snow, but they just don't understand how anyone can think it's not cold. I try and explain that during the winter in Wisconsin, where it DOES get cold, the folks come out in their shorts and t-shirts to wash their cars when the temperature gets UP to -7C / 20F, because they want to get the salt off their cars so it doesn't ruin the paint. The boys just don't get it. I am going to share your email with them and see if it helps.
Reply from Scott Swanson (Pendroy, Montana, USA):
Viktor, thank you for sharing your memories of Siberian winters on the AWAD list! They brought back my memories of growing up in a small town in northern Montana (where I still live). We also looked forward to winter, and did many of the same things as you. Digging snow tunnels was a particularly enjoyable pastime. I recall days when it was so cold and the wind blowing snow so that one could hardly see, when the teacher in our little 2-room school would try to make us stay indoors for recess. It was never popular, and some of us bigger kids would sometimes defy her and go out into the blizzard anyway! Over the past twenty years, it seems that our climate has changed, and my children do not know the severe winters that we used to enjoy. Although, this season has promise, it has been -20 C / -4F for the past week, and we have a respectable amount of snow, though not yet enough to tunnel into. My wife hates the cold, and talks of moving somewhere warm for the winter. I cannot imagine a life without winter! Thanks again!
Reply from J Tehas (India):
Hi, Interesting post on 'AWAD'. It's so shocking, that it has now become a popular chain forward in my country (India)!! No one here can relate to -5 degrees, let alone -40!! Do plan a trip to India sometime! I'd suggest Chennai on the months of may - june, to experience what the other end of the mercury feels like! Here temperatures hover around +40 , +44 C / +104, +111F , and with a severe humidity factor. And over here if the mercury touches +10C / +50F in winter, we need two blankets, sweaters and what not!! Amazing race!! Everything is relative!! I would have loved to experience your kind of temperatures sometime. I guess that would be in a place in north India called 'Dhar' in the Kashmir state. Mercury hits -40C / -40F in winter, add to that the scenic mountain beauty! Pity such a beautiful place is now terrorist infested. The lord giveth, and the freaks taketh away... Cheers!
Reply from Phillippa Cribb (Alaska & Africa)
Hi, your comments to Anu brought back very happy memories of my time spent in northern Alaska on Little Diomede island and St. Lawrence island.
That most wonderful cold! The coldest I had, was -59C / -74F on the 'Date Line' between Big Diomede (Russia) and Little Diomede (USA) islands. Innuit people were waiting for the small plane to fly them to Nome. The 'landing strip' was on the ice! I ventured out of the plane but for a short time only! My nose froze up and my eyes (without goggles) stiffened up, so I hurried back into the very small airplane!
I also lived in Iceland and just love the winter and the winter skies (Starry nights clear like in African skies. In Europe due to lights and pollution no stars comparable).
Now I live in Germany half of the year, the other half with my family in Africa, on the border of Mozambique and South Africa.
Let me also comment on opposites. Last February (2004) in my part of Africa I had +48C / +118F weather with high humidity.
Previous year my family asked me to stay in Germany during a peak heat of African summer and better come one month later, as in February 2003 it was a record +58C / +136F with humidity about 100%. Everybody kept motionless like flounders. My family are Zulu people and they can take the heat! When they say it is hot it is HOT! In fact they said it was unbearable.
This year (2005) in August (winter in Africa) it was very cold +13C / +55F, raining, and everybody but me was freezing and shivering! I sang, as I was happy with it, much to the family's delight. The houses are partly still straw covered which is a fab 'air conditioning'!
Your description brought back happy memories, thanks!
Reply from Donna White (Lithgow, Australia):
Hi Viktor, I live in Lithgow Australia, where everybody complains of the cold winter. Here we have an occasional light winter snow, and get down to -7C / 19F on rare occasions. In Australia, Lithgow is known as a "cold" place. I've often wondered when riding my pushbike or walking on the cold winter mornings at what temperature would you stop feeling any colder as the temperature went lower and lower.
Thank you for reading!