Canadians are a hardy people, although we are a little prone to exaggerate when it comes to how cold it gets during winter.
To hear us talk about it, you’d think December through February was three months of non-stop, hurt-your-face deep freeze.
I am not entirely sure why we perpetuate this mythology. Perhaps to discourage Americans–Republicans when there’s a Democrat president, Democrats when a Republican is in the White House–from making good on their threats to move here.
In any event, the reality is that no matter where you live in this great hinterland, those body-parts-numbing days are relatively few.
When it does get very cold, we are aided in our exaggeration by a poorly understood concept formerly known as “wind chill.” This is the meteorological term that allows us to claim it was -38C when it was actually only -25C. Even when you qualify it by saying “with the wind chill” or “but it feels like,” it is a bit of a deception.
In the first place, the conversion of wind chill from rate of heat loss in watts per square metre per second to an equivalent air temperature was a convenience of TV weather reporters to put an esoteric measurement into terms viewers could understand. It is subjective at best and mitigated by numerous other factors.
Secondly, it is calculated based on the average wind speed at the nearest weather station, which is generally situated in an exposed area such as an airport. So, if it’s -25C and I am standing with exposed skin next to an Environment Canada anemometer on the roof of an air traffic control tower, it might feel like someone is slashing my skin with razor blades. If, however, I am dressed in my snow pants, parka, wool hat and moose-hide mitts facing away from the wind, or in a sheltered area, such as a forest, it feels like I am sitting in my living room. If I then walk through the snow for a few hundred metres, I have to open my coat and take off my hat and mitts because it feels like I’m in a sauna.
Since I have a Newfoundland dog, I go walking every day regardless of the weather. I guarantee you, when it gets to be what I like to call “stoopid cold,” I go into the trees rather than out on the bay.
The bottom line is, if one is prepared and engaged in some kind of physical activity and/or in a sheltered area, even days with temperatures in the mid minus-twenties and a significant wind, can be downright pleasant.
That is not to say there are not a few days when it gets stoopid cold. There is a story I like to tell about some friends from Texas who visited me in Ottawa during Winterlude. The first evening it was unseasonably warm for February, hovering around the zero mark. We went down to the Rideau Canal to look at the ice sculptures. They remarked the cold wasn’t nearly as bad as they had expected.
Before they retired, they asked me where they should go for breakfast. I suggested Chinatown, which was only a few blocks from their hotel.
Overnight, the weather changed, dropping to -38C. It was about -45C “with the wind chill” as I recall. That morning I got a phone call.
“What the hell is wrong with you people?” my friend demanded as soon as I picked up.
After explaining that they had gone out to get breakfast, but quickly turned around and went back to the hotel, she asked: “Seriously, what do you do when it gets this cold?”
“Well, we certainly don’t go out walking to get dim sum,” I responded.
I am not saying we are not tough, but it gets cold enough that we really don’t need to overstate it.
January-February 2018 Photo Gallery: