This blog will publish on Sunday, January 3, 2010. As I sit at my computer on Friday evening, January 1, 2010, our weather forecast for Winona, Minnesota is as follows: “Tonight, clear, lows near -15f (-26c). Northwest winds 10 to 15 mph. Wind chill readings -20f (-29c) to -35f (-37c).” Most of the readers of this blog are people who live in the mid-western United States. As such they understand what winter means. For at least three months of the year you experience snow and must wear a heavy coat, gloves, and a warm hat. But Minnesota winters are different than they are in places like Kansas or Missouri. There is a BIG difference between zero degrees f (-17c) and -20 f (-28c).
Especially for my readers who live in the southern United States, India and other warm places, let me tell you what life is like at -20 f (-28c):
· Facial Freeze: When you go outdoors the small hairs inside your nose freeze in seconds. As you exhale the humid air from your lungs and inhale the cold, dry air, your humid breath freezes on contact. If you sport a beard or mustache, it will be ice-covered within five minutes.
· Food and Beverages: If you leave your restaurant “take out” container or a beverage in your car overnight, it will be frozen stiff within 3 hours. There’s nothing so amusing as a pepsi popsicle in the morning!
· Automobiles: If you’re lucky enough to get them started, cars and trucks sound like creaking timbers when they roll along. Every shock absorber, every ball joint, every latch and every fitting makes incredible noise as you go down the street. Vehicles are not made to operate at twenty-below zero.
· Outdoor Soda vending machines: Designed to keep beverages cold, in Minnesota these vending machines must also have heating elements to keep beverages from freezing!
· Frozen Pipes: If you leave town for more than 24 hours, you better leave a house key with your neighbor. Make sure the neighbor checks your home at least once a day to make sure the furnace hasn’t gone out. If your furnace stops working, within 30 hours the temperature in your home will fall below freezing. At that point the water pipes in the house will freeze solid and eventually split, potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars to repair. I once had 26 pipes split when I forgot to check a property during a 10-day cold spell. The only way to find out where the pipe “splits” are is to turn on the heat, wait till the pipes thaw, and listen for the sound of water running inside the walls. You shut off the water at the meter, fix the split, turn on the water and listen for the water running from the next split! It is a nightmare that many Minnesotans have experienced.
. Engine block heaters: Some cars and trucks have engine block heaters that must be plugged into an electrical outlet at night. The heating element keeps the water in the engine block warm to facilitate starting on cold mornings. For example, almost all school buses are plugged in during extremely cold nights, as they have to be running in the morning.
· Layering of Clothing: At -20 f, you don’t go outside unless absolutely necessary. Any exposed skin will freeze within five minutes. The key to keeping warm is to dress in “layer” your clothing. You are warmer with 3 or 4 layers of clothing under a light coat than one layer of clothing under a heavy coat. Each layer traps warm air.
· Winter Storage: In the fall you must take paint and any other canned or bottled liquids into a heated room for winter storage. Once a gallon of latex paint freezes, it is useless when summer comes. This also goes for motorcycle and boat batteries, which will be ruined when unused in freezing temperatures. While they may be stored outside, garden hoses must be emptied of water so they don’t freeze and break. Potted plants must be brought inside to survive. While you’re at it, you might as well put away the lawnmower and the grill!
· The Vanishing Pot of Water Trick: When the outdoor ambient temperature is -20f (-28c) or lower (this won’t work at temps higher than -20f) you can do the “vanishing pot of water” trick. Go into the kitchen and bring a pan of water to a rapid boil. Take it outside, line the kids up and throw the water up into the air (in a direction away from the kids). As the water reaches the cold air, it makes a hissing sound and a cloud of vapor forms. The water never reaches the ground.
Winter can be a lot of fun if the temperature is between 10f and 30f. That’s when kids make snowmen and people go skiing. On the other hand, temperatures of -20f are deadly and no fun. Fortunately, even in Minnesota, only in January and February can such extremely low temperatures occur. By the end of February, temperatures moderate upward. Winter has a few advantages; no mosquitoes, no lawn mowing, no hedge trimming, and no loud parties on the neighbor’s lawn.
I hope this blog has been informative for my readers who don’t live in warmer climates. You might wonder why anyone would want to put up with these winters. You would be correct to wonder! In a few minutes I’ve got to go go out into the dark, cold night to check the furnace at one of my vacant properties. Burrr! Anyone want to come along?