The Thinker

Call of the snowbird

If you live in the United States or Canada, most likely it’s cold outside. Large parts of the country started the day in negative numbers of degrees Fahrenheit.

At 8 AM this morning it was 5.4 degrees here in Northern Virginia, which is relatively balmy, unless you were actually out in it, as I was. With ten mile an hour winds, the temperature felt like -3 degrees. In the thirty years I have lived here we have had colder days, but likely there were only a handful of these days. One of them was January 21, 1985, the day after Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term, when temperatures hit -4 degrees at National Airport. Reagan moved his inauguration indoors because of the extreme weather. I recall the heat going out in our apartment, forcing us to bundle up in coats inside it for a few hours until the super could get someone to restart our pilot light.

Global warming morons, of course, will point to this week as an example of why global warming is not happening. They will do this while of course ignoring the indisputable general trend that on average the planet’s atmosphere is heating up. Fox “News” will probably make this a feature today. There is little political news of interest otherwise, and certainly Fox News viewers don’t care about the one political issue of note today: extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. It’s not just the long-term unemployed that are suffering. It is also a lot of people losing heating assistance, as Congress also inconveniently cut LIHEAP, the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, before rushing out of Washington last month to enjoy the holidays with family in front of their own hearths.

Every extreme weather event has me scurrying to do something. I believe in energy efficiency, so these events suggest I need to do more to insulate our house. Our kitchen is colder than it should be, in part because the oven has a vent to the outside, and there is really no way to block that cold air. Some years back we put in a hanging planter box window over the kitchen sink. It’s nice for plants, but not nice during these severe cold snaps. So I invested a hundred bucks in a heavy duty vinyl blind to pull down just for these events. It keeps most of the cold from seeping through the window while letting some light through because it is translucent. The basement is now in good shape, as we replaced the ceiling windows with double-paned windows with argon gas between panes during the autumn. Our other windows were replaced in the mid-2000s and are similarly weather tight. Our doors are well weather stripped with one exception, part of the door to the deck where the weather stripping fell off. I applied some freezer tape to the gap last night as a temporary measure. Our heat pump though is still mostly on, in spite of our precautions, as was the extra blanket on the bed last night. The only good part of this cold snap is that natural gas is cheap, and Dominion Power is mostly using natural gas. So I am hoping that despite the cold snap the electric bill will come in at under three hundred dollars.

When the weather gets this cold, exercise takes a holiday. Only crazy people go outside for exercise on days like this, but there are a requisite number of crazy runners in our neighborhood so devoted to the cause that they will rise at four a.m. and go running anyhow. For me, my options are largely walking around the office during breaks, or walking the long corridor in the basement of the building during lunch.

I caught a little of the playoff game in Green Bay on television Sunday night and actually felt sorry for the 49’ers for having to play in the single digits. Crazily, their arms were exposed and some players like the quarterback were not even wearing gloves. Considering how much money they earn, I shouldn’t feel too sorry for them, but watching it from the warm sports bar where we were having dinner I felt cold anyhow, even if it was a sympathetic cold.

A number of people have been asking me why I want to live further north in retirement. Why endure more of weather like this, not to mention the hassle and inconvenience of driving in the snow and shoveling walks? This is best answered by donning the warm parka, scarf and hat I wore to and from work today. When it gets cold you can always bundle up. In other words, you can add layers and stay reasonably warm. When it is 104 degrees outside, which seems to happen routinely at least a few times during the summer in recent years, you are entirely reliant on air conditioning. While you could probably technically survive without air conditioning in this kind of weather, only those who can’t afford to will do so. In short, temperate zones are preferred but if you have to choose between the two, it is better to endure frozen winters up north than long summers with temperatures routinely popping 100 degrees, like in Phoenix.

Still, this is a logical reaction, not an emotional reaction. Like most aging Americans, as I age I find I prefer the climate a little warmer. It could be reduced metabolism. I wish it were due to reduced body fat. At some point, particularly during extreme weather events like the one we are currently enduring, migrating south seems quite attractive. Which is what these snowbirds will be doing soon.

The time to enjoy warm weather is when you don’t have it. Thanks to airplanes, cruise ships and comfortable bank accounts, you can escape for a while. January is the best time to escape to the Caribbean, which is where we will be starting a week from Friday. We will be on a Holland America cruise out of Fort Lauderdale with a destination of the southern Caribbean departing January 17 and returning January 27. When we come back all tanned and relaxed then perhaps we will appreciate cold weather again.

Right now, this extreme cold just feels a bit too much.


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