So, Just How Cold Is It?

Yesterday, I ventured out of the house—just barely beyond the front doorway—just enough to confirm that I preferred to remain inside.

I do not have a baseline for what is “too cold,” but when I become cognizant of the individual hairs inside my nostrils, it is too cold for me.

“Polar Vortex” is a wonderful neologism for a period in which every storm seems to need catastrophic hyping. The phenomenon has prompted newscasters to exclaim that it is now as cold in the American Midwest as it is on Mars. But what they seem to be comparing are the daily low temperatures in parts of the Midwest and the daily high temperatures on much of Mars. That’s like saying that Philadelphia is as warm as Miami in early April because the average high in Philadelphia and the average low in Miami are both 59 degrees.

For some reason, International Falls, Minnesota, has become unofficially the coldest place in the continental United States: that is, it is always cold enough there to make the rest of us shiver at the thought of how cold it might yet get where we are. But, I am sure that there must be places in North Dakota, Montana, and the interior of Wyoming that, on most days, are every bit as cold as, if not colder than, International Falls. And it seems all too easy to forget that International Falls is south of most of Canada—and all of the Canadian Prairie Provinces.

On Sunday, I was watching the NFC Wild Card game in Green Bay and everyone was focused on the hallowed memories of the “frozen tundra” of the field at Green Bay when the Packers played the Cowboys for the 1967 NFL Championship and the right to represent the NFL in the first Super Bowl. That game became known as the “Ice Bowl,” and it ended with Bart Starr following Jerry Kramer across the goal line among clouds of frozen exhalations–in a climactic play that epitomized the brutal conditions in which the teams were playing.

But, on Sunday, the field at Green Bay was not a frozen tundra because there are now heating coils under the turf to prevent it from freezing as hard as concrete. Don’t get me wrong, it was very, very cold—just not quite as cold as the announcers might have wished it might be.

It occurred to me that it might be clever to point out that however cold it was in Green Bay, it was certainly much colder in Winnipeg, the closest Canadian city north of Wisconsin. I thought it would be clever to reduce all of the ironies involved in this frenzied focus on the cold to a single catchphrase– Green Bay is Winnipeg’s Miami.

Unfortunately, my sense of irony is more acute than my sense of geography, of distance. It turns out that the halfway point between Winnipeg and Miami is not Green Bay, but Cincinnati, which is not quite on the coastline of a major body of water, though it was once a major river port.

It didn’t even snow throughout Sunday’s game between the Bengals and the Chargers. Instead, it rained, though the cold front did eventually bring snow and cold to southern Ohio.

Just for the record, it’s currently -13 in Winnipeg, 12 in Cincinnati, and 55 in Miami.

I am guessing that 12 degrees is much more tolerable than -13 degrees, but I am also guessing that the difference between 12 degrees and 55 degrees is much more marked, much more apparent, than the difference between -13 and 12.

That’s the basic problem with clever and even not-so-clever analogies: they almost always sound much more incisive and insightful than they actually are.

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