Quote & Thought for the Day, 2010/12/01

“It’s genuine freeze-to-death weather outside today.”

-My father, November 23rd (last Tuesday).


The weather in question was about -20 F with about a 20 to 25 mph wind. Yes, the -20 F is without the wind chill. No, I have no idea what the wind chill at that temperature and wind speed would be; the wind blows so often here we never really try to keep track of wind chill, you just assume whatever temperature is stated doesn’t include the wind.

While this type of winter weather doesn’t happen every winter day in Montana, it’s not uncommon for it to happen at least a few days each winter.

Portland, Oregon — where I lived for nine years — never sees this kind of weather. I’ve talked to people who were in their 50s and 60s, had lived in Portland their whole lives, and had never seen it get to 0 F. Even soemething as cold as +15 F was very rare.

Yet I heard endless complaining about Portland weather when I lived in Portland. Yes, Portland does have (some would say instead “is afflicted by”) a large population of recent immigrants from California and former Californians are notorious for thinking anything that isn’t as sunny and mild as California is hell on earth. And yes, former Californians were some of the complainers. But a lot of the perpetual gripers were people who had lived most of their lives in Portland.

Walking into work, stopping by the bank during lunch break, meeting friends for dinner or stopping by the grocery store to pick up something for myself — all those settings were likely places to hear someone say “Oh My God, the weather here is SO HORRIBLE. It’s SO AWFUL. I HATE THE WEATHER HERE.” and on and on and on.

People in Portland were so convinced that their weather was SO AWFUL on more than one occasion I had someone (who knew I was from Montana) turn to me and say “the winters in Montana must be nicer, at least you can see the sun”. When I would comment that the sun doesn’t help that much when it’s 20 below with a 30 mph wind, at least with Portland’s rain you just get wet going outside, their reaction would be shocked horror. “Really??? I didn’t realize it got that cold in the continental U.S.!”

No, these were not people I would have pegged as ignoramuses, typically they were people who were well-educated and informed on most topics. Except for anything that contradicted their narrative about HOW HORRIBLE Portland weather was.

In contrast, even during cold spells here in Montana (and I mean cold spells where we go a week without seeing anything higher than -10 F, day or night) I don’t hear the whining about HOW HORRIBLE the weather is. I hear comments like “boy, I sure wish it would warm up a bit” or “have you looked at the weather forecast, I’m hoping the weather will get better next week”.

Or even “Have you been okay driving in this? I saw a couple cars in the ditch on the way to work this morning.”

And I think that last comment is part of the key as to why Portlanders make such a BIG DEAL about HOW AWFUL their weather is. In actuality, it’s so mild they never have to think about the things that can happen that you hope never happen. Although it’s been a few years, I remember as a child seeing public service announcements on television here in Montana about what to keep in your car when it’s cold (shovel, ice scraper, blankets, water, maybe some food and road flares if you want to be really prepared) and warnings about not letting the engine idle all night to keep you warm if you get stuck somewhere because there’s a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if the exhaust system is faulty or if your tailpipe is sticking into a snowbank.

And everyone in snowy and icy climates has that heart-pounding first slide of the winter, where you forget how slick the icy road really is and the first time the road is iced over you slide halfway through an intersection at a stop sign or red light because you forgot you have to start slowing down halfway down the block if you want to be stopped by the end of the block.

So, being surrounded by the reminders of just how easily things can go badly wrong, people focus on the things that really matter — Are you okay? Did you get home okay last night? I saw someone in the ditch this morning and it sort of looked like the car you drive, I was worried it might have been you.Yeah, the weather is miserable, but that happens; why would you spend all your time with someone talking about HOW HORRIBLE the weather is when there’s so much other stuff that’s more important?

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