Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Beware the sun, and other things I have learned about winter in Ottawa

Six years of Ottawa winters, and it still gets me at least once every season. The sun, that is – all bright and glowy and shiny and raining down the UV rays and Vitamin D, calling out to me with its tendrils of burning gasses – “Come on out!” it says. “Look at me, all fiery and not obscured by so much as a single cloud! Leave your toque, your scarf, your thermal underwear, and come enjoy my life-giving light and warmth!”

And so I do – and instantly freeze all the way to my ovaries because DAMN! I keep forgetting that in this town, Sun=Cold Enough to Freeze the Bells off the Peace Tower.

Not so back home. In Victoria, sunny meant just what you’d think – a warmish day, at least, maybe cold and breezy in the evening, but certainly nothing to panic about. Only now, six years later, has it gotten through my permafrosted brain that Sun no longer equals Nice Out, that Sun=BAD!, that a sunny day means that I can look forward to those moments at the bus stop where I forget what it’s like to have feeling in my hands or feet.

Now I can’t even spell meteorologist (or can I? I’m too lazy to spell check) let alone explain what they do, so don’t expect some sort of in-depth analysis of why it is SO MUCH FREAKING COLDER on sunny days versus cloudy ones. I just state the facts, I don’t/can’t explain them. Stephen Harper’s gaining popularity in the polls, the sun makes things colder – don’t ask me to give you the why and how!

Another thing I have learned about winter is that West Coasters walk differently than the rest of the country. Every year, I slip and fall on icy sidewalks/streets at least three times. These incidents range from the minor (as in “smile abashedly at the concerned strangers”) to the spectacular (as in “write up contract for share of $10,000 American’s Funniest Home Video prize with random stranger with camera phone”).

And apparently, the reason for this tumbles are that I don’t walk the right way. My more winter-wise friends are constantly telling me to “Walk this way!” (not to be confused with Steven Tyler, who also tells me to “talk this way”). “This way” is apparently lightly and gingerly, like the sure-footed mountain goat, who sure as hell would be extinct by now if the mountains had the same snow and ice build-up and crazy aggressive drivers that Ottawa does.

Which brings me to another thing that I have learned about winter – nobody gives a shit about pedestrians.

Not the plows, that constantly dump snow from the sides of roads onto sidewalks, or pile it up and the edge of the crosswalk so that my walk to work more closely resembles the 200m hurdles. Not the sidewalk sweepers, those mini-plows with major attituded that barrel up and down the narrow walkways spraying salt and sand on everyone without slowing or stopping for foot traffic, thereby forcing pedestrians to leap for the safety of the snowbanks (aside – terrible, terrible aside – the first year I arrived in Ottawa, the body of an elderly woman was discovered in a snowbank on a busy downtown street – it was suspected that she had tried to get out of the way of one of these sweepers and fell into the snowbank, laying covered and unnoticed until she froze to death – not to be crass, but winter is serious business around here). And certainly not the drivers who refuse to let me cross the street to get to my house, and leave me standing on the side of the road, a mere 150m from warmth in the -20 or less weather while they cruise along in their dangerously unsafe SUVs.

Other things to know:

-The best way to keep warm is to gather all the clothing you have, and then wear it.
-If you can avoid going outside, then do so. Invent games, activities, or friends to keep you sane. If that fails, well, you might be crazy but at least you're warm.
-Do not, under any circumstances, think that you can just "run out" and get the mail/empty the composter/bring out the garbage without wearing your full winter gear, or years from now you will be the icy centrepiece of a museum exhibit entitled "Frozen in Time - 21st Century Humans and the Mindless Chores that Killed Them"
-Always keep a Tauntaun with you in case you need to slit open its belly and sleep in its guts.
-Actually, that about covers it.


megan said...

Clouds are one big ol' blanket, they keep the heat from escaping upwards. So, your sunny, clear days are colder than your cloudy ones. Other things I learned in Climatology 317: 80% of your body heat escapes through your head, and how to calculate rates of cat asphyxiation (occasionally goats) in relation to smoke stack height/heat output. Ask me how!

floyd said...

Wow, smarty pants, that makes a lot of sense. Come back, fluffy sky blankets! Also, remind me to ask you about the cat/goat asphyxiation thing next time I'm back in Vic City and we've had a few beers.

nath'n said...

since when does the sun provide any warmth in victoria?? Huh? i think you forget that as long as there is even a whisper of a breeze, victoria becomes a chill-to-your-bones-with-wet-icy-breath wonderland, rain or shine.

also - i too am interested in the goat/cat stats.

Courtney said...

You loose so much heat through your head because it is exposed to the "zenith" of the sky. Isn't that a funny word? I should join the beer-filled discussion of cat asphyxiation since Megan and I sat beside each other in climatology.

Payton said...

Ahem...I'm sure Nathan is a very nice boy, but I don't think you can compare Victoria cold to Ottawa cold (maybe you weren't and I'm being oversensitive - that's entirely possible). I'm sure it gets very chilly in Victoria, but -20 is -20. Just as two months of -40 is two months of -40, so don't tell me the prairies are warmer than Ottawa because "it's a dry cold". Yeah, this so isn't about Nathan's post anymore.

Alexandre said...

Damn I miss those Ottawa winters --- ok, not really.

Short time reader, first time poster, just had to chime in on the head heat thing.

It's a myth. We transplanted Canadians just found out.


floyd said...

Hmmm, interesting study! I don't know if I'm ready to leave my toque at home, but I might start wearing more than just a bathing + toque on the ski hills now...