pOLar

[3-min read] “It’s not that bad,” a passerby shamed Today Show meteorologist Dylan Dreyer. Wearing multiple layers of winterwear, Dreyer was reporting from sunny Minneapolis. In her defense, a Polar Vortex had dipped the temperature to minus-something, minus 50 with the windchill factor. From my cozy couch in Albuquerque, I watched in wonder and thought, “Sunshine does make a difference.”

Fast forward a few years. I’m walking in sunny Minneapolis wearing all my winterwear. Despite mythical tales of frigid winters, I’ve chosen to move here. I love snow and since entering perimenopause (TMI? Suck it up), I can tolerate cold more comfortably. Another Polar Vortex has arrived, giving me my first taste of “the couple weeks in winter when you don’t go outside” that I’ve been warned of. In case you’re unsure, the Polar Vortex is the area of cold, low pressure air around the earth’s poles. In winter, when that area expands, bitter cold air dips down to places like Chicago and Minneapolis.

It’s minus 2 not including the windchill factor (minus 14, maybe?), so I’m bundled. Order matters: first sock liners, then thermal long underwear, heavy knee-high socks pulled over the therms, ski pants, a base layer shirt with built-in balaclava (google it if you need to), a lightweight mock turtleneck pullover, Sorel boots, spikes that strap to the soles of boots because it’s icy in patches, a Polartec balaclava, knee-length heavyweight jacket with faux-fur hood (not wearing it unless it’s windy), glove liners, and gloves. I’ve done this routine enough now to be efficient.

All summer, Minneapolis locals prepared my husband and me for the worst so we could be pleasantly surprised. “Better get out of town once before winter or you’ll go stir crazy,” one neighbor said. “It’s coming…” another neighbor teased on unseasonably cool fall days. Others were more encouraging when we explained that we loved to ski and snowshoe and played ice hockey in New Mexico. “Oh – you’ll be fine,” they assured us. But we couldn’t be certain.

On October 20, a record-breaking early snowstorm dumped about nine inches and truthfully, I panicked. It was beautiful and exciting, but I thought, “This is it. Five-plus months of freezing.” Thank goodness, that wasn’t it. The snow melted and we sat outdoors for drinks in November. Mid-December, we were sitting outside for lattes if we dressed warm and the sun was out. It wasn’t until December 23 that a blizzard brought enough snow and cold to keep the ground white and the lakes frozen solid for winter.

This 2020-21 season is the eighth-warmest winter on record for Minneapolis. I feel lucky it has been a merciful progression. January days when temperatures were unseasonably warm enough to melt snow that would refreeze into ice at night were disheartening. I don’t want climate change to rob me of opportunities to snowshoe, cross-country ski, ice skate, snow bike, and sled – all things I can do ON my neighborhood lake and some in the adjoining park only blocks away. Winter is playtime!

My definition of “cold” is a 180 from last winter in New Mexico. If there’s significant wind, all bets are off but otherwise, genuinely cold is anything below 7 degrees. Seriously. I’ve tested it three times and the difference between 7 and 2 or minus 1 or minus 4 is invigorating fresh air versus suffocation-by-layers, crystalized eyelashes, and a forehead that aches like an ice pack is pressing if exposed. Even in minus 4, at least my eyeballs don’t freeze.

Sunshine does make a difference. The Polar Vortex brought over a week of bright days after a long stretch of mostly clouds. I catch pastel sunsets at 5:30pm because daylight is already noticeably longer. But I know – spring is still a couple months away.

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