It was Sunday morning, January 20, 1985. I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, living at International House, and I had to get to church to play the organ.
The night before, all my Canadian friends at I-House had been out frolicking, and assembled under my window to invite me out into the bitter cold. I declined, alas.
That morning, the mercury stood at negative 27. That’s the mercury, no wind chill factor. (The wind chill factor measures the effective temperature on exposed flesh.) The wind chill that morning reversed the digits: not -27 but -72. It might have been more comfortable on Mars (setting aside the issue of not having enough air to breathe).
I got dressed and walked three quarters of a mile to church.
My scarf, wrapped several times around my face, froze into a solid block. A sniffle caused ice to form in my nostrils. It was spectacularly, unbelievably cold. The snow creaked loudly underfoot.
I got to church on 53rd and Blackstone and the building, though it was damn chilly, seemed like a tropical paradise. The organ took quite a while to get going–the oil was nearly frozen in the motor. Yes, there was nearly the usual congregation, as I recall. Nothing was canceled; church went on as usual.
Right now, this morning, the mercury reads -6 where I am. Venus, the waning crescent moon, and Jupiter form a brilliant line in the southeastern sky. Jupiter is unsually bright. Antares and Spica are up. The snow doesn’t creak as much. And people are freaking out all over the United States because it’s c-c-c-c-c-cold.
Mind you–it is. Please be safe and guard against frostbite and hypothermia.
But the media continues to do more harm than good by scaring everybody into believing that the end is nigh. In former days only harmless lunatics walked around saying that. Now the lunatics are less harmless and get into my living room. And their proof is–it’s cold! (Or: it’s hot!)
Wouldn’t it be nice if they had daily segments on how to prevent, recognize, and treat frostbite? Naaaah.