The past few days it's been -40 here. This is sort of a magical number, the point at which Celsius and Fahrenheit meet. Not nearly as cold as it can get, -40 has a special kind of appeal. For one thing, it's not truly considered a cold snap here unless we hit -40. People complain about the cold when it's warmer than that, of course, but it's always with the knowledge that it will get colder. There's speculation in the newspaper about when we'll hit the marker for the first time each winter, as there's great variation. This year's, being in early December, was sort of middle of the pack. Last year we had a super early -40, at the beginning of November. No matter how much we think that it's winter before then, -40 shows us that we've just been getting a taste of what this place will throw at us. People adopt a fatalistic attitude at this point, not really caring if it gets colder because, heck, we've already hit -40. It can't get much worse.
Pipes have been bursting all over town because they've frozen and places are shutting down. Some of this is problematic--a friend who works for Meals on Wheels was frustrated that they shut down for anything colder than -30, which is sort of when the seniors they serve need their care the most. Even aside from the food they bring, having someone check on the elderly is important.
Cars have been unable to start and people are stranded in their homes. My coworker didn't make it in from North Pole yesterday because the tires on her car were completely flat, simply because of the cold. We've experienced that before, the weird lurching a car makes when it starts because the part of the tire which was resting on the ground froze into its flattened shape. It takes a few miles before the air inside warms up enough to round the tire out again, and tires can easily get punctures in that state.
I realized yesterday afternoon while I was walking home that I don't dread -40 the way most people do. In fact, I sort of greet it like an old friend at this point. Hello, you're back again. Nice to see you. -40 is part of the rhythm of winter here. And, it's lovely.
There's also this one, just after sunset the other day:
Today it's noticeably warmer, in the -20s. People say there's not much difference between -20 and -40 but there certainly is when you're walking so much. My eyelashes freeze faster and get much frostier, the air is so dry that it makes me cough a bit. I notice even more when, as now, we warm up about ten degrees. This morning I even pulled off my heavy winter coat as I walked up the hill, so that I wouldn't be sweating. (I was wearing two pairs of socks, heavy boots, long underwear under my jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, fleece jacket, hat, gloves, and scarf around my neck and face, so I wasn't exactly naked without my coat. Also, it's a really steep hill.) No one else really seemed to consider near -30 to be any warmer, however.
I know that we'll hit -40 again quite a few times this winter, and it will almost certainly get even colder in January. When it does, I'll welcome it once again. Hello old friend.