Thursday, March 20, 2014


This winter has felt like being trapped in Charles Stankievech's The Soniferous Aether, watch the trailer here. Image via

This has been a lousy winter. This is a statement of fact. Even by the numbers this really has been a lousy season.

To date:
  • 36 Extreme Cold Weather Alerts in Toronto FN1
  • The Great Lakes are approaching an unheard of 95% ice concentration which hasn’t been seen since 1979 and may actually cause a cooler summer
  • Toronto has set a record (for the city) of 88 consecutive days of snow cover
Siberian air mass (I blame Putin)? Arctic air mass? Misaligned jet stream? Questionably misused meteorological terms aside (what is a Polar Vortex exactly?), this has been Toronto’s coldest winter in 20 years. Strangely, my memory of other harsh winters is surprisingly accurate. I recall 2000 being cold (the first winter I lived in Toronto had a really mild Christmas followed by a freezing winter replete with thunder snowstorms), then 2004, which was our first winter living on Fern Avenue. 2006 was another cold year (I recall many a trek to physio due to my broken collar bone and Angela being out on a frigid picket line) and 2008 was another cold year which I remember because I worked near a very draughty window at Indigo - one morning a fine mist of snow blew through the crack in the window frame and pelted my face and the desk became wet as the crystalline dusting melted. No, I am not exaggerating. Now 2013-2014 has been a cracker. There does seem like a vague pattern of every three to five years being a colder one. Sort of like every seventh wave being the largest. The cold hasn’t just manifested in numbers either. The cold has caused strange phenomena such as frost quakes. The ice formations at the shoreline look like waves frozen in mid lap. The TTC has had to run special street cars overnight to keep the rails warm enough to avoid switches freezing. Which is my point I guess about the data – it doesn’t always tell the story which is why someone invented a misery index. Telling in its name isn’t it?

As cold as it’s been, I don’t think we’ve actually had any record breaking cold days. I remember a day in Ottawa being -42 C which pardon me miss, is cold enough to freeze a squirrel’s nuts. Despite setting snow ground cover records, there hasn’t been a lot of snow, it’s just been constant. It’s that unbroken constant cold and ice and snow and wind that has really busted my chops. As a cyclist this has been particularly sucky. It’s not that I mind the cold or the wind or the wet on their own, it’s just putting them together is really a torturous slog. Particularly on the road conditions. Snow over ice makes it so slick it just isn’t worth the risk though I did buy a deep tread tire I don’t think it made a difference. People rave about studded tires for ice and snow which maybe I’ll try next year but the thing is, you only have two wheels. If you skid on four wheels you can make corrections but skidding on two wheels means you’re eating asphalt for lunch. It’s not just that the road may not be clear but also that there is a lot less of it; when a good two feet on both sides is taken by glacial ice pack you start running out of real estate. Not that I haven’t ridden at all but I’ve definitely picked my days when the roads have been clear.
“To be honest, I’m surprised I’ve survived this long.”
The worst side-effect of all of this has been the isolation. Believe me, I’ve made efforts to get out there in the face demolishing cold. I’ve even gone to meetings of residence associations which apparently is just another word for “society of insane old neighbourhood cranks". For most of this time though, I’ve been hold up in this small apartment. I’ve resorted to eating dried beans just to avoid going for groceries. To be honest, I’m surprised I’ve survived this long.

But now Spring is here. Officially at least. By date the vernal equinox is upon us. The sun comes up around 7:30 and goes down around 7:30. It’s just that Spring hasn’t really sprung yet. Today we had a mix of light rain and snow and with the wind chill it was -4C. I wore a lighter coat to try and urge Spring to come out to play. It didn’t work. There is a point on the thermometer somewhere around 17C or 18C when people will, in a frenzy, strip off their layers and declare an end to winter. That day hasn’t happened yet but when it does you’ll find me in the maddening crowd, throwing off my coat and uncoiling a Spring day.

Footnote1 The city issues an Extreme Cold Weather Alert when temperatures fall to -15°C without wind chill calculations

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