Lows plunged well below freezing last night. In October! And there’s snow. In October? Yes! That’s what happens in October. It gets cold and it starts snowing. We go through this every year, and each year the reaction just gets worse. Our relatively new connection to the world outside of our bubbles is giving us weather amnesia.
I wish I could take credit for the term “weather amnesia,” but it comes from a great rant of the same name by the always-apt Rick Mercer, who is to Canadian audiences what Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are to us down south.
The segment from the Rick Mercer Report comes from the last week of January 2014, that terrible month when frozen Americans and Canadians learned the term “polar vortex” and lost their everloving minds.
I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to winter, Canadians—at least those of us that live in the cities—suffer from a seasonal amnesia. When it snows, or it gets cold, or the rain turns to ice and it gets slippery, it comes as a complete and total shock. We like to think we’re good at winter, but we’re not anymore, and it seems like every year we’re getting worse.
Oh, Canada. It’s not just you. Every year, we’re all getting worse.
Last year, early season snows in New England and around the Great Lakes came to national attention. Several places saw snow in October, and by November, the lake effect snow machine cranked up and churned out foot upon foot of white doom on towns near the water.
In response to the onslaught of social media posts and news articles breathlessly reporting these SUPER EARLY SNOWS, I wrote a post with some hastily-drawn maps showing the average first date certain cities see measurable snow—at least 0.1”—and the earliest they’ve ever seen one of these dustings. Records show that snow is common as early as September on the northern Plains, and it frequently starts snowing in October around the Great Lakes.
As it turns out, it can start to snow when it gets cold. Who knew?
This internet-induced meteorological forgetfulness gets even worse with uncomfortable temperatures.
Historically, the bulk of the United States that doesn’t border the Pacific Ocean reaches the magic 32°F mark by the end of October, with the average first freezing reading occurring much earlier in Canada-adjacent spots or higher elevations.
The average first freeze at both New York’s Central Park and Washington’s National Airport is November 13, while it’s a few weeks earlier out in suburban/rural areas. The average first time the mercury (well, alcohol) dips to 32°F is usually during October in flyover country and closer to September in the border regions, while it’s as late as November in interior parts of the southern U.S.
Guess what? We’re right on schedule! It first hit freezing at Dulles Airport—about 20 miles west of Washington D.C. in suburban Virginia—on Sunday morning, and lows dipped below freezing one day ahead of average in Detroit. Even the traditionally cold areas away from cities dropped down into the 20s (and some into the teens) right around when they’ve first done so in the past.
So why is it that this angst-filled freak-out over COLD! and SNOW! gets louder and more absurd every time we start to dive into fall? Why does your Great Aunt Erma or embittered coworker Jack take to Facebook to scream about the cold happening earlier than ever? I understand how younger folks have a much narrower window of reference for things like weather, but even that can be a stretch. I’m at a loss trying to remember a Halloween in the D.C. suburbs where I didn’t have to wear at least a light jacket over whatever cheesy costume I begged my mom to let me wear that year.
Of all of the things we can get stressed about when it comes to weather—tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, climate change—getting upset over cold in October is one of the strangest.
It’s trendy to blame the internet for all of our woes (“we’re so antisocial! we have no skills! no wifi—just talk!”), but it really seems like the internet, if it’s not responsible for it, is at least exacerbating our weather amnesia. It gets cold in October. It starts snowing in October. This is nothing new or abnormal. But now that we’re so closely tuned-in to events happening beyond our little bubbles, we’re hearing about things like colder cold and deeper snow earlier than we’re used to.
It’s chilly in much of the country right now—as it should be!—but when you click over to Facebook and scroll past one video after the other showing snow dumping on towns in New York when the pumpkins are still fresh, it makes that run-of-the-mill chill seem even worse.
“Oh, God. There’s a foot of snow. Winter is here. This is horrible.”
Except it’s not. For the most part, it just seems that way.
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