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The Cold Equations - Strategies for Winter
November 28, 2007 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Help an Australian survive the North American winter.

As the temperature drops and snow begins falling, I'm beginning to realise I don't know how to deal with weather this cold. While there's been lots of specific cold winter advice on askmefi and elsewhere, I'd like to learn the more general stuff - the everyday strategies and little tips that would make an upstate New York winter bearable.
Recommend your favourite ridiculous hat, handy car maintenance tips, advice on layering clothes, house maintenance, or any random thing that makes your winter better. I'm looking for the sort of stuff you learn as a kid, so both obvious and obscure recommendations are welcome. (Example: Apparently, it's important to brush snow off the top of your car so it doesn't slide down your windscreen when you brake. Who knew?)

On a more specific note, is there a way to insulate a glass sliding patio door without blocking the light?
Observations along the line of "That's not a knifewinter! This is a knifewinter!", or accusations of general whinging wussitude are most likely accurate, but unnecessary.
posted by zamboni to Grab Bag (62 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
A "turtle" or whatever they're called - those things that fit snugly around your neck. Totally awesome.
posted by ORthey at 1:02 PM on November 28, 2007


Car: The INSTANT your battery seems to be struggling a bit to start on a cold morning, think about replacing it.

Old Scandanavian saying: There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Getting around: If you're not sure you can, stay put. Don't be this guy.

Doohickie's wisdom: Cold is a state of mind. If possible, embrace the glorious coldness of a winter wind by *not* pulling your collar up and your hat down, just so long as the wind chill is warmer than -20 degrees F. Honestly you can make yourself get used to cold to the point that you feel warmer by *not* bundling up.

Good luck.
posted by Doohickie at 1:06 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you walk around while its snowing for an extended period of time, don't go back inside to "warm up" for a few minutes and then head back out. The snow on you will melt and you'll be both cold and wet for the rest of the time.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:07 PM on November 28, 2007


I note that it's been in the 30s in much of upstate New York. If that is giving you problem you need to really start preparing. If you've never felt true cold it's hard to get how different 0 feels from 30 or -20 from 20. It's not just "cold but more so".

Layering and avoiding dampness is the key. Wearing multiple layers of clothing will insulate you from the heat in a way that wearing one or two, no matter how heavy, will not. For example: Undershirt, shirt, sweatshirt, jacket.

Avoid getting snow or whatever down your boots at all costs. It will get in there and melt from your body heat and you'll be walking around in freezing weather with wet feet. Bad.

Depending on how cold it gets the single most important piece of clothing that you're likely to forget is a scarf you can wrap over your face. If it is a balmy 20 degrees or whatever you can go without, but if it gets under -10 or so you will have serious difficulty breathing without a nice warm piece of cloth covering your nose and mouth.

Nobody forgets a coat and few forget a hat or gloves, but I almost died once because I forgot a scarf.

Enjoy the balmy 35 degree temperatures while it lasts. It might actually start getting a little chilly soon.
posted by Justinian at 1:11 PM on November 28, 2007


I don't know what kind of insulation your house and plumbing will have, but you may need to make sure you run the faucets regularly (at least once a day), so that the pipes don't freeze and burst. Keep one sweater or hooded sweatshirt hanging on a hook, within easy reach of your main living space; depending on what you're doing, you'll want to take it on and off a lot. Hang a warm blanket over the back of your couch, so that you can pull it around you if you get chilly in front of the TV. Do you get dry hands? You might find you'll need to carry around some ointment and lip balm, lest your skin crack and bleed. When outside, breathe deep and move a lot to keep the blood flowing. Wear boots that repel water well, 'cause you're gonna step in some puddles of slush. Don't be afraid to spike your hot chocolate with whisky.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:11 PM on November 28, 2007


(-10 should be -20 above... you can still breathe okay at -10)
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on November 28, 2007


I moved from Canberra to Boston in August 1995. People there told me the subsequent Winter was the worst in living memory, so I got a pretty thorough introduction.

In Boston, you can walk everywhere, and that's just what I did, in all weather, for eight years. It's really pretty simple. I like these Kathmandu gore-tex jackets which stop the wind pretty much completely. (My Mum keeps sending me them as presents.) I wear one of those, maybe a jumper under that, some thick gloves and woolen socks, a close-weaved hat to keep the wind from hurting my ears, and a scarf to cover my mouth. I find that this way, I'm quite comfortable. Sometimes I even sweat a bit.

The main risk I faced early on was walking on snow and ice. Just pay attention to what you're stepping on and how much traction it provides, and you'll be fine.

When I was in St Louis, which has slightly different but roughly still cold Winters, I cycled everywhere. Same gear was perfectly adequate.

Now I am in Northern Virginia, and I have to use a car. The main lesson I have learned here is to buy your snow shoveling gear before the big snowstorm, as the shops will be all out of them when you actually need them (and in addition, in this urban-planning nightmare, you won't be able to get to the shops because you have no alternative but to drive to them in your snowed-in car.) After said snowstorm, slalom around in your car in an empty carpark, preferably in the company of an experienced friend. It won't take you long to get a feel for how much traction you can count on. Change your driving pattern accordingly (keep plenty of distance from other cars, and decelerate and turn slowly, basically.)

I wouldn't worry too much about your house keeping you warm, unless you're living in a total dump. Frankly, Americans seem pretty wimpy when it comes to dealing with the cold. In my twelve years in the US, I've never lived in a house with inadequate central heating. Actually, when I'm by myself, I tend to keep the thermostat much lower than Americans seem to like it.
posted by Coventry at 1:18 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


(Oops, "different but roughly still cold Winters").
posted by Coventry at 1:21 PM on November 28, 2007


You can acclimate faster by taking a couple jogs in the snow.
posted by notsnot at 1:21 PM on November 28, 2007


Most people have the warmth advice covered, so remember about dry skin. You will get very dry skin. Lots of lots of moisturiser on your back and front and arms and legs. Also chapstick.
posted by gaspode at 1:26 PM on November 28, 2007


upstate New York winter bearable

Oh Jesus. I grew up in New England and that did not prepare me for college in Rochester. The best thing I did was to go to a place like Eddie Bauer, who rates their winter coats with an actual degree rating. I bought a coat rated down to -40F. Now that I live in balmy New Hampshire, I break that coat out maybe once every year. Even with the coat, there were a couple of days I didn't really go out. It wasn't the cold, it was the wind.
posted by yerfatma at 1:26 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Having gone from Northern Virginia to Kalamazoo, MI (and from thence having come to central California, where people wear parkas and flip-flops and complain about the cold when it's 60 degrees F), here's what I'd say.

Get a full-length heavy wool coat - one that comes down to your ankles. It's effectively a full-body blanket with buttons. Big buttons are easier to work than small buttons or a zipper in mittens or gloves in the cold. (Hint: even if you have a wool coat bought in Oz, what's available in upstate NY will be heavier and warmer - I found this out when I moved from Michigan to California, where the "winter coats" available are largely decorative.)

I like a hooded scarf rather than a hat, as it musses hair less, and you can wrap it around your head and neck (and face on the days that's necessary).

Buy shoes you plan to wear in winter with enough room for two pairs of socks. The best shoes to have are presentable-looking boots that go up to your ankles and have craggy soles.

Get a little ceramic heater with a fan for the bathroom.

When grocery shopping, leave the cart at the door with your purchases, and bring the car around. Grocery carts are not made for snow.

Two words: snow tires. And get a lock de-icer for your car doors. Get a seasoned native to take you out to an empty parking lot after there's snow on the ground and teach you how to deal with a skid. Practice this plenty.

Coping emotionally can be as much of a battle as physically, if you've never been through this sort of winter before. Find out what the locals do for fun when the snowdrifts are starting to obscure the windows. In Michigan, we found a lively and fun bar culture and came to really enjoy it. Try out some winter sports you've never had the opportunity to experience. Grow a plant or two inside so you have something green to look at.

You are really going to learn about gradations of cold, as Justinian mentioned. Kalamazoo taught me the salient differences between 30, 20, 10, 0, and -10 degrees Fahrenheit. They are as follows:

30: By the end of the winter, this feels like a beautifully balmy day
20: Unpleasant, but bearable as long as you're bundled up
10: This is where it really starts to suck
0: Don't venture out into this if you can help it
-10: Your lungs are burning and the surface of your eyeballs has frozen

And just wait until it's 50 degrees in the spring - that first warm day is an incredible celebration - all the sports equipment comes out and everyone gets busy having summer right away. The joy is wonderful to behold.
posted by jocelmeow at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Scraping ice of the car blows -- if you keep your car outside, do your damndest to get out there and start it about 5 minutes before you have to leave so you can crank the defroster and melt everything.

Also, keep a shovel in the car so that when you come home in the snowstorm and discover that they've plowed your street so many times that a huge snow wall blocks your driveway you can get to the shovel quickly to hack your way in.

If you need to walk across some ice and don't have spikes or anything, pull a pair of socks over your shoes and you'll have much better traction.
posted by JanetLand at 1:29 PM on November 28, 2007


Re: house maintenance, you will find things that need long-term fixes over the course of the winter. As an interim solution, hardware stores sell shrinkwrap rolls and double-sided tape packs that let you weatherproof windows and doors for the season. It looks a little ghetto up close, but it beats the hell out of leaky windows. You can get sliding glass door sized ones. You'll need a hair dryer or a heat gun; taking the time to do it right and tight means it works better and looks less ghetto. Keep an eye on them throughout the season as they get loose after a while.
posted by yerfatma at 1:30 PM on November 28, 2007


Get a cab for your tractor. It makes blowing snow almost fun. And invest in a rear-view spotlight for blowing snow before dawn so the kids can get to the school bus. Don't buy one of those cheap 'garage in a box' things and expect it to survive a 60 mph wind. Don't be embarrassed to wear ski goggles when the windchill is below -25C. Invest in a down parka and insulated snow pants. Insulated boots are also a Godsend. Check your windows for tightness of the seals. Install a woodstove and have a backup generator on hand for when the ice storm takes out the power for a week. Use winter tires between November and April. Learn to snowboard, or go snowshoeing.

Well, that's my survival guide, anyway.
posted by unSane at 1:30 PM on November 28, 2007


Seconding the shovel in the car, especially if you work somewhere where they plow the lot. A kid's shovel or a collapsible model will do (assuming they're either rigid enough to be useful or you don't go nuts digging yourself out).

Don't try running your outdoor grill in a confined space. Sounds obvious, I know.
posted by yerfatma at 1:31 PM on November 28, 2007


Get a knee-length or mid-thigh length coat.

For cool weather, get some windproof fleece gloves. For cold weather, get gloves that take fleece liners.

Go to REI, it's a hiking supplies store (and coop) with good gear.

Aside from a scarf, balaklava are good.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:31 PM on November 28, 2007


Hat, scarf, gloves and everything else. If they get wet from the snow, lay them out beside a heater when you get home so they're dry the next day. Dress in layers - get some thermal underwear for when it gets really cold. Most of the heat is lost through your head so a warm hat is the most important part; you also lose a lot through your neck so a scarf is vital too.

Car tips: Get a good brush and scraper. Turn the car on and crank the heaters while you brush it off so that the windows aren't fogged by the time you get in. Do not bash the ice to break it or you could smash a window; just persistently scrape at it. Yes, brush the roof of the car, and also the hood so snow doesn't fly up into the windshield when you go fast, and clear the headlights too. Fill up your washer fluid with winter-grade stuff so it doesn't freeze and always carry an extra jug or too; when it's snowing you will be squirting the windshield constantly (also: try to clear ice and snow from the nozzles so they can squirt). Keep an emergency kit in the car in case it breaks down. Consider a AAA membership so you can call for help if your car won't start. If the door is frozen shut, clear the ice around the edges first, then do your best to clean the handle and lock. You can get lock de-icer, but if you're stuck, dip your key in hot water and then wiggle it into the lock. Don't force it, just keep moving it back and forth. The water will freeze into ice which is why de-icer is preferred.

House tips: get some nice warm slippers for your feet, flannel sheets for your bed, and a nice fleece hoodie you can wear around the house if it's chilly. If you have a fireplace, use it! To insulate the door you can tape some plastic sheeting around it, but it will be ugly and not very effective; the best option is to have it replaced with double-paned glass (maybe expensive).

Enjoy the winter!
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2007


If you don't need to open your door anymore in the winter, you can cover it with plastic. It will still make the room warm, but it will be at least slightly better insulated. This thread talks more about that. If you're in a big house, the trick is to find a room or two that you can heat a little bit and stay decently warm and not have to go broke heating the entire house when the heat all leaks out the cracks anyhow. The Hot Pod approach [one well insulated room, preferably sunny, and a small electric space heater] can really help you stay happier and warmer.

That said, most places suggest keeping your house at around 55 degrees F even at night because pipes can freeze. Pipes freezing, water pipes is the biggest thing you want to avoid in the winter. Make sure pipes are well insulated or someplace with at least some heat. If it's bitter cold leave doors to undersink cabinets open or turn the thermostat up some (this is speaking as a New Englander who keeps the place pretty cold most of the time, if you don't mind the heating bills, feel free to ignore me)

Put an ice scraper and extra winshield fluid in your car NOW. Also it't not a bad idea to toss a blanket and a powerbar in there just in case you wind up stranded someplace. Be careful driving. Make sure your car has decent tires. A lot of people in places with real winter have two sets of tires, snows for winter and regular tires for the rest of the year and get them changed yearly.

Think about an electric blanket or better, an electric mattress pad warmer for the bed. This way you can turn it on, heat up the sheets and then get in to a bed that is not frigid. Easier to stay warm easier to skeep.

The difference between cotton and wool or other synthetics for keeping warm is HUGE. Don't wear cotton even in layers and expect to stay warm.
posted by jessamyn at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Get two car brush/windshield scrapers. Keep one in your car, and one in your garage. A longer handle means you won't have to reach as far, and a wooden handle is less likely to snap when confronted with ice. Don't worry about all of the other doodads or feats of engineering you can get on this piece of winter equipment. Wooden stick, brush, scraper.

Also: Don't lick flagpoles, even if you are triple dog dared.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hats are important. A warm head goes a long way. Also, I used to skip scarves, but then I wore one, and the difference in warmth is extreme.

On driving on ice: If you lose traction and start to slide, compensate with the wheel mainly, and resist the temptation to slam on the brakes, as it can make things worse. This simple fact is why there are so many accidents in the south when they get freak snow/ice storms -- the residents just don't know how to drive on it. In fact, if you haven't driven much on ice, I'd recommend finding a big empty icy parking lot and practicing a little by driving a tad recklessly and recovering from skid. My dad made me do this when I learned to drive (in Minnesota), and it helped a lot.
posted by jeffxl at 1:36 PM on November 28, 2007


unSane mentioned ski goggles -- a good pair of sunglasses is useful even on 30 degree days when it's windy.

Blankets, gloves, hat, snow boots in your car with the ice scraper and a plastic snow shovel. (You will have to dig your car out of a parking spot sooner or later.)
posted by olinerd at 1:36 PM on November 28, 2007


Having survived several winters in Wisconsin, Michigan, northern Illinois, here's my clothing advice. If you have the money spring for some long underwear from Patagonia or Underarmour. It holds a lot of heat, wicks sweat, is very lightweight and doesn't have that binding/itch feeling most department store long underwear has. Available in [Patagonia] weights for several different climes. I have both a Level 2 and Level 3 depending on the wind chill.

A rabbit fur bomber cap [available for about $25 at Cabela's online] will give you more heat retention than a knit cap and can be worn for weeks without washing [or having it mash up your hair] If you're a woman, you'll look amazing in these. If you're a guy, it's probably pretty dorky but women like to touch them and try them on when you're at the bar.

You can probably also buy a used ski/snowboarder bib off ebay. I found on days where I had to where "dress-up" clothes I could just put on my suit and tie and wear the bib over as I walked to work. It's loose fitting so it comes off right over your shoes.

Oh yeah, and wool-blend socks. Can't get enough of those. They're great in the summer heat too if you get the thin "smart wool" types. Target sells these boots for men and women with a faux fur lining that are usually about $20 and surprisingly warm. Only lasted one winter in my experience.
posted by caveatz at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


One tip: when a blizzard hits it's usually not a bad idea to go out and shovel for a while in the middle of the storm. It may seem like a waste of time but I think it's easier to shovel a 1/2 foot of snow twice rather than a foot all at once. This is especially true if a cold front is due to move in after and turn everything to ice.
posted by otio at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and embrace the cold! The best skiing I've ever done was in Vermont on a -30 deg day. There was NO ONE on the slopes, the powder was perfect, and as long as I wasn't letting any skin be exposed to the air, I was absolutely fine.
posted by olinerd at 1:38 PM on November 28, 2007


Layers with a bit of room between them are good. Cotton next to your skin is bad - if you're out tromping around in the cold and you get sweaty, the cotton will stay damp, and you'll get colder faster. Pick up a few sets of silk or polypro long underwear - tops and bottoms - and wear them as your first layer. Wool is good - it insulates even when it's wet - and so is fleece. Use a waterproof & windproof shell on the top of everything. Wear a hat, and a scarf.

Feet! Can't forget the feet: silk or polypro sock liners next to your skin, and then wool socks on top of that. Don't skimp on boots - get as good a pair as you can afford (waterproof, good treads), and try them on when you're wearing all your sock layers, since you might have to go up half a size.

Snow on your car: clean off the snow on your windshield, the front hood, and the top of your car - I can't tell you how many times I've nearly been hit by a big block of icy snow falling off the car in front of me. Keep a bag of road salt and a bag of kitty litter (good for traction) in your car, as well as a snow shovel. And a spare bottle of winter-rated windshield wiper fluid is a good thing, too.

I survived a lot of New England winters. Now I live in California!
posted by rtha at 1:38 PM on November 28, 2007


An electric blanket is great for pre-heating the bed before you get in it.

When buying a scarf, I usually get the acrylic fleece kind, because it doesn't sag away from my face and dries quickly. This is important if it'll be in front of your mouth and nose.

A parka with a nice fleecy hood will keep you warmest; get the kind with the flap over the zipper to keep the wind out. Avoid a coat with small buttons, because your frozen fingers won't be able to fasten them. Keep your back to the wind as much as possible.

Layering is good if you'll be outside a lot, but if you're going in and out of warm buildings, just wear a nice warm coat that you can take on and off easily.

Keep your ears covered, especially if it's windy. You can get a nasty headache from cold wind in your ears.

Get a humidifier.

Damper, heavier snow makes the best snowballs. Don't even bother with the light flaky stuff.
posted by Koko at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2007


I like layering things ... For the legs, it goes undies then long underwear then pants. Usually this is enough. If you need more and can wear jeans, flannel-lined jeans are awesome (my construction worker brother turned me onto them).

For the top, I like things that can come on and off easily so I wear a t-shirt as an undershirt followed by a sweater or whatever I'm wearing for the day. Then I go with a hooded sweatshirt and a P-Coat. P-Coats are awesome for winter and have got me through the -30 winters here.

The best things about t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts is that you can layer them if it's really cold, or easily take them off if it warms up.

Also, if you don't have a good pair of warm socks, use multiple tube socks.

These tricks have helped me through our annual Boy Scout Klondike Derby where we slept outside in freezing temps.

For your car, add kitty litter to the trunk to be used if you need to increase traction in the snow. Also, I carry a few pieces of cardboard to put under my tires if my car gets stuck on the side of the street after the plow comes through (for traction).
posted by drezdn at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2007


There are remotes to start your car so you can let it warm up while you are still inside. I've heard these advertised on the radio for about $150 or so (this was in Fargo, North Dakota, though).

A long enough scarf can do double duty as a hat.

Ear protection is vital when it is cold and windy.

If you don't have an ice scrapper, a credit card or similar will do in a pinch.

It can be hard to see black ice (typically because it is clear)- learn what to do if you hit a patch.

I grew up in a place where it never snowed, so my situation was similar to yours when I went to Fargo, North Dakota for college (one uni's motto: "Go far in Fargo"). If you let the natives know about your situation, they will give you hand me downs and let you know the best places to shop for winter clothing. The natives in Fargo would just wear boots, jeans, t-shit, sweater, jacket, scarf/hat, and maybe a pair of gloves- no matter how cold it got.

"Get a little ceramic heater with a fan for the bathroom." -jocelmeow

This is great advice- it feels so much nicer to have the bathroom a few degrees warmer when you are toweling off after a shower/bath.

If you somehow get your car stuck in the boonies during a snowstorm, your best bet is *not* to leave your car. An emergency kit would be good for this, but having common sense would help you more.
posted by Monday at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, also, when walking on ice, it's sometimes helpful to slide your feet, instead of raising them off the ground and stepping.

In the unfortunate event that ice catches you off guard and you slip and fall on your ass: get up immediately (faster than you fell down, preferably) and act like nothing happened. This is what people do.

However, if you witness someone else doing this: feel free to laugh. This is also what people do.
posted by jeffxl at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Grew up in Northern Wisconsin. Nothing to add except to wear a damn hat! Amazing how many people I see in the middle of January waiting for a bus with at most a useless pair of earwarmers.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2007


This is the kind of shovel I keep in my trunk. Wal Mart or any store that sells camping supplies will have them.
posted by The Deej at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2007


The difference between cotton and wool or other synthetics for keeping warm is HUGE. Don't wear cotton even in layers and expect to stay warm.

This is exactly right. Cotton (whether shirts and sweaters, or multiple pairs of socks) is almost useless -- in fact, it can be worse than useless. I nearly got frostbite once in Chicago because I'd layered on about three pairs of cotton socks and jammed my feet into my boots, which A) nearly cut off the circulation to my toes, and B) didn't keep the cold out anyway. Three or four layers of cotton will NOT keep you as warm as two layers or silk/synthetics/wool.

As for wool: if you're sensitive to the itchy factor, try cashmere or merino wool, especially for turtleneck sweaters and scarves.
posted by scody at 2:01 PM on November 28, 2007


Also, if you have insulated boots, keep a pair of shoes at work to change into. Nothing worse than having sweaty feet all day ... which then freeze when you go outside.
posted by Koko at 2:04 PM on November 28, 2007


30ish degrees farenheit? Online conversion tells me this is right around 0 Celcius.

Around these parts, that's almost tshirt weather.

Here's my -40 Celcius gear loadout...

Thick socks
Winter or hiking boots
Jeans
Long underwear if necessary
Zip up hooded sweatshirt (with hood worn up)
Heavy winter jacket, mid thigh length.
Wool Mittens. I wear the kind that you can fold back to expose your fingers. Very handy if you are fumbling for car keys or are a smoker.
Some sort of scarf or neckwarmer to protect neck / lower face / ears.
Baseball cap or toque.


Make sure to have jumper cables in your car and learn to use them. If someone needs a boost, give them one. One day you'll need one too. If it's going to get real cold overnight, plug your car in!

Also in car... traction plates and a small shovel for getting unstuck. You need to develop the driving skills to get out of these situations too. The key is not spinning your tires, take it easy on the gas, and rock back and forth if you have to. This is real way to spot the winter driving noobs in Winnipeg. You can tell they either haven't been here long or are bad drivers when they sit there gunning it and just digging themselves in further.
posted by utsutsu at 2:04 PM on November 28, 2007


I'm from California and now I'm living in Latvia; here's a thread where I asked about winter clothes because I was totally clueless and got great advice.
posted by mdonley at 2:12 PM on November 28, 2007


If you're looking to save money on cold weather gear, try the nearest army surplus store. There's a simple hat called a "watchman's cap" that will keep your head warm in all conditions, never let it mix with your laundry though as one wash and it will shrink until it can only be used on dolls.

Also, keep (at the very least) a warm blanket in your car.

Finally, no matter how cold it is for you, it's always colder for everyone else.
posted by drezdn at 2:17 PM on November 28, 2007


From a Texan who was uprooted to Connecticut for almost 6yrs (so I can understand the shell shock) the best advice I can give is:

Gloves – get a good pair (be realistic, pretty may not do the job so compare a few. My best gloves were normal black but I picked them up from the hunting section of walmart)

Heavy Jacket – something Sherpa lined or a nice peacoat

Hat – again pretty not always the best

Rock salt – do you have stairs, if so this can be purchased at your local grocery store

Car – park in reverse if you know it will be snowing, this will really help getting out of the driveway

Boots or Galoshes – especially for big snow mornings and you have to dig yourself out

Shovel – nothing fancy is required, I bought mine at a pharmacy – it was plastic and held up for 3 seasons and is still going

A small space heater – alternative is having your heat blast = big bill. We found a safe heater at Target for cheap ($20-30) and it worked great

**Not sure if this was a real concern but we also bought the anti-gas freeze solution for the car – you should be able to find at a grocery or walmart type store

Hand and body lotion – my wife’s hands and legs got extremely dry almost to the point of pain. She had to lather on all the time.

Do you have a dog? You may need to dig a path or shovel a patch for them to go (yeah, lots of fun).

Black Ice – be careful driving and walking (I broke a cell phone landing on it when I fell in my driveway

For your doors and windows you can by a stripping that goes around the door frames and window to help with cold air making it through the cracks (buy at walmart or hardware store)

Hope this helps – good luck
posted by doorsfan at 2:18 PM on November 28, 2007


i can't tell you how to deal with bitter cold or tons of snow: i'm a southern girl.

but i can tell you how to deal with ice: these for your shoes and a sack of cheap, coarse kitty litter in your trunk for traction if you park somewhere and find that the ground has turned into a skating rink. finally, get some salt or deicer for your driveway.

finally, even if there isn't a lot of snow, do walk out and check for ice. you can't tell by looking out the window, you'll have to go outside and get fairly close to tell.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:23 PM on November 28, 2007


My relatives in NW Illinois and New Jersey all swear by the remote car starters mentioned above. I think some of them use engine block heaters on their cars too.

I have some canadian merino blend socks, they're nice and thick and cost like thirty bucks a pair. They're worth every cent in conditions like that. Long Johns, a lined polar fleece jacket and windproof outer layer have me toasty during several chicago winters.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 2:30 PM on November 28, 2007


Gnomeloaf is totally right about having two car scrapers and keeping one inside. It's miserable to have to scrape with makeshift tools on the first day it's bad enough that your car is frozen shut and you can't get to the scraper. That reminds me of this great little ad.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2007


Well I'm from the sub-tropical part of New York (Manhattan) so I really don't know too many cold weather tips, but as it does occasionally get cold and snowy, and when it snows it is that heavy wet snow, I must add a few things.

For everyday gloves get the cheapest you can find. You will inevitably lose few pairs over the winter. Better to lose a $6.00 pair than a $60.00 pair. Leave the Gore-tex super duper autoheating gloves for when it is really cold. Same with hat and scarf. Treat them as semi-disposable items.

Pay a kid to shovel your driveway or walk unless you are in shape or have a snowblower. It's hard work, you can throw your back out. There are always a few old men you read about who still think they're young bucks and go out to shovel snow and get a massive coronary and its head first in a snowbank until spring.

The rock salt that they put on sidewalks is murder on dogs paws. If you have a canine, get musher's secret.
posted by xetere at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2007


Oh and if you want the ice skating on a lake idyll sort of thing, ask a local when it is safe. You DEFINITELY don't want to fall through the ice.
posted by xetere at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2007


I forgot to include this: get the salt off your shoes as soon as you come indoors. It's no good for dog paws, as xetere mentions, and it'll ruin your shoes too.

Likewise, get your car washed if you can during the winter - the salt eats undercarriages too. The first time my California mechanic put my car on the lift, he said, "So where were you living where it snowed?"
posted by jocelmeow at 2:58 PM on November 28, 2007


-Scarf and hat are must-haves; wear them. Wool lined with polarfleece is hard to beat. The scarf or other neck-protection does more than you can imagine toward keeping you warm. Wrap the scarf twice or similar so it's snug against your neck and keeps the cold air off. There will be days when you'll want a hat with earflaps; if you hate that look, you can also get one with a rolled-up edge that you can roll down once it's cold enough that fashion is no longer an object.

-Mittens, not gloves. Mittens let your fingers and palm collect all their heat together and will keep your hands much warmer. Get a thin pair of grippy gloves for driving in a cold car, and get a pair of wool mittens. In my experience the super-fat high-tech material mittens are too bulky to put in a pocket and are rarely needed since mittened hands then go in coat pockets.

-Most wool items should not be washed in regular wash. Check the labels. Handwashing them periodically is easy and that way they won't shrink. Don't put wool in the dryer - it will only end in tears.

-Keep hat, thin scarf and mittens in your bag or coat pockets. Make them hard to forget.

-Get a good coat. Down is the most insulating but doesn't stop wind and doesn't do well when wet, so it needs a good exterior fabric. A wool peacoat will do surprisingly well in even the worst temps. A coat that fits snugly (over your winter layers) will keep you warmer because drafts can't get up into it.

-Layering: get long undies; I would get two sets of bottoms at least, maybe two sets of tops. I like the silk/wool ones, very thin so they fit under normal street clothes without bulk. You will need to strip down once you get to campus (assuming you're at Cornell) because they overheat the buildings something fierce. Cardigans or other sweaters that open up the front are good for this. On cold days I used to wear silk long undies, turtleneck or other shirt of that weight, and wool sweater, sometimes with hooded sweatshirt over the wool. Waffle or flannel long undies for the legs are good but won't insulate if your legs get wet. You can get flannel-lined jeans, which I like for the worst days but otherwise are bulky. Jeans suck as a single layer, for me, but at least you don't lose much heat that way if the rest of you is well-insulated. If you find you are always cold indoors, try turtlenecks; neck coverage of any kind makes a huge difference.

-Wool socks. Smartwool makes very good ones. Some days you will want to wear more than one pair. When laundering, let them air-dry.

-Slippers in the house all the time. Rugs too, even if just little ones for your feet to sit on when you're sitting and typing.

-Normal warm shoes will do fine for much of the winter, but do get a pair of real waterproof snow boots. (Columbia, for example, makes some that are under $100 - I had great luck with a pair tht looked sort of like this, just for reference.) Don't be shy about wearing boots to school and bringing street shoes along in a bag, or just wearing the boots all day. You will never get warm if you go through the whole day with wet feet.

-Expect to use skin lotion and chapstick/lip balm to stave off winter dryness and chapped lips. A hot-water humidifier in your bedroom can help with dry skin and headaches that come from dry indoor air (clean it regularly to avoid mold). Drink more water than usual, as cold weather is very drying.

-Check your lease to see if you have to shovel the sidewalk; if you do, you should also get a bag of sand/cat litter/salt to spread on your front stoop if it's icing up too much. Depending on circumstances you can be responsible if someone falls and hurts themselves outside your house, so figure out what your maintenance responsibilities are. If you have homeowner's/tenant's/renter's insurance it can cover injuries like that.

-Remember Ithaca's odd-even parking rule. Find the streets where it doesn't apply (some parts of Tioga are this way, for example, IIRC) and try to park there if a big snow is forecast - this means you don't have to worry about digging your car out to move it across the street. If you need to dig your car out, dig out a place to move it to, and then have a friend guard that spot. You will want a regular-sized snow shovel for this project, even if you don't routinely have to shovel your sidewalk.

-Scrape your car thoroughly. Get ice off the mirrors, scrape off the back windshield. Get snow off the top of your car so you don't drop a huge clot of snow on the windshield of the guy behind you, too. (It's also illegal to drive with a big brick of snow on top of the car; they probably won't stop you, but just FYI.)

-Drive with your headlights in the daytime on if there's reduced visibility or if there's a lot of snow on the ground -- makes you more visible to others. When there's snow, some night practice snow/ice driving in a big empty parking lot. At a low speed, steer hard to get the car to spin out a bit and get a feel for what you need to do to regain control. In most cases, Ithaca is small enough that you can just avoid driving in bad snowstorms. Know what your car is capable of. Know the alternative (less steep) routes -- for example don't drive up Buffalo St, drive up University or even Rte 13 to go from downtown to Cornell. When in doubt just leave your car parked in a safe lot and walk home. They are usually very fast at removing snow, so things should be much clearer within two days. If you ever leave the car at Cornell, know their winter parking policy.

-Car kit should include: Spare wool hat and mittens, at least. (Blanket and box of granola bars if you do any driving outside of town). Bag of sand/cat litter for the trunk, maybe a small shovel for the trunk -- to dig out and then spread for traction if you get stuck. Ice scraper and a snowshover-offer - keep in main cabin of car, not in trunk, in case trunk lock is obscured by ice. Be sure your antifreeze is topped up. Be sure your tires have good tread; consider getting snow tires for the winter if you have the cash. You will not need chains. If temps get very cold, like below 15F, you can think about adding "drygas" to your gas tank. You will not need block heaters or other really extreme measures in a typical Ithaca winter. When starting the car in the morning, you might sit with it idling for a minute or so before starting off, to let it warm up a bit. Gripping a cold steering wheel is a righteous bitch, so consider getting thin grippy gloves for driving. To pull out of a space over a little snowy/icy ridge, if your tires are on dry pavement to begin with, you must be firm on the gas, rather than tentative. This takes practice and is scary; I usually just left the car at home if possible. To pull out of a space where your tires are sitting on snow or ice, don't gun it because you'll spin your tires, dig in deeper, and make the surface smooth so it's harder to get out.

-Space heater: oil-filled ones are safer. You will save money by turning your heat down as far as you can stand and space-heating your room.

-Plastic sheet window insulation. Be sure all your windows have "storm windows" on them - ask your landlord. You can get longish beanbag things to block drafts at the bottom of doors.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:34 PM on November 28, 2007


otio said: One tip: when a blizzard hits it's usually not a bad idea to go out and shovel for a while in the middle of the storm. It may seem like a waste of time but I think it's easier to shovel a 1/2 foot of snow twice rather than a foot all at once. This is especially true if a cold front is due to move in after and turn everything to ice.

Yes yes yes, a thousand times yes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


One other car tip that might help (depending on just how cold it is): you can get a plug attachment for you car that allows you to plug it into a standard 110 outlet to help it start.
posted by yerfatma at 3:54 PM on November 28, 2007


Others have alluded to it but it bears repeating: don't put on extra thick socks if you then have to cram your feet into your boots and cut off circulation. The insulating loft of the socks is compromised and the reduced blood flow means your feet get colder. Better a size too big than a size too small on winter boots.

Speaking of boots, a cheap pair of felt-packs are awesome. Easy to slip on and off, great treads, salt-resistant, and super warm with the liners - you don't need thick socks at all.

These shoes
are so dorky they are cool in a warmfooted way.
posted by Rumple at 4:06 PM on November 28, 2007


You'll need idiot strings for your gloves/mittens. This is a bit of yarn/string/stretchy cord you attach to one glove/mitten, run it up your sleeve, across the inside back of your coat and down the next sleeve to be attached to the other glove/mitten. When buying gloves I look for some loop or hook I can attached the idiot string with. Okay, it is kinda dorky but if it is so unbelievably handy to take off a glove, leave it hanging while you do up your coat/open the door/whatever and then just slip your hand back into the warmth. If you make it out of stretchy cord so one will notice it. I often braid the yarn to make it stronger than a single string.
posted by saucysault at 5:21 PM on November 28, 2007


Oh, and in addition to the plastic wrap on the patio doors you should hang heavy blankets covering the entire door, all the way to the floor ('cuz cold air falls). You can buy special insultaing drapes but I do it kinda ghetto.
posted by saucysault at 5:24 PM on November 28, 2007


Insultaing = Insulating. Darn talkative co-worker. And a draft dodger at the bottom of the patio doors will help keep out the cold. The other links on wikihow may help you as well. If you are lucky enough to have a canopy bed convert it back with heavy fabrics to the original use of a mini room-within-a-room that your body heat can warm up. Best source of warmth is another body so have a few cuddle parties.
posted by saucysault at 5:38 PM on November 28, 2007


For your car, add kitty litter to the trunk to be used if you need to increase traction in the snow.

If you use kitty litter for traction, make sure it's the old fashioned clay kind and not the newer clumping litter. The clumping litter makes it slippery!
posted by Melsky at 6:06 PM on November 28, 2007


oh, and one other thing i learned from my years up north--i would often bundle up in long johns and lots of layers and get to work and have to take half of it off just so as not to overheat. so while layers are good for the football game, outdoor errands, etc, it might not be great for the office.

a good compromise i found was a fat, puffy, heavy knee-length coat and wool knee socks under my pants. i was warm enough to survive my commute and could just scrunch down the socks at the office.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:34 PM on November 28, 2007


Quick note: the best advice in this thread is to practice skidding and pulling out of a skid in an empty parking lot. If you haven't driven in the snow before, you really are pretty likely to run into something/one unless you practice a bit.

Also make sure you get some windproof gloves ("Thinsulate" is good). If you can blow air through the fabric of your gloves, the wind will get your poor fingers. A decent coat, good gloves, a hat and a scarf (when its really cold) will get you through a lot. Plus wool socks.
posted by washburn at 9:57 PM on November 28, 2007


bubble wrap the windows with two sided tape.
posted by hortense at 10:06 PM on November 28, 2007


Wrist warmers (buy, knit your own, or have your Mom make you a pair).
posted by splendid animal at 10:37 PM on November 28, 2007


Way up at the top of this thread, Doohickie said Cold is a state of mind. If possible, embrace the glorious coldness of a winter wind by *not* pulling your collar up and your hat down, just so long as the wind chill is warmer than -20 degrees F. Honestly you can make yourself get used to cold to the point that you feel warmer by *not* bundling up.

I absolutely agree. Put up with a little discomfort at the beginning (don't be stupid/dangerous about it), tough it out and you will be much happier in the long run. I grew up in a place that regularly hit -40 and rarely zipped up my coat or wore a hat. Learn what wind chill means.

(I did the equivalent when I moved to the tropics. I make myself wear long pants and use a fan instead of the AC through the spring so I won't be dying when summer actually hits. Helps a lot.)
posted by wallaby at 3:34 AM on November 29, 2007


Re parking lot practice: Make sure you select a parking lot without concrete wheel stops. Serious damage to your vehicle could ensue if there's a thick layer of snow on the ground and you smash into one of these inadvertently.
posted by redsnare at 3:06 PM on November 29, 2007


Definitely get flannel sheets. The difference they provide (especially if you're trying to save $$ and are not excessive with the thermostat) is most prominent when you first get into bed. Normal cotton sheets (even fancypants high thread count ones) feel cold when you first get into bed, whereas flannel sheets do not. That, or try to get someone else to get in your bed first to warm it up...
posted by tractorfeed at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2007


Definitely get flannel sheets.

Nthing this. You can't believe how much cozier your bed will be with flannel rather than cotton.
posted by scody at 4:08 PM on November 30, 2007


Also, try to go to a Cornell hockey game if you can snake tickets somehow. Make friends with someone who has extra tickets. The games are insanely raucous; specific insulting chants for different visiting teams (even for specific players on those teams), throwing fish or octopi into the ice (maybe they've cracked down on this), etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:15 PM on December 1, 2007


I can now authoritatively report that I did not die during winter.
A short selection of stuff that really helped:
  • Layering. Flannel. Wool. Flannel lined jeans.
  • A coat that blocks wind and water.
  • Bomber hats. (I'm pretty sure that for hats, there's a direct relationship between warmth and ridiculousness.)
  • Insulated boots, and a spare pair of shoes to change into.
  • Stuff for the car. (Thin driving gloves, blankets, jumper cables, extendable ice scrape/sweeper, shovel, etc.)
  • Practicing driving before things get crazy.
  • Being sensible enough to either
    1. Drive slowly
    2. Not drive at all
  • Getting the car washed regularly to keep salt off.
  • Preemptive blizzard shoveling.
  • Window sealing.
  • Forcing yourself to get out and have fun during winter. This is probably the most important thing of all.

posted by zamboni at 12:34 PM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


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