How do I adjust from sunny LA to freezing cold Virginia?
December 14, 2009 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever moved from a warm, mild climate like Los Angeles, to one that experiences four seasons - and did you do so in the dead of winter? What was it like? What do you wish you had known beforehand? In other words, what am I, a native Angeleno currently taking for granted?

A compelling job offer has me seriously considering moving from Los Angeles to Arlington, VA. I will most likely be relocating mid-January 2010. Unfortunately, I have never lived in a four-season climate, much less moved myself and all of my belongings to one.

I found this thread, but am hoping more LA transplants can respond.

Long, diverse, rambling responses are most welcome - I really want to know the kind of impact a rapid shift in climate can make in peoples' lives. Thanks in advance:-)
posted by invisible ink to Grab Bag (62 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've never done this; I've always lived in four-season places.

But one piece of advice I've heard for people relocating to the places I've lived is that you should not do your shopping for warm clothes in Los Angeles, where they won't have warm clothes. The selection of warm clothing will be much better at your destination.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from the East coast to LA. One thing you'll want to do after you arrive: learn how to skid. When I was young, after a fresh snow, my Dad took me out to a deserted parking lot and had me practice taking turns too fast and learning how to regain control of the car in a skid. I'm assuming this isn't a skill you've had a chance to work on that much. He made me do this over and over so I wouldn't panic when it actually happened.
posted by sharkfu at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

Your apparel requirements will certainly change immediately. You will suddenly need a good, warm winter coat, probably some boots for tromping around in the snow, sweaters and wool hats, even some gloves to keep the hands warm and long johns too.

If you buy your own place, you will need a snow shovel in the winter, a rake in the fall, and a lawnmower in the spring and summer. Oh, and if you don't already have a camera... get one, because the seasons are absolutely lovely.
posted by netbros at 8:48 PM on December 14, 2009

My boyfriend moved to Chicago after living in LA for 25 years. He says he agrees wholeheartedly with a lot of the stuff in the previous thread. Here's some more stuff he says:
"I agree that if you have a car make sure you have a nice long scraper and a pair of car gloves. Make sure you're always filled up with windshield fluid.
It's not really that cold until it gets under 30. You can wear clothing to stay comfortably warm down to 30 degrees - that's when you need to start caring about what you wear. Watch your step - slippy ice is everywhere. Go to Walgreens and get some thin gloves, they make great liners to wick moisture away from your skin. Make sure you stay dry - if you're dry you're warm, if you're wet you're cold "

Personally, I hate the cold and the winter but I'm learning how to deal, even after growing up in New York where it gets cold enough. You just have to learn what works for you to be comfy. You should get a hat and a long coat that goes down to the knees. I wear long underwear under my pants and try to forget about the concept of vanity. And learn how to find joy in digging your car out of 150 square feet of snow. Or get to know the local youths who will be bribed to do such things.
posted by amethysts at 8:50 PM on December 14, 2009

You want ramble? I'm a pro rambler.

I migrate between very hot and very cold places. I am not sure which is more 'home' to me really. This month alone I'll be in 108 and -30 degree places at different times.

Arlington is not THAT cold, but madcaptenor is spot-on about clothing anyway. Don't try to buy anything in advance and for god's sake don't carry clothing with you; the region you want will have the clothing you need at the time you need it.

If you drive, and have never dealt with snow or ice before, you are going to be in for a steep learning curve. (Again, though, be glad this is Arlington, not Duluth.) Walking is also a bit of a chore if the streets/sidewalks are not cleaned of snow/ice, though I think Arlington is pretty good at doing that. You won't necessary fall, but your ankles will get sore from all the constant slip-adjusting. It's a bit like walking on the beach.

If you live in a house or anything with your own sidewalk, you get the joy of shoveling/sweeping. Those big snowblowers you see on TV won't be needed, just a $9 Home Depot shovel. It can be, um... bracing. Or you can ignore it and just tromp through it daily. Your neighbors will hate you, but you can sleep in.

You seem to have long hair. Keep that. It'll keep the ears warm. Otherwise you can choose from a wide selection of too-cute earmuffs/hats for women. I am told that dressing for winter can be a new/fun experience if you're a fashion-inclined woman, because all sorts of coats, scarves, hats and other cute doodads are now possible. Leg-warmers can be functional, for example, and you can wear fur (or fake fur) non-ironically.

You know the way you forget your sunglasses on the table in LA all the time? That starts happening with your gloves or mittens. Same deal.

You will still need those sunglasses in winter, by the way. A clear sky plus reflective snow/ice can be quite blindingly bright.

If it's really new to you, any snow and cold will probably be fun and interesting for a couple of months. And then it will be spring.
posted by rokusan at 8:57 PM on December 14, 2009

I was born and raised in California (Bay Area for 18 years, then the next 8 in LA) and most recently I lived in Austin for 5 years. Now I am staring down the barrel of an icy, snowbound winter near Chicago. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to giving up my life of abundant sunshine and mild winters when I found out I'd be moving to Illinois.

Now that I've been here for 4 months and have already experienced 0°F for the first time in my life (well, make that -25°F with wind chill), my "best" (remember, I've only been here since August) -- and probably most simple -- piece of advice is to buy a super nice warm coat. I never really had one until now and I kinda wish I'd had one before because it really makes going out into the elements that much more bearable. Make sure it is waterproof, windproof, and has a hood (cold wind sucks). I bought the Cabela's 3-in-1 Gore Tex Primaloft Parka and it is great. Granted, I only really go outside to travel from my car in the parking lot to my office. A warm hat, gloves, super warm socks, and a scarf are other things I've bought that have helped a lot, too. I must say, though, my legs are cold all the time so some long underwear might be in my future.

I think the biggest barrier to adjusting to a new climate is mental. Once you move to the new climate, and you have a job and benefits and all that, you're happy to simply just accept the weather for what it is. That's what happened to me. I thought it would be horrible, but really, it's kind of nice. We had one of the hottest summers ever in TX this year, so I pretty much embraced anything below 80°. And having grown up with winters that didn't offer anything different than the rest of the year, it was really beautiful having leaves that turned colors and white fluffy snow (whereas everything in TX just turned a dead shade of brown).
posted by puritycontrol at 9:00 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not an Angeleno, but I grew up in Minnesota, where it is substantially colder than even Arlington in the winter, so I have some experience here.

If you will drive, you will need to learn winter driving. sharkfu's advice about skidding is good, but getting a car with four-wheel ABS and remembering the mantra "stomp and steer" may serve you as well.

The most important thing you will learn, clothing-wise, is layering. Having options--being able to take a layer off or put one on--is essential to universal comfort in a four-season climate. I have lived in such climates all my life, and have used my car's heater and air conditioner on the same day many times. Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts advise, and you will probably be fine.

Also re. motoring: you will require an ice scraper. (Once, when I moved to a (momentarily) warmer place, I found myself in need of one--FYI, I can testify from experience that a spatula is a great substitute in a pinch.)

(On preview: I have experience that will back rokusan up 100% on his assertions re. where to buy clothes, driving in snow, shoveling same, and the value of sunglasses in snow country.)

Also, I recall an anecdote from my college days in Madison, when a classmate of mine from Beverly Hills showed up in a quilted full-length coat the first day it dipped below 45 F, and I said, "You know, it does get colder." She said, "That's ok--I've got bigger coats!" There was almost more coat than her at the final, but it was a very cold winter that year.

Also also: puritycontrol reminds me that you may not have prior experience with the wind chill factor. You will need to learn about this soon.
posted by tellumo at 9:03 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

i moved from the bay area to new york city on february 4, many years ago. for what it's worth, i have since moved back, mostly due to the weather. but! as to what will happen to you: i was shocked (shocked!) to find actual patches of ice and snow sort of permanently affixed to the sidewalks. speaking of sidewalks, that's where you walk outside. and that first month or two, any sort of walking outside sort of took my breath away with how bad cold could be. it was probably only in the 20's, and looking back i wish i could have told myself about the times that it was 7º, which is a whole nother world. look, i was born & spent formative years in los angeles too. and i realize that 7º may not sound too bad for some for schmuck sitting out in alaska, or north (or south) dakota, with the minus 20 and the windchill and the yadda yadda. all i will tell you is that for me, it was basically a survival experience. drama! the entire time i was outside, all that was running through my brain was: "coldcoldcoldgoingtodieAAHHHHWINDjustdon'tthinkaboutitrelaxrelaxCHATTERiceMOREWINDwannagoinsidethatbookstoreMUSTGOINSIDEohgodi'vestillgot10moreblockswon'tmakeit."
posted by apostrophe at 9:11 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

the region you want will have the clothing you need at the time you need it

A minor point:

It's maddeningly common for seasonal goods to be at their peak availability two or three months before you need them, not when you need them. Want a really wide selection of winter coats? Shop in September or October. Want a really wide choice of lawn/patio furniture? Shop for that in March or April when (here in Buffalo) there's still snow on the ground.

Anyway, rest assured that there will be coats and scarves etc for sale in Arlington in winter, but don't get depressed if you can't find exactly the right coat this winter or if the selections seem picked-over. Just get one that seems good enough for now, and there will be a squillion more available next fall.

I moved from Florida to Charlottesville VA for college, with winters similar to NOVa but noticeably harsher. Winter wasn't really the problem for me, though as a college student I didn't have to deal with driving and getting to work on time and all that. Picked up a coat, hat, and gloves, and Bob was indeed my uncle. Winter is awesome; there's snow and it's jolly and the air (sometimes) gets really crisp and clear and bright. I found the summer and early fall, when that part of the world gets motherfucker hot and double-motherfucker humid and not everything is air-conditioned to -40, to be a lot harder to get used to.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from LA to NYC in the dead of winter. Things I learned:

1) You will not be able to find weather-appropriate clothes until you get there. Expect to do some shopping right after you arrive. If you don't have time to hit any stores, do the internet thing. But you WILL need new clothes--it's a given.

2) Plan to get: a good waterproof and wind-resistant coat, like something from Patagonia. It will seem really expensive and you'll wonder if it's worth it. It is. You will also need a good thick hat that covers your ears, at least one warm non-itchy scarf (several if you care about fashion), good big sunglasses for snow glare, several pairs of thick woolen socks, thick gloves, glove liners, and thin gloves for driving. There is nothing more frustrating and miserable than realizing you're going to be late because you can't drive until the steering wheel warms up to a temperature somewhat above -15 degrees F.

Long underwear are awesome but can add bulk. Silk long underwear, such as can be found at places like LL Bean and Cabela, are the answer. They're wafer-thin but extremely warm and they wick moisture much better than cotton. Check them out.

You will want snowboots or at least rainboots with good thick treads. It's far more important that they be waterproof than that they are warm. Ideally they'll be both. Again, LL Bean and Patagonia have tons of options, though they can be $$$. But good boots will last for many years and will save you tons and tons of misery.

3) Winter and fall and spring are very beautiful, so don't forget to take lots of pictures and have others take pictures of you outside doing stuff like playing in the leaves or building a snowman. You'll be glad to have them later.

4) Dry, scaly, itchy skin and mildly bloody noses are normal in the winter. Stay very hydrated (I try to drink a gallon of water every day in the coldest and hottest months) and get some good healing hand creme. It really sucks to have a dry skin patch crack open and bleed, especially when it happens on your knuckles.

5) Enjoy it! The seasons are particularly beautiful when they're new. Try to remind yourself that even if it's icy and cold and miserable well into March, it won't last forever.
posted by balls at 9:21 PM on December 14, 2009

If your landlord does not pay for utilities, you're going to have to budget for heating expenses in the winter, so plan ahead. Get an estimate from the utility company if possible.

It's not just the cold; it's the rain. You will have to learn to drive in the rain, assuming you drive. There are two kinds of Angeleno drivers in the rain: the ones who do 90 and go into the wash and get fished out live on the news, and the ones who forget everything and go 20. Needless to say, this does not fly in places with real weather.

On the upside, the roofs of big-box stores do not abruptly collapse in the rain back East, and underground parking garages tend not to flood. Your car is unlikely to suddenly float away unless shit has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

When it is cold, that shiny shit on the ground is probably black ice, not water, and is best avoided if at all possible. You will need to keep some sort of ice-melting substance on hand at your place, even if you have maintenance at your apartment. You may also need it, or sand or kitty litter, in the trunk of your car, should you have the misfortune to get your car stuck in a situation where there is no natural traction to be had.

If it snows enough to plow, you may get plowed in and have to dig your car out. This will suck.

Layers enable you to get from your house to the car, the car to your office, and your office back home without either freezing or suffocating. Silk or polypropylene long underwear. Flannel-lined jeans if it's really cold. Avoid tons of bulk under clothing-- your coat and boots should handle the bulk.

I am not a native Angeleno. I came to California from the East Coast-- Boston and Pittsburgh-- nine years ago. Mr. F came here from rainswept Florida 13 years ago. (He realizes your question is more about weather adjustment, but he hopes you weren't terribly fond of proper Mexican food prior to this move, because it may be harder to find in Virginia.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:26 PM on December 14, 2009

I must say, though, my legs are cold all the time so some long underwear might be in my future.

Try a tiny electric space heater under your desk at work. It does wonders.

And oh yes, balls has a great point: invest in some nice moisturizing lotions. Your face and hands and ears will dry out quickly otherwise.
posted by rokusan at 9:26 PM on December 14, 2009

When thinking about what to wear, keep in the mind that in the Mid-Atlantic, temps can very wildly from day to day and from day to night. A day with highs in mid-sixties and a night with lows in in the low thirties or even upper twenties wouldn't be odd. In late winter, it would not be too weird for the high to stay under 35 all day Monday but approach 70 on a Friday, only to return to seasonal temps the next week. It could easily be t-shirt weather on Christmas, but have a crazy, crippling ice storm in late March/early April.
posted by spaltavian at 9:26 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from two-season Vancouver to four-season Japan, and I lived in a part of Japan called "snow country".

The most important investment I made was to buy proper waterproof boots, because the snow there is really really wet and slushy. I spent the first winter there (94/95) with a pair of Doc Martin hiking boots, and my feet were constantly wet.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:31 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from (semi-tropical) Brisbane to France for an exchange trip in college. It didn't even really snow there, but the main thing I remember was that walking on icy sidewalks was DANGEROUS. My Canadian friends were astounded at the trouble I had, but if you're not used to it, it's hard. Even though everyone around you will be fine even while carrying six packages and skipping, you should be careful.
posted by jacalata at 9:38 PM on December 14, 2009

you should not do your shopping for warm clothes in Los Angeles, where they won't have warm clothes.

That's not entirely true; it's not like it's actually 90 degrees year round in L.A. It is entirely possibly to buy wool and cashmere sweaters, flannel and thermal shirts, and wool or corduroy pants during the winter here (I just scored several good, 2-ply cashmere sweaters on sale at Macys last week, for example); what's a lot harder to come by is really heavy, insulated, and/or waterproof outerware, like heavy coats and boots.
posted by scody at 9:39 PM on December 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone - please keep answering, and rambling:-) An increase in itchy, dry skin; the learning curve in driving properly; waterproof vs. warm clothing - these are all valuable points that I hadn't fully considered.
posted by invisible ink at 9:49 PM on December 14, 2009

Ah, yes! jacalata's (and stoneweaver's, on preview) answer reminds you that you may hear tell of the terrible black ice. This exists, is very treacherous if you don't see it, and you ought to be on the lookout for it if you hear or see that the roads are icy.

Also: dry skin can be a problem in the winter (cold air carries less moisture than warm). Some people swear by Carmex, some people say it's dangerously addictive. I've never been hugely attracted to it, but it definitely does the job.

I think that keeping warm in a cold climate is largely a matter of preparation--setting up heating if you're indoors, choosing the proper sleeping bag if not, and wearing the proper clothes either way. It requires more planning ahead than warm weather, but if a few minutes' work can save you hours of discomfort, it's probably worth it, I'd say.

Also, consider taking up a winter sport if you want to get out more. Downhill and cross-country skiing are both fun, and the latter is excellent exercise. Or, y'know, you could just get an innertube and a hill, but I think getting out into the sunlight helps a lot.
posted by tellumo at 10:05 PM on December 14, 2009

Speaking as someone who moved from LA to a small town in the northeast (before relocating to New York): Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck DOUBLE TRIPLE MOTHER FUCK small-town northeastern winters.

Stay social & active or be prepared for crippling depression. Exercise, read books, throw away your television, stay out of the house. And good luck, fellow ex-Angeleno.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:06 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from Arizona to Northern Utah.

As far as the moving of your stuff goes, I recommend not trying to do it yourself. Hire movers so that it can be done quickly and professionally. Don't put anything down on the ground outside, it will be ruined. Also plan to have the carpets cleaned after because a lot of slush and salt will get tracked in. FYI they put salt on the sidewalks, driveways, and roads. I did not know this. You will need to wash your car in the winter because the salt can contribute to rust.

It is definitely important to stay dry. Boots must be waterproof. A great coat, waterproof boots, good gloves and a hat will make you very happy. They are worth the money so don't go cheap. Also, don't underestimate the value of a scarf. They really make a difference. Always dress in layers, that way if you get too warm you can take something off. If you get sweaty you will freeze.

A heated mattress pad will make your life so much better. Really, get one. I also recommend a very plush bathrobe and warm slippers.

It took me a few winters to get used to the cold. I noticed that I ate a lot more meat and more filling foods than I did when I lived in the heat. Even now, once it starts getting cold, I stop eating salads and move onto the soups and stews. You may gain weight.

Don't take really hot showers, it will dry out your skin. Lip balm and body lotion are a must.

You might want to start downing the vitamins now. Especially Vitamin C. You will probably get sick more often at first as your body adjusts. Take precautions now. Get a flu shot. Remember to stay hydrated.

Don't pour warm water on your windshield to de-ice it. That will crack it. Give yourself an extra half hour to scrape your windows. Sometimes I have to pry my door open if it has frozen shut. I start my car and then scrape it, that way the heater has time to warm up. Don't start your car and then go back inside, cars have been stolen that way. When you scrape your windows, clear the snow off of your whole car. If you leave snow on the hood it will blow up onto the windshield as you drive, and if you leave snow on the top it will slide down when you hit the brakes. We keep a broom handy for pushing the snow off our cars.

If you can find a teenager willing to shovel your walk, take them up on it. This is money well spent. It might be fun for the first few minutes, but it gets old fast.

I recommend putting together an emergency kit for when the power goes out. Include a battery powered alarm clock, schools get snow days but businesses don't. (Well sometimes they do, but don't plan on it.)

I keep a dryer sheet in my coat pocket. I use it to wipe down my hair after I take off my hat to keep it from standing up. Static is a big problem for me in the winter.

When you look for a place to live, keep an eye out for radiant heat floors. I have them and they make a huge difference. My heating bill is lower, and I don't have icy floors to deal with first thing in the morning.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:12 PM on December 14, 2009

You'll have to psyche yourself up for "getting all dressed" just to run out to the mailbox. Sometimes getting the mail isn't worth it.

Get accustomed to carrying your shoes for work in a totebag or (more likely) having several pairs under your desk.

Sturdy hangers for heavy coats. A drip pan to hold wet boots. A basket by the door to hold mittens. Note that communities use either salt or sand on the roads and you'll inevitably be tracking that inside (and salt will ruin leather boots).

An afghan draped over the back of the sofa, a down comforter on the bed, and rag wool socks, will all make winter more endurable comfortable.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:20 PM on December 14, 2009

Oh yeah, just because it is overcast and the skies are grey doesn't mean that you can forgo the sunscreen. Snow reflects sunlight, so don't forget to put sunscreen on under your make up.

I also recommend having lots of spare gloves. I keep a pair in the pocket of my coat, in my car, in my purse, and I have three or four pairs of cheap ones at my house. My nice gloves are leather, but they still get wet. If your gloves get wet they are useless. It's better to take them off and put on a new pair.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:23 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from SF to Massachusetts. Things I have learned:

1. Somehow I was under the impression that snowstorms were immediate events. As in, a foot of snow would fall all at once and stun small children and pets. This is not actually the case. The snow drifts very slowly downward. I was grateful and mildly disappointed.

2. While it is actually possible to buy winter gear in California, I've had much better luck buying things like sweaters there and saving coat-buying for areas with snow. I started my coat-buying adventures by getting a lovely coat with zip-out puffy lining, and it is in fact very warm. Above my hips. What I didn't know when I went coat-buying was that what I really needed was a longer coat, so that at least part of my legs would stay warm while walking outside. (I then bought a coat that is so long that I trip over it, and am now trying a very nice Gloverall duffle coat; I'm hoping that knee-length is the answer.)

3. Layering! Layering layering layering! If you were moving from the Bay Area, I would analogize this to Bay Area layering, which in my experience consists of t-shirt, maybe long-sleeved shirt, windbreaker or sweatshirt, with layers peeled off as the fog recedes throughout the day. It's the same idea in the cold, only the layers are heavier. Long underwear (if it's that cold), long-sleeved shirt, sweater, heavy coat. I am not sure if the analogy translates to LA.

4. Other outerwear: You can buy magic gloves (thin stretchy things that will fit pretty much anyone) for, like, $1 at Target. Buy several pairs and keep them in coat pockets, your car, et cetera. I find I need to switch to thicker gloves under about 35 F, but I am a wuss who has perennially cold hands. If you have any relatives or friends who knit, perhaps they can make you a scarf or two; my mother has made me approximately eight billion and I will never need to buy a scarf ever. Buy the absolute best boots you can find. Boots are worth it. You will be glad when you are walking across ice. I live in my boots all winter, but that's me. People with fewer motion disabilities seem to get away with not wearing boots all the time. I hear Yaktrax are nice, but I haven't actually tried mine yet.

(Also, you can totally cut all your hair off. I did. Now I wear a lot of hats. But, yes, long hair keeps your ears and neck warm.)

5. Due to the heating, your skin will become dry and cracked and scaly, and your mucus full of blood. Buy a humidifier and stick it in your bedroom. And moisturize. I find the need to use Chapstick like it's going out of style. Also, if you have asthma, chances are good it will be worse the colder it gets. (...she says, while wheezing.)

6. If you open your car by physically using a key... lock de-icer. No, really. The locks can and will freeze on you. (Cheap alternatives include heating up the key first, either with a lighter or your body heat.) The doors will freeze too, but it's not usually the case that all the doors will freeze on any given occasion.

Up here in New England, I get the vague sort of impression that Virginia is the kind of place where a couple inches of snow will close everything, so that could mean you don't get a whole lot of snow and the worries are things like ice and freezing rain. Up here I can generally trust that roads/sidewalks will be clear and salted/sanded fairly promptly, but I don't know the case there.
posted by sineala at 10:25 PM on December 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

You know, everyone talks of winter. Wait, you'll get used to it with practice. But in Virginia there are 4 seasons. Spring is lovely. Fall is manageable. Summer on the other hand will leave you wondering what happened to hot and dry. It will be so hot and muggy you don't want to leave your house. And you can't remove enough layers to be comfortable. This is not lay around the pool hot, this is drenching wet. But it only lasts for a couple of months. Just thought you should know that winter has it's counterpoint.
posted by ptm at 10:30 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Native Angelena who went to college in New England, grad school in Iowa and who now lives in NYC.

Nthing the above:
an ice scraper with a metal edge
a coat that goes to your ankles for below freezing temps
I have long hair and still need a hat when it's in the 30's F
I don't think you'll need this in VA, but I had a silk balaclava when it was in the teens and below F.
If the icy driveway slopes below the street, let the car roll up without stepping on the gas.
posted by brujita at 10:33 PM on December 14, 2009

I grew up spitting distance from Arlington. It does not regularly get super cold; winter days are generally over 30 degrees in the daytime, though gets into the 20's at night somewhat regularly, and might be in the teens a handful of times a year. It is rarely significantly colder than that.

That said, you will have to deal with non-negligible snow and slush a few (maybe three) times a year, and freezing rain more often than that. All advice above is good; I will add:

If you are cold, put on a hat, even if your head doesn't feel cold. A hat does more good than a second sweater. Said hat should be wool or polyester fleece.

You will need some sort of waterproof footwear for getting around in snow/slush. I recommend a pair of waterproof hiking boots. They should fit a little loose, rather than too tight. You can always wear thicker socks if they're too loose. If they're too tight, your feet will be cold.

To go with the boots, get a pair of gaiters; if you don't know what these are, they're basically big squares of waterproof fabric that get wrapped around your lower leg to keep snow out of your shoes and off the hems of your pants. You will look silly wearing them, but you will also have dry socks.

Where do you buy such things? Off the top of my head: there is a REI in Baily's Crossroads, a L.L. Bean in the Tyson's Corner Mall and an Eastern Mountain Sports in Clarendon. Clarendon will be closest; Tyson's Corner Mall will be farthest away. Any of these three stores will be able to supply you with boots, gaiters, hats, mittens, long underwear and the like. Depending on your job, you may want a nice-looking coat just for wearing to work; you should be able to find such a thing at any department store.

You'll have to psyche yourself up for "getting all dressed" just to run out to the mailbox. Sometimes getting the mail isn't worth it.

I'm actually going to specifically recommend not getting all suited up for things like getting mail -- it's not like Arlington is some Arctic wasteland. It will be uncomfortable, but you'll build up a tolerance faster if you don't wear a coat absolutely every time you step out the door. If you're going out someplace, you should definitely take a jacket in case you get lost or the car breaks down or whatever. But if you're just going to the end of the driveway to pick up the newspaper, it won't hurt you to be cold for a minute. I happen to find it invigorating, YMMV, but I can guarantee you'll feel perfectly fine within minutes of stepping back inside.
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:50 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

A good pair of long johns are worth their weight in gold.
posted by philip-random at 11:18 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I moved from Florida to Charlottesville VA for college, with winters similar to NOVa but noticeably harsher. Winter wasn't really the problem for me, though as a college student I didn't have to deal with driving and getting to work on time and all that. Picked up a coat, hat, and gloves, and Bob was indeed my uncle

I did similar, only coming from San Diego, and I happened to move in at the end of the summer, obviously. Winter in C-Ville is definitely winter, but it ain't that bad, and I imagine Arlington isn't really a whole lot worse. There was little to no snow on the ground for most of the winter, although water lying around on the ground would freeze over at night or when a particularly cold snap came through. I did fine without making any major additions to my CA wardrobe - I basically had an insulated parka and I'd just wear layers underneath it depending on how cold it was, maxing out at a short sleeve t, long sleeve t, and a flannel or maybe a sweatshirt. I never felt the need for anything on my legs other than my jeans, but I generally have a pretty high tolerance for cold. Nevertheless, you're not talking about really serious winter conditions.

The worst winter we had was my first one, when we had an ice storm blow through that coated everything with an inch-thick layer of rime. Things were pretty slippery for a few days after that, and I think one day the high was supposed to be 8, but that was the absolute worst it ever got in my four years there. Generally my experience was similar to other from the area, where the high didn't really get below thirty all that often.
posted by LionIndex at 11:31 PM on December 14, 2009

I'm also going to second ptm in that the summer, even the little bits that I caught when starting every school year, were far, far more hellish than any winter ever was. Walking outside from an air conditioned building in August was like hitting a wall.
posted by LionIndex at 11:34 PM on December 14, 2009

I moved from Phoenix to Flagstaff, AZ a few years ago. They're only two hours away from each other, but right now it's 23 degrees outside and there are still two feet of snow from last week's blizzard. You get the point.

A good, warm, well-fitting pair of boots is essential. Wear a lot of layers, always keep extra blankets piled on your bed, and get some gloves made out of animal fibers, like wool or alpaca- they insulate heat while acrylic fibers only keep the wind off your hands. And then layer over that with snow gloves, if it's really cold.

Also, seconding everything that was previously said.
posted by mollywas at 12:20 AM on December 15, 2009

If it gets icy, these grippy traction-y things for the bottoms of your shoes or boots are a good idea. I can't tell you how many times I fell down the first few months after I moved from a snow-less, ice-less climate to one with an abundance of both.

Before I moved somewhere with a real winter, I rarely wore hats. I vaguely thought they were for being fashionable, I guess. However, I quickly learned that they actually mean the difference between being miserable and being reasonably comfortable in cold weather, especially if it's windy.

Neckwarmers are a nice alternative to scarves because they're warm but less bulky--it's easy to feel like the kid in A Christmas Story when you're dressed for winter. I like neckwarmers that button on rather than the ones you pull over your head--your hair is already going to get squashed by the hat; no need to traumatize it further.

Good winter tires are essential. Put them on before it snows. Put them on a little bit before you think you'll need them, because sure as hell if you wait till it actually snows, you and every other damn person in town will be at a tire shop waiting in line.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:28 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have lived in New York, Illinois, and New Jersey, and...well, unless my geography is really dramatically wrong, 90% of the advice in this thread is intended for a climate at least fifteen degrees north of Arlington.

My jacket is a nylon shell and a thin cotton lining. It has a hood for the rain and drawstrings or elastic around the face, wrists, and waist for the wind. Right now I'm in Chicago, so around November I add a wool sweater and sweatpants or long underwear. Please don't think you have to pay The North Face a hundred dollars to become a giant quilted mummy.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:12 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in LA, lived for years in Oregon, Boston and DC.


1) Don't stress the winter gear. For your arrival, you'll be fine with a couple of thick wool sweaters, jeans, etc. You might be cold for the first couple of days, but it'll be easy and much cheaper to buy warm clothes on site.

2) You do not want to try and drive through the snow (this includes moving -- this ESPECIALLY includes moving). I'd use movers.

3) You will slip and fall on sidewalk ice a couple of times. Be prepared for this, don't hit your head.

4) You will be a bit depressed on sunny days in the winter when it looks so lovely and warm and you walk outside and the cold hits you in the face. It passes.

Also, unrelatedly, for god's sake don't live in Arlington, it's empty lifeless corporate suburb hell. Live on Capitol Hill, or, at worst, in old-town Alexandria.
posted by paultopia at 2:50 AM on December 15, 2009

Also, a couple more words on snow. Eventually you'll have to learn to drive in the snow. Go MUCH slower than you expect you'll have to, and brake MUCH earlier. And ignore fast snow-land natives who get pissed at you. The first time I drove in snow I hit several curbs and a tree... don't be me. :-)

(Also, there's this thing called "black ice." Learn how to recognize it. It's hard to see ice on the road. BAD NEWS.)

And get watertight shoes (even Doc Martens will do the trick). And be aware that the bottoms of your pants will get filthy and wet unless you go so far as to tuck them into your boots.
posted by paultopia at 2:53 AM on December 15, 2009

Native Houstonian who stayed in her hometown until she was 35, then moved to New Jersey (Jersey City, aka metro NYC, and then Princeton). Important tips I found useful include: real coat that you buy when you get there, comfy non-scratchy scarf, dry shoes/boots, long johns/tights or lined jeans, humidifier (NJ seems dry after growing up in Houston), ice scraper and shovel when needed. Don't be afraid of driving in snow; it's not that bad. Ice is much worse. Allow extra time to dig out the car AND for travel when driving.

For jeans and trousers: plan to wear them shorter. In Texas I like them dragging on the ground. In NJ I wore them 2-3" shorter and it was mostly because of snow and worse, salt and snow-removal chemicals, on the ground. That stuff is nasty and will RUIN nice clothes.

You can survive without some of the cold-weather gear if you're warm by nature and like the cold. My husband, who spent his teenage years in CT and NJ, rarely needed more than a lined leather jacket and would walk to work even when it was in the 20s in dock shoes and no socks. If you're comfortable like that, go with it, but don't expect to be.

(The worst weather shock for me in JC, as others have mentioned, was the lack of AC in the summer. I had never lived in a place without central air until JC. I think most of metro DC is newer and more likely to be air conditioned, but be aware and don't wait until it's too late and you're dying to put one in the window.)

Last but not least, but probably less important because you're a bit further south: if you're at all prone to seasonal moodiness, get a light box. Even if you're not, do go outside by day for a while every day that it's sunny. It makes a ton of difference.
posted by immlass at 3:10 AM on December 15, 2009

Learn how to wrap a scarf properly. Buy a woollen scarf, not synthetic (unless it's thermal). It goes under your coat, not over, should be long enough to go round your neck twice, then crosses in front of your neck so there are no gaps and the tails go down across your body under your coat for extra warmth (as taught to me by an Estonian, courtesy of generations of Estonian mothers and grandmothers rearranging their children's scarves as they walked out the door).
posted by penguin pie at 3:17 AM on December 15, 2009

This isn't winter-related per se, but what I truly miss about the rest of the country is the thunder and lightning you'll get once the snow starts melting. LA has a lot more mosquitoes than SF, but I'd bet you'll find an order of magnitude more than that wherever you're going, too. :)

Other than that, seconding an ice scraper and lock de-icer for your car, as well as AAA - it's one thing to break down in LA and need to walk a block or two in warm weather even without help, but when it's winter and you're in the middle of nowhere, you'll be glad to have guaranteed roadside service.

Also agreed that your heating budget will be significant in a way you can't expect - space heaters and clothing help. :) Bet you've never really looked at the quality of windows when shopping for homes/apartments before.
posted by kcm at 4:59 AM on December 15, 2009

two words: frozen snot. Yup, a cold one will do that - breathe in, and crispiness ensues.

Are you meaning cold, or Edmonton (-46 C / -51 F earlier this week) cold?
posted by scruss at 4:59 AM on December 15, 2009

I'm from MA but had a friend who was from AZ and got to help him through his first winter.

1. During snow and slush season, keep a pair of indoor shoes and socks at work. Heck, keep an extra pair of pants as well if you're likely to get those wet too.

2. Scraper for the car: you're going to be scraping the windows and brushing off the snow from the entire car. Do not use that handy metal scraper on the rest of the car, it will scratch the paint. When you remove snow from the car, remove it from the roof too. As soon as you start driving it will blow on to your rear window otherwise.

3. You're going to have to dig your car out from the snow. Then you're going to come back from work and realize that some jerk just powered out of his space and into your clean space. This can cause fisticuffs. However, there is no such thing as saving a parking space. Don't be the jerk.

4. Some people hate snow and some love it. Try to love it, otherwise you'll be cranky a lot.

5. Arlington doesn't get much snow. People in Arlington can't drive in snow. Even if you learn how to drive in snow, you're going to be surrounded by people who can't.

6. There are many exciting kinds of winter weather: snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice pellets, and a few others I'm forgetting. Freezing rain is very destructive and very beautiful. It coats trees with lovely ice and then breaks their branches off. Weather people get way too excited about these forms of weather. Take it with a grain of salt.

7. If you're in an urban area (what else is there in Arlington?) there will be guys who come around after snow and offer to clear your walk for money. Go for it if you don't want to do it yourself. You should know that you are responsible for clearing your own walk. Not clearing your walk can get you a fine. Don't be a jerk. Really.

8. Nth layers. Inside temps can also be wildly variable - 60 to 80 - so bring a sweater to work.

9. Electric heating is very expensive. Gas and oil are less so. Look at a nice environmental website for instructions on setting a thermostat to save energy and money. If you're in an older building it may have storm windows which are swapped with screens in the summer months. Swap 'em for increased insulation. It really makes a difference. Carpet will keep your feet warm. So will socks.

10. You'll need a doormat.

11. long johns are great. so are running tights.

12. ask people around you for help. it was always fun teaching people from warm climates about how to deal with winter.

13. plan a vacation someplace warm and green during february. alternatively, go to a greenhouse or something. if you really have problems with the dry air: get a humidifier.

good luck. use the subway when the roads are exciting.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:39 AM on December 15, 2009

also, remember that (hypothetical) time you were quick chilling the beer in the freezer and forgot about it and it froze and the bottles burst? don't leave cans of soda in your car. you'll forget about them, they'll burst and then you will forget about them some more and they'll thaw and get everywhere.

a bag of kitty litter in the trunk serves two purposes, it adds weight over your axle and when you get stuck it can provide traction. getting stuck in snow/ice is just like getting stuck in mud - don't just spin your wheels in the same direction.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:01 AM on December 15, 2009

Make a road trip here. They'll take care of you. (And don't worry, Virginia doesn't get THAT cold)
posted by oinopaponton at 6:20 AM on December 15, 2009

Formulate an emergency escape plan.

I moved to New York from Northern California early one March, watched the last snowfall and its subsequent melting into spring and thought, "I can totally do this!". Then eight months later the first blizzard hit. I got snow boots and a wool coat and a million gloves and mittens and scarves and hats. But it was still cold all the time and snow and slush and frozen dog poo was everywhere. And I decided that I'd rather go home than deal with Actual Winter ever again.

Best decision I ever made!
posted by elsietheeel at 6:28 AM on December 15, 2009

When you look for places to live get one that is close to the metro/subway so you won't have to drive every day. Commuting by car in the DC area is hell.
posted by mareli at 6:41 AM on December 15, 2009

You'll have to psyche yourself up for "getting all dressed" just to run out to the mailbox. Sometimes getting the mail isn't worth it.

Another perfectly reasonable option for times like that is just not to get all dressed, go get the mail in your shirtsleeves, and be kind of cold when you get back inside if it's below freezing.

I mean, we are talking about Arlington, VA, not the North Slope of Alaska or the central Antarctic highlands. A normal winter means only that it will be below freezing sometimes, not that it's going to be kill-you cold (though in any given winter you might have a few nights with lows below 10F, which is cold).

A lot of this stuff depends on your own personal thermostat and all that, but honestly in Arlington I think someone would be fine with a sweater and a medium jacket (ie, a not a windbreaker, something with a little bit of insulation), and a simple nonfancy toque and gloves. *shrug* I live in Buffalo and that does fine for me, and it's not like I grew up in the Arctic.

Winter in C-Ville is definitely winter, but it ain't that bad, and I imagine Arlington isn't really a whole lot worse.

Other way. Charlottesville is up in the foothills and has notably harsher winter than DC, but they're both on the same planet of not too bad.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:54 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did this -
the area between where your gloves end and the coat sleeve begins gets irritatingly cold.
silk long underwear layer nicely with everything
Your skin will get very dry, prepare to moisturize if you've never done it before
Invest in snow boots - you will be sooooo happy
You need extra hats and scarves and gloves because they get lost easily when you're un-layering and I noticed in NY that people snatch them up even if you notice and try to go back for them.
posted by krikany at 7:17 AM on December 15, 2009

I agree with all the advice above. Also, I know a guy who moved to Ohio in winter after living in Hawaii. His girlfriend, who was from Ohio had picked out a nice apartment in a nice area, but when they got here he was briefly convinced that they were moving to the ghetto because everything was dead. So, remember that plants and stuff go dormant in the winter. Learn to appreciate the beauty of the bare trees instead of wishing for green leafy ones. Those will come soon enough.
posted by thejanna at 7:32 AM on December 15, 2009

I don't know LA weather at all or VA very well, but after living on the equator for 18 months and moving home to Canada, I really *really* noticed the light. It's not just that there are more grey days here, but that the winter days are noticeably shorter and the light is just less intense. This can have a profound but subtle effect on mood, so if you do move, pay attention for the first little while to the light. If you think it's affecting you, consider getting full spectrum bulbs and perhaps a sunrise alarm clock (or my cheap alternative is a full spectrum light that goes on with a timer around 7am in my room). A lot of winter misery is more about light than cold.
posted by carmen at 7:35 AM on December 15, 2009

As someone who grew up in Charlottesville and lived through a winter and a half in D.C. (in Rosslyn - part of Arlington), first I have to third all the folks above making a point of noting that you're not moving to Alaska, or even Minnesota. I had a job in D.C. that essentially would have me standing outside for lengths of time and that's where I learned one important thing for D.C. area. Get a good insulated coat, a scarf, and a hat. If you keep your hands in your pocket, then you don't need gloves, but get them anyway.

The real villain of DC is the wind. It'll make feel a lot more cold and with a good coat (I used Lands End), a scarf, and a hat, you'll be fine. You'll only need to layer if you're going to be outside for a length of time on particularly cold days. Otherwise, expect averages to be in the 30's and 40's.

I actually have done the exact opposite of this possible move. I went from living in Virginia to Newport Beach, California. From my experiences there, Southern Californians aren't really used to temperatures that are the average in that part of Virginia. (One day it dropped down to the 50's and folks were breaking out the heavy parkas). If you don't hate it, and open yourself to enjoying the different seasons, you may well love the four seasons. The air is crisper, the air clearer, and in my opinion, when you take a deep breath of cold winter air, you feel a little bit more alive.
posted by Atreides at 7:35 AM on December 15, 2009

I grew up in the northeast (Maryland), moved south (Louisiana), moved back for one year (Maryland & NOVA) and then permanently relocated to the south. Here are my two cents:

1) be on the lookout for seasonal affective disorder. Once winter hits and daylight savings time ends, it will be darker sooner than you are used to and the sun will come up later. This does a major mindf*ck.

2) Spring is heralded by the arrival of the Burpee's seed catalog.

3) LLBean is your bestest friend. Their snow boots are awesome and keep your footsies dry and warm while traipsing through slush.

4) You might want to invest in the portable foot and hand warmers

5) Summers are really humid in NOVA. Luckily, most everything is air conditioned.

Good luck!
posted by Leezie at 7:37 AM on December 15, 2009

Just to counteract some of the comments on this thread, which might scare you: I live in Wisconsin. I don't own long underwear or a coat that goes down to my ankles or a space heater. I do have to scrape my car in the winter but it takes 10 minutes, not a half hour. Modern cars have anti-lock brakes: I've spun out on ice just once in my 20-some winters of driving. And the DC area, where I grew up, is decidedly not as cold as Wisconsin. Scarf, warm gloves, good pair of boots. You'll be fine.
posted by escabeche at 8:13 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, something I forgot, if you have crap circulation in your hands: driving gloves in your car. They're important when your bare hands hurt against the cold steering wheel and they're better to drive with than mittens.
posted by immlass at 8:20 AM on December 15, 2009

Oh my god, you big baby! Arlington and DC were built on a swamp. Worry about the oppressive summer humidity or the fact that your eyes will have to adjust to less smoggy pollution, but the "dead of winter" in suburban Virginia is going to be maybe 20 degrees cooler.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:25 AM on December 15, 2009

I live in Delaware, which is just a bit north of Arlington Virginia and I think some of these people with there tales of Vermont, Chicago, etc are scaring you unnecessarily. It's not usually that cold. OK, you're from LA you'll think it's cold but really it isn't.

I do not have a long coat. I have a hat and rarely wear it. I wore my snow boots once last winter and not at all yet this winter.

I do have, and wear a lot, gloves, scarves, warm socks, and silk long underwear. Don't buy the heavy kind, you'll be hot when you go indoors. Wear layers and you can wear a lighter coat if you want.

You should have a hat and snow boots, especially if you are walking to work or doing something where you are outside a lot. But you might not wear them as much as you think.

It is more likely to rain than snow so make sure you have an umbrella. In fact, 3 or 4 umbrellas because if you're like me you'll lose them a lot. I keep one at work, one in the car and one at home. I always keep a rain jacket in my car too.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:33 AM on December 15, 2009

Many people have said this, but honestly aside from the whole ice factor winter is hard because people don't we appropriate clothing. I like winter, but do not love the cold and I layer, layer, layer. You want a nice warm coat, gloves, hat etc. for when you need them (this won't be always, but you'll suffer if it's not an option). Then you want some thin sweaters and long sleeve shirts for when you're inside. That way you can talk off what you need to, but still be covered when you're outside. A lot of businesses manage winter by blasting the heat and then you're dying of heatstroke because of your big, bulky sweater.

That said, I lived in the DC area for a while and it wasn't bad at all.

Congrats on the new job!
posted by Kimberly at 8:48 AM on December 15, 2009

A lot of the advice and scary stories about sub-zero temperatures don't apply to NoVa.

What I noticed in DC, compared to NYC and points further north, is that there's a lot less snow and a lot more "wintry mix" -- i.e., less pretty snow and more cold rain/sleet/freezing rain. On a lot of days when the wind makes you uncomfortably cold, the air temperature will still be high enough for rain to fall. So make sure any coat you buy is waterproof. If you get a down coat (they're very cozy when dry), make sure the outside is waterproof, or buy an all-weather shell to go on top of it.
posted by hhc5 at 9:05 AM on December 15, 2009

If you try to open your car window when it's cold and it sticks, leave it closed. I was determined to open mine and it shattered into tiny pieces.

Listen to the advice to layer. Temperatures can easily vary 40F in a single day and 60F in a week, not to mention the wind chill factor and the difference between outdoors and in. Layering is key to staying comfortable.

Not a winter tip, but if you're moving from LA to NoVa, it is entirely possible you will encounter new allergies, though probably not before spring. It's very common when moving from a desert climate to a green one with seasons (and not uncommon when moving anywhere with significantly different flora) to discover plant or mold allergies within the first year or two. See an allergist if it's bad enough to justify it.
posted by notashroom at 9:47 AM on December 15, 2009

The real villain of DC is the wind.

To add to this, the coldest days of the winter, practically speaking, will not be the occasional day with a high of 20-something and a low in the single digits and it's still and snowing or clear.

The coldest days will be when it's 40F, and raining, and windy. Gah. That sucks the life right out of you in a way that really cold weather doesn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:02 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've read all the tips and the things I can think to add are:
when it's cold, you'll want to leave the house with your hair dry. That means either blow-drying, or showering at night, or showering early and not leaving for an hour or two.
Take vitamin D!
posted by xo at 10:27 AM on December 15, 2009

ignore fast snow-land natives who get pissed at you

In Virginia? No such thing. Unless they moved there from up north. No one in Virginia can drive in the snow, and I say that as a native (who now lives in NY). Two inches of snow will shut down almost everything. If there's snow on the ground everyone will be moving at a crawl, and braking almost constantly. But still, don't drive in the snow if it can be avoided, and some practice in an empty parking lot couldn't hurt. Ice storms/freezing rain will actually be more common than snow.

The cold is not that bad, as a few people have mentioned. Unless it's a particularly bad winter, a good wool coat over a reasonable amount of layers, plus hat, scarf, and gloves will serve you fine, unless you are spending hours outside.

When looking for an apartment, do your best to find a place that uses non-electric heat. Electric heat will drain your bank account. Steam, gas, oil, anything but electric. And with any of them, you may want a humidifier for comfort, though I never used one and was fine.

Also, for livability in a few months, see if you can get central air. Although really, it's almost a given unless you're in a historic district. As mentioned at least once earlier, you will not believe the humidity in the DC area in summer.
posted by timepiece at 12:09 PM on December 15, 2009

You don't own an appropriate winter coat, warm scarves, or gloves. You're not used to slipping on ice. You're not used to riding a bicycle on ice. You don't understand how to tell if a day is going to be cool or jesusshitfuck freezing.
posted by beerbajay at 2:20 PM on December 15, 2009

I grew up in LA and lived in Arlington for 4 years-- people are right, the winter isn't as bad as you think it will be. Light snow maybe two or three times a year, and something heavier maybe every other year. They have these things called "snow days" that involve not going to work and still getting paid, which I miss very much.

I bought a big down coat before I left and never used it. I ended up getting a 3/4 length leather jacket, which helped keep my lower half warm, and layering shirts/sweaters underneath. Chuck Taylor All-Stars are not good winter shoes-- you gotta keep the cold air out.
posted by InfidelZombie at 5:52 PM on December 15, 2009

After reading the rest of the thread: you're going to be saying ITS COOOOOLD and shivering in two coats and people who've moved from the-middle-of-fuckoff-freezingland are going to be all 'shutup, cold? it's above zero! What's with the long sleeves?'.
posted by jacalata at 6:04 PM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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