Winter, we're coming
April 29, 2014 5:58 AM   Subscribe

My wife has accepted a post-doc position in the University of Wisconsin system with duration of around two years. Where exactly in Wisconsin is slightly up in the air, but no matter where we end up, we have a host of questions to ask about moving there and Wisconsin life in general. Once we know where we're actually going, we may have more questions about the area, but right now I think our biggest concern is winter.

The position is in a study that takes place at a UW campus – it seems most likely that we’ll end up in Madison. We'll probably be jettisoning most of our furniture and many other possessions before moving, which may simplify the logistics a bit, and the University has mentioned that they have some contacts for housing, so lining that up and the actual moving process may not end up being a big deal.

The big deal is that both my wife and I are native Southern Californians, and while I've had some experience with these things other people call "seasons" during my school years in Virginia, I suspect winters there are an order of magnitude (or more) less severe than in the upper Midwest, and during those years I never had to deal with having a car. My wife has never lived further north than Santa Barbara, or further east than where we are right now, in San Diego.

Car stuff: We have a Mazda 2 and a 4WD Tacoma. Do people generally buy snow tires or just use chains? Are there laws restricting chain use or anything like that? What's this whole "winterizing" thing with cars? Is it actually a real thing and not just a story northerners make up to scare people? I've seen comments in other car-purchasing questions about Mazda 3s not handling road salt well – what’s the best way to handle that and prevent damage?

Dog stuff: We have a dog that hates the rain, but we have no idea how she'll handle snow or cold. What do you do in the winter when your dog needs to go? Should we get any kind of doggie clothing or booties for her?

Lifestyle: Most of our current furniture is from IKEA and has reached the end of its lifespan. Since we have a good chance of only being in town for two years, we're fine with the same quality of furniture, but there are no IKEA stores in Wisconsin. Where do people who need cheap not-necessarily-permanent furniture shop in Wisconsin? I feel like the LL Bean winter catalog is sort of my spirit animal, so I'm excited in a way, but what do people wear during the winter? I work in architecture, so if I'm able to get a job in that field while we’re there, I'd probably be wearing some sort of business casual getup, which currently consists of a collared shirt and khakis, all cotton. Do people ever wear long underwear on a more-or-less daily basis? Do people wear different shoes or other articles of clothing to get to work and then change once they get there? What do people wear just to go around town or visit friends on the weekends?

Thanks for any clarification on the above you can provide, or any other tips on just regular things that people do in winter that might be taken for granted. Despite all our concerns about the weather, we're really looking forward to the move.
posted by LionIndex to Home & Garden (78 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've never seen people use chains in a city like Madison. It might not be allowed, although I don't know. Some people use all season tires and some people use winter tires, but I strongly suggest getting winter tires if at all possible -- they make a huge difference.

Most dogs love the snow. What kind do you have? A husky will be fine; a greyhound will need boots and a sweater.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:04 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The dog is some kind of terrier/mini schnauzer mix. Fairly small, but we can let her coat grow out if it'll help her out.
posted by LionIndex at 6:06 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: In winter, people wear a lot of layers. You end up moving in and out of spaces with wildly different temperatures all of the time -- your car, a parking lot, your office, a restaurant, even interior spaces aren't heated uniformly and some are much warmer or colder than average. I personally prefer to have warm layers that zip or button up the front for this reason.

Take winter boots and shoes seriously. They need to be warm and comfortable. And your boots need to be as waterproof as possible. Make sure to leave room for socks that are thicker than you might normally wear.

Buy hats with ear flaps. They look dorky but they're FANTASTIC when it's cold and windy.

Consider investing in warm gloves that have conductive thread in the fingertips -- the kind you can wear while using your touchscreen phone. Not having to take your gloves off to use your phone means your hands will stay warmer and you're less likely to drop a glove.

The nights will be longer in winter, and this can be difficult for lots of folks to deal with, even if they're used to it. I take a lot of vitamin d, and that helps. YMMV.

Buy a lot of Chapstick and always have it handy.

Most people keep their houses relatively cold in the winter, since heat is often so expensive. Have some warm socks or slippers and maybe some comfy cardigans or hoodies to wear around the house. Lots of people buy cheap throw blankets to snuggle up under on the couch. Consider buying pajamas, even if you don't normally wear them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:14 AM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you're going to be walking your dog on a sidewalk/road that has been salted/de-iced/gritted, booties are very helpful. In my experience, it's a lot easier to just take the booties off than it is to wash the dog's paws in warm water every time you come back in, and as a bonus, they help keep the dog warm when walking on snow/ice and protect the paws from cracking.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 6:14 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cars: Winter tires, don't bother with chains -- if the roads aren't plowed enough to make chains worth it, stuff will be closed. I have no idea whether winterizing is a scam, but you will find that regularly washing your car (yes, car washes are open year-round in wintry places) will help keep the salt/dirt from tearing your undercarriage up.

Dog: The dog will adapt, even if "adapt" means "learns to poop in the four square feet you shovel out behind the back door." A doggie sweater and boots will be useful (unless she definitely starts to hate the snow and salt/dirt).

Furniture: There's an IKEA in northern Chicago that I gather is popular for Madisonians. Otherwise, it's a college town and is used to people coming in your situation.

Clothing: Long underwear is popular, as are overshoes, as are huge overcoats or parkas.

General: Work out shoveling responsibilities before it snows (e.g., landlord has to plow the driveway and shovel the sidewalks, you have to shovel the walkways). Buy a mat for every door to the outside, even the ones you don't use much. Learn to take your shoes off at the door.
posted by Etrigan at 6:17 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your streets are plowed (and they will be) then you probably won't need any special tires, especially with the Tacoma. I would suggest that you take a few classes in driving in snow from a local driving school, mostly so that you can feel comfortable with the process and learn some tricks.

As for road salt, get your vehicles washed weekly. That will help a lot.

One thing that drove me nuts in the winter was the different temperatures, hot in the house, cold outside, cold in the car until it warmed up, cold on the walk from the parking lot to the building, hot in the building. So layer up. And be prepared to schlep around a real winter coat. At some point I actually cruised around Pittsburgh with no coat because the whole on/off cycle drove me insane.

A heated mattress pad is a wonderful way to be toasty in bed, you can turn the central heat down.

When picking a house, pick a smaller one, utilities will be less expensive. For two years, I'd do an apartment, so that all the maintenance is on the management, because shoveling snow is for the birds.

My sister keeps a towel by the back door and on muddy days she says to her dog, "dance for Mommy." Cuts down on dirt in the house.

Flannel Lined Jeans are your friend.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:21 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more thing -- hills. I don't know much about the rest of UW's campuses, but Madison is crammed full of hills, and if you aren't experienced at driving on them in winter, that's something to think about when selecting a place to live.
posted by Etrigan at 6:22 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, southern Californians all of your life! It's going to be a big change but I'm sure you will do just fine.

- let your dog grow out her coat (if it's comfortable for her and not going to get super matted) and definitely get her a sweater. If you are cold, your little dog is probably freezing.

- yes, lots of people in cold weather climates wear boots for the travel portion of their day and then change into different shoes when they get to the office.

- definitely get snow tires. If you ignore everything else, get snow tires.

- lots of people wear long underwear but I personally hate it.

- road salt - get the undercarriage of your car washed regularly in the winter. Note- I have never done this and my mechanic chastises me.

I can't answer the more specific Madison questions as I am from vt, not Wisconsin. But have a blast! I kind of envy your situation , what a change.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:22 AM on April 29, 2014

Response by poster: I've done some backpacking so I get the layering concept, but how many layers are we talking here, and what are they?
posted by LionIndex at 6:23 AM on April 29, 2014

Snow tires.
posted by Flood at 6:24 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I live in Madison. You will not need chains, all-weather tires will be fine. I have lived in Wisconsin my entire life (barring college) and have never had a vehicle "winterized" and have been fine. Driving in the snow is a whole other ball of wax that should be your main concern. It is a big deal for people who aren't used to it. I can't emphasize this slowly. Take your time.

Layers will be key to your winter dressing comfort, but honestly, I have always been okay with just the standard heavy winter coat, mittens, hat, scarf, boots. The only exception was this past winter's polar vortex insanity where it seemed as if there would never be enough layers. Yes, be prepared to wear a heavy winter coat in stores and deal with the on/off thing. It's a pain.

The IKEAs in Bolingbrook and Schaumburg are your friends. They're a mere 2.5/3 hours away from Madison.

I don't have a dog so I can't speak to that part of your question.

Memail me if you want more Madison/Wisconsin-specific info. It's a great town!
posted by altopower at 6:25 AM on April 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm from socal and moved to Europe 7 years ago. It wasn't until last year that I finally figured out how to choose a winter coat.

I was always cold and it was because my coats weren't properly insulated and always had a very open neck... and I could never figure out how to manage the scarf with the coat...

I am also a firm believer that the first year you have a winter you will be always cold no matter what, my first winter in england I would go out with the girls and be 10x more dressed than they were and I was still freezing while they were in mini skirts! The next year was more tolerable, and the third winter was fine.

I moved to scandinavia 2 winters ago and was sooooo cold, this winter wasn't so bad.

I think it has to do with your body fat and acclimatization.

So even if your first winter is horrible- don't worry... the second will be much better!

I also wear woolen underthings... and good thick boots.
posted by misspony at 6:28 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I think of chains as something you would put on to go over a tough mountain pass or for some serious back-country type of driving. If the roads are so bad that you would need chains, you probably shouldn't be driving. In Minnesota, most people seem to just use all weather tires, but some people use snow tires during the winter. Since you will be new to winter driving, you might want to have snow tires. The only other "winterizing" I do is to keep a kit of sorts in the trunk. I have a fold-up shovel, a blanket, some granola bars, some cat litter, and jumper cables.

As for clothes, I personally do wear long underwear on a near-daily basis during the coldest parts of January and February. I don't think that's common, but it isn't unheard of either and it makes me much more comfortable. I vary my footwear based on conditions. If the sidewalks are particularly snowy or slushy, I will wear boots or snow clogs to work and then change into different shoes at work. On other days when there hasn't been a recent snowfall and the sidewalks are cleaner, I will just wear regular work shoes. If I will be visiting clients, I wear my dressier long wool coat. If I will be just working in my office, I wear my parka. I have a wool hat and fleece gloves. On the weekends, I typically wear a sweater or sweatshirt and jeans. I will have on snowclogs or boots and wool socks. My boots are giant and bit ugly, but super warm and dry. If I'm going outside I will put on my parka, hat, and gloves.
posted by Area Man at 6:30 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How the dog will do depends on the dog and the winter and exactly where you live. Some dogs take to snow no problem, other dogs hate it and will be very reluctant to go outside and you'll have to shovel out an area for them to walk/poop. If your sidewalks are heavily salted you might want to look into the booties but I wouldn't buy them ahead of time.

As for how many layers, I think it's really personal. Just keep adding them until you're warm enough. If I'm walking briskly or biking I can get away with like a shirt, a fleece or puffy, and a shell on top and two layers on the bottom (some combo of tights/long johns, pants, and shell pants) even when it's close to zero F. Some people would be really cold in that. I would be really cold in that if I were just standing still outside at a work site or something. You probably know that you'll need a shell layer and... as many insulating layers as you need!

In Wisconsin you are probably going to want a puffy down coat at some point in the next two years, and they can be pricy, so start keeping an eye out. Mittens and hats are important. And the seal between your hat, mittens, and scarf, and coat is also important.

I definitely keep shoes at work to wear in the winter, and I think most of my coworkers do too.

Cars: cars in winter suck. If you can get rid of one of them (i.e. one of you can walk/transit), you will save yourself a lot of trouble. As for how to protect your car from salt, here is the advice a mechanic (who had just replaced my ABS sensors) gave me: "Move to California." Definitely think about snow removal when looking for a place. Covered parking and a landlord who takes care of plowing/shoveling is the best. Street parking is THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD. Winter driving is not that bad, just go super slow.

(I'm in New England, so less severe than Wisconsin.)
posted by mskyle at 6:31 AM on April 29, 2014

You're going to want a down coat.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:37 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Minneapolis, but my in-laws lived in Madison for several years so I've visited in all seasons. It's a great city!

Cars: no one uses chains, not that I've ever seen. Roads are generally plowed and sanded/salted, when there's snow; road conditions may become really slippery and ugly during a heavy snowfall, but once the snow tapers off the roads get cleared and it's fine. The only "winterizing" I personally have ever done is to make sure the antifreeze and washer fluid in my car are both rated for very cold weather, and perhaps throw a "survival" box in the trunk -- blanket, flashlight/candles and matches, candy bars, etc. If you've read that Mazda3s have difficulty with road salt, perhaps contact a Mazda dealer in Madison (or wherever you end up) to see what they recommend. (I'm not a big car person, but I think most cars sold up here have an underbody coating that helps ward off the effects of road salt.)

Dog: with a dog that small, you may find that it needs the protection of a coat. Dog booties are okay at protecting paws from salt, cold, etc., but I think it takes a lot of patience to get them used to that.

Clothing: yeah, it's all about the layers. If it's extremely cold you may find you wear long underwear a lot, particularly if you spend time outdoors. Really though you'll probably do just fine with a shirt and sweater. FWIW -- this past winter in Minnesota and Wisconsin we had a very long stretch of bitter, bitter cold, and I think I only wore long underwear twice, maybe three times. If you find you need/want it, long underwear/thermals are available in most every store that sells clothing. On preview, I see you're wondering about how many layers. That will ultimately be a matter of personal preference (maybe you tend to be a warmer person overall, or the opposite), but generally speaking, jeans/pants, shirt, sweater is typical. As mentioned by other posters, good socks and boots are important too!

Can't help with the furniture, sorry!
posted by Janta at 6:44 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: Several years ago, I moved from Australia to the Northeast, and posted this AskMe.

Here's my summary of things that helped at the time:
  • 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 [at work].
  • 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.
I'm more acclimated these days, but most of that advice is still pretty good. Things I've worked out since:

Get at least two ice scrapers. One in the car, and another in the house to get into the car.
If you're responsible for a driveway, snow blowers are awesome. Remember to drain the fuel at the end of the season.
Smartwool long underwear is great, as are coats with zip-in layering, so you can adjust it over the season.
Keep slip-on boots by the door so you don't have to lace up when you're just taking out the trash or walking the dog.

Try and maximise the amount of light you get - it's in short supply.
posted by zamboni at 6:44 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Chains are really only going to be a thing if you're way out in the boonies and municipal snow removal services are minimal or non-existent. Indeed, many municipalities actually ban them as they're murder on road surfaces, which have a hard enough time with salt and plowing as it is, thank you very much.

About driving in the snow: as has been said drive slowly. You've got a 4WD vehicle. Great. Understand that 4WD helps you get started. It does not help you slow down. It helps a bit with handling, but not nearly as much as you might tend to think. If there's even half an inch of snow or slush on the road, or even a thin sheen of ice, your traction will go to crap and your stopping distance increase massively. If you get the chance to experiment in an empty, snow-covered parking lot, do it. It's like learning to drive all over again.

Get used to not wearing shorts/short sleeves for six months out of the year. Sweaters, sweatshirts, hoodies, jeans, long underwear, you're going to need all of it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:48 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: About office-wear: The temperature of the office will vary wildly; some are well-heated and you wear the same thing people in offices everywhere wear, and when you're ready to go home, you change your shoes for insulated snow boots with an extra pair of wool socks, you put on a sweater and a down coat and your hat, scarf and mittens (gloves are for vain suckers!), and you venture out into the world.
If the heating is a bit more spotty, then you're wearing wool slacks instead of khakis, or LLBean lined chinos, or heavyweight dark-colored jeans, or lightweight pants with silk long underwear (a really thin base layer); and instead of just a button-down shirt with a t-shirt underneath, you've got a sweater or nicer-looking polarfleece over the top, or a sportcoat/blazer that you wear all day, depending on the fancy level of the office.
Depending on what part of Wisconsin, and how much office heat, and what style of office fashion, you could end up not just changing shoes at work, but changing pants as well. (it's easy to pile on extra socks, another sweater and a coat that covers your butt, but the knee area can get pretty icy.) On the other hand, keep in mind that Milwaukee is an easy winter compared to, say Eau Claire, and there's no sense panicking until you know where you're going.
posted by aimedwander at 6:49 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cheese curds and beer help form a nice layer for winter... but if you'd rather layer up in a less fun way: long sleeve tees under a button down under a sweater. I like the ski jackets that are some form of down or alternative with a removable wind-breakerish/water proof exterior. That helps when you bust a sweat shoveling and the wind (which is always the worst part of winter for me).

Car: keep plenty of washer fluid on hand because other cars will kick up much more grime from the road than you expect and you'll go through that stuff fast. Also, remote starters are a wonderful luxury (particularly if you don't have covered parking) and I'd suggest getting a lock deicer (it's like a little spray can) to keep in the house just in case.

(And pardon this additional recommendation that you didn't ask for: Several architect friends did have issues finding jobs in the field in Madison and Milwaukee but they were all newbies. You didn't ask but I'd consider contacting the school as soon as you get up there and see if they need reviewers for the arch student projects to help you network. My friends who did find jobs all seemed to emphasize they weren't from the dominant school in the area and thus they'd bring in a different view or skill set.)
posted by adorap0621 at 7:00 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: or any other tips on just regular things that people do in winter that might be taken for granted

Good stuff about clothes and driving above (and in the other, similar threads) so I'll just add one thing you may not have thought of yet. This isn't WI-specific, but about snowy places in general. When you're choosing a town/neighborhood/street/house/apartment, ask about how snow is dealt with there. For example, some cities ban street parking before/during storms. Some require you (if you own your house) to shovel your sidewalk after it snows. Some towns don't let you leave your car covered in a giant snow-lump on the street for longer than X days. Some make you wait to put out bulky waste for the garbage collectors until there's no snow on the ground. In my state it's illegal to drive with accumulated snow/ice on your vehicle; I have no idea if that's a common thing elsewhere. There may be other, uniquely WI ways that municipalities there handle storms, I just wanted to point out that there are all sorts of other implications of serious winters, beyond just learning to dress for the cold and to drive on ice. Good luck!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:06 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I got some helpful advice when I was moving to Chicago. Keeping a snow shovel in the car was really really helpful, and not something I would have thought about.

I bought a huge massive down parka, which everybody said was overkill. Then we had the worst winter in like forty years, including two days where the weather station was like "IF YOU GO OUTSIDE YOU MIGHT DIE."

It kind of depends on how much you'll be outside; if you park across the street from your building you can get away with less clothes than if you have to walk six blocks to a train, wait on a platform, then walk another eight blocks to work.

I wore long underwear for some days; if you haven't worn long johns in the past ten years, try them out again. Technology's really improved, and I didn't mind wearing them at all.

I don't know if you can get away with ski pants, but I got a pair towards the tail end of winter and they were pretty great.

If you're looking at snow boots and there's a 6" and an 8", you might be tempted to get the shorter pair because it's cheaper; I regret that choice.

Despite what TV tells you, not everybody walks around wearing a plaid Stormy Kromer. But you will probably want a hat with earflaps. I actually got a balaclava, because when it's cold ...

I got bored of wearing my winter boots every day, so I bought Tingley rubber overshoes. Or as one of my co-workers said, "Oh, those things the old men at church wear!"
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:17 AM on April 29, 2014

As to long underwear, silk is the bomb. It's warmer, lighter, and thinner. Silk sock liners under wool or cashmere socks are divine. Down comforters are very nice, but you really don't need to get the super-heaviest to stay really warm. A so-called down blanket would probably do.

(I am from the Northeast, and also used to bitingly damp D.C. winters.)
posted by jgirl at 7:19 AM on April 29, 2014

A California friend of mine once said that West Coast weather reports were generally less accurate than East Coast because the Western weather systems were blowing in from the ocean while on the East Coast the progress of the system can be tracked from state to state. No doubt there are storms that blow across the Great Lakes differently than predicted, but, you should get into the habit of checking & relying on the weather forecasts.

And never let yourself run completely out of things you need (dog food, people food, household necessities), as Murphy's Law means that will be the day you find yourself stuck inside waiting for the snowplows to free your street.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:32 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

The boot choice is important not because of the snow, walking through a couple inches of snow is nothing, but because of the slush. They have to be waterproof enough to step off a curb into unavoidable, unknown depths of icy slush.

Indoors, there are overheated apts (heat is included in the rent) and underheated ones (you pay for the heat) and you don't know yet which yours is. If overheated, you'll be walking around in a t-shirt and getting dressed to go out is a sweat-inducing ordeal. Underheated, get a down comforter for the bed (Ikea has them) and one for the couch if you're watching tv. LLBean has cotton-knit-lined wool Duofold long underwear which is great for lounging around the house.

Besides a door mat, get pairs of indoor shoes and leave them nearby. Crocs or clogs or whatever you can slip on. You don't want to be tracking outdoor sand and salt inside.

You'll probably be losing a lot of gloves if you are not used to wearing them so get spares.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:33 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you've never had to do it, be absolutely certain to winterize your vehicles BEFORE it gets cold. Dollars spent on good, adequate anti-freeze can save you a lot of distress and money. It isn't like thinking you'll get the patio furniture put away next week before the weather changes, probably. Winter has consequences up north.
posted by uncaken at 7:41 AM on April 29, 2014

Response by poster: If you have or wear long underwear with some regularity, how many pairs do you own? Do you wear regular underwear underneath it? Do you only wear the long stuff one day or do most people wear it twice or so before washing?

As mentioned previously, I have some backpacking experience, including winter camping. So, I actually already have a pair of Sorel Caribous that I've waterproofed so I think I'm set on that end (and I'll finally get to use them!); I also have 3-4 pairs of lightweight synthetic long underwear bottoms lying around. I think gearing my wife up will be more of a task.
posted by LionIndex at 7:42 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: We have a Mazda 2 and a 4WD Tacoma. Do people generally buy snow tires or just use chains? Are there laws restricting chain use or anything like that? What's this whole "winterizing" thing with cars? Is it actually a real thing and not just a story northerners make up to scare people? I've seen comments in other car-purchasing questions about Mazda 3s not handling road salt well – what’s the best way to handle that and prevent damage?

I lived in Madison for 20 years. Worked for the UW and the state for 13.

If your cars have never seen a winter, you will want to have the antifreeze and batteries checked. They are most likely fine, but it can get to 20 below so you will want to be sure.

Madison has excellent public transportation and is very bikeable - and parking on campus is IMPOSSIBLE - so it is entirely likely you won't be driving to work anyway.

A good set of all seasons will do just fine on the car.

I own a 4wd tacoma and with some BFG AT KO that truck was unstoppable. You will never need chains, unless you are headed far to the north - even in record snowfalls that truck with good tires is more than enough. Anyway, road crews are on it so the bigger problem is actually other drivers.

Don't worry about driving fast in inclement weather. Because of the constrictions of the Isthmus and Verona Road, Madison has the traffic congestion of a much larger city. It will be asshole the bellybutton during any commute time no matter the weather.

Wash your cars weekly or so if it has been snowing. The road salt will eat away at them quickly. Pay extra for the underbody wash - thats what will need it the most. It doesnt have to be a perfect wash, just knock the salt off.

As for clothes -wear what is comfortable. I wore regular bluejeans and a winter jacket. A hat sometimes. My wife wore snow pants and long johns and so on. It's not the arctic, it just feels like it sometimes.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:43 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Since you've never had to do it, be absolutely certain to winterize your vehicles BEFORE it gets cold.

OK, but what exactly does "winterizing" a vehicle entail?
posted by LionIndex at 7:43 AM on April 29, 2014

Nth the deluxe snow removal tools, the big ice scraper and the brush.

Another thing people get is a remote car starter. You can engage it in the office or house about 5 minutes before you leave, when you get to the car, it's warm, toasty and defrosted.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:43 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Honestly, I only wore/wear long underwear if I am going to be outside for a long time -- snow days when I have to go out to shovel three times, or weekends outside, and the like.

If you commute via public transportation, though, you might be waiting outside for a long time, so then it would be smart.

Silk long johns are awesome, or synthetics. You only need a few pair, as long as you do laundry. :7) (And your jockey shorts go under the bottoms.)

Get mittens, not gloves. Get "choppers," which are wool mittens under a leather shell. Gloves are punk.

I believe that dress there is pretty casual (and I used to work in a Boston architecture firm, SBRA, that was stuffy). I have an architect friend in the Twin Cities; want me to ask him how formal the business atmosphere is in Wisc.?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:47 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: OK, but what exactly does "winterizing" a vehicle entail?

The main thing is getting the antifreeze checked. It is really bad if it goes to slush overnight and you blow a head gasket when you start it. It should be good to 30-40 below.

Your batteries should also be checked - starting in the cold is extra hard on them, and the engines don't want to move either. Buy a pair of jumper cables for the car.

Other than that - make sure the chassis is lubed well and you check underneath for stuff that gets broken running over ice chunks and snowbanks.

If you don't have a topper for the truck, you might consider one. The extra weight is nice, but mainly, shovelling out the pickup bed is a pain the ass once the snow forms a layer of ice on the bottom.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:50 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, but what exactly does "winterizing" a vehicle entail?

Get an empty milk crate and bungee cord it into the corner of your trunk.

Fill the car's wiper fluid and put a full jug of the stuff into the crate.

Put a shovel next to the crate, and put a roll of toilet paper and a wool blanket from Harbor Freight into the crate.

Make sure your car battery is in good shape. Buy some jumper cables, and read the instructions. Put them -- and the instructions -- in the crate.

Get a AAA membership.

Change your oil. (Read your car's manual to see if you need anything weird.)

If your tires are in poor shape, consider replacing them (not an annual task!).

Put some instant coffee and a few protein bars (like Clif Bars) in an empty coffee can in the crate.

Most of this stuff is for if you get stuck in the snow on the side of the road during a storm. Laugh, but it happens all the time.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:53 AM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you have or wear long underwear with some regularity, how many pairs do you own? Do you wear regular underwear underneath it? Do you only wear the long stuff one day or do most people wear it twice or so before washing?

My wife went several days on her long underwear between washings.

She also had several types. Some were for when it was below 0 and others for when it was only below freezing. Same for gloves and hats. A hat that keeps you comfortable at 20 degrees won't be warm enough at 20 below. A mitt that is great at 20 below is a sweat soaked mess at 25 degrees.

Buy several of all your outdoor stuff. It sucks having to shovel the walk with wet gloves.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:58 AM on April 29, 2014

Have you thought about getting rid of all your stuff and renting a furnished sabbatical home if you can find one that's dog friendly? That's what some post-docs do for one-and-two year gigs.
posted by Elsie at 7:59 AM on April 29, 2014

OP - as a woman, I would never wear long underwear without regular underwear. For a guy, maybe not as necessary to, but still a good idea I'd think, since it gives you the option of ditching the long underwear if you end up in an overheated location after the commute is over.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:15 AM on April 29, 2014

I own 6 pairs of long underwear. 3 wool and 3 Patagonia Capilene, 1 each of light-, mid-, and heavyweight. But I only have that many because I bought them on sale over a few years. Some winters I don't even break out all 6 pairs. The wool ones I will wear at least 3 times before washing. (If I'm being honest it is usually more like 5 times because I have a high tolerance for filth.) The Capilene ones I wash after 2-3 wears. I do wear regular underwear under my base layer. If I didn't I would wash after every single wear.

I am always cold, so I wear long underwear pretty much all winter long. But this is also because I only have one pair of lined wool dress pants. I wear the same pairs of work pants fall through spring with the base layer during the winter.

For tops I usually wear a t-shirt with a sweater or cardigan. Plus I always wear a cute scarf all day long. I find I don't need multiple long sleeve tops if I wear a scarf. Plus you can tie them fun ways and they are a great accessory piece.
posted by ephemerista at 8:19 AM on April 29, 2014

Clean off your entire car. This includes the roof. There is a special place in a snowy hell reserved for people who leave the snow on the roofs of their cars so that it can fly off into other people's windshields on the highway.

Do your shoveling shortly after it stops snowing. It's easier that way - the snow is lighter. Snow that has been on the ground for awhile gets slushy and heavy. If you have to dig your car out, you don't want to discover that it's become lodged in, essentially, a block of ice (ask me how I know).

I've never heard of anyone winterizing a car. I do know a couple of people who have Mazda 3s here in the Northeast, and never heard about any road salt complaints.

I've never gone too crazy with the bundling up - I wear a wool coat, a scarf and a sweater most days, if its extra cold I'll wear a heavy sweater, plus a hat and gloves. But we don't get the extreme cold that you'll find in Wisconsin in this part of the country. That said, indoor spaces are often kept uncomfortably hot (at least for me) in winter. Make sure you have sweaters - cardigans, pullovers - that are warm, and that you can take on and off easily.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:23 AM on April 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I live in the Great White North. It's not that big a deal.

When we have 4 ft. of snow on the ground, the dog goes in the street. He's an old dog, grew up in the South. He likes snow more than rain, but he hates it when the snow is more than a couple inches deep. Your dog will adjust because he doesn't have a choice.

Driving - go slow, go steady. The goal is to never make sharp turns, never turn quickly (these lead to a skid), and never stop unless you absolutely must.

IKeep a bag of sand in your car. Some people recommend kitty litter, but kitty litter turns to sludge - sand is better for getting your car unstuck. I've never actually gotten stuck here - it only happened when I lived in places where the snow was a more rare occurrence.

No one can prepare you for the endless dark, which, to me, is far worse than the cold. You might feel depression and inertia creeping in with the dark. Read up on SAD and be aware of your moods.
posted by clarkstonian at 8:43 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most dogs love snow, hate cold. They also love having a fireplace or heater to curl up in front of.

Your experience with coldness and winters will be determined primarily by your mindset. Choose not to be miserable. Choose to enjoy the cold and see it as a challenge. You'll be much much happier. I say this as someone living in a place where winter realistically ended last week (end of April).

Snow tires, get `em. I'd recommend getting some steel rims with them as well, it's much simpler than getting the tires put on your existing rims twice a year. If you end up putting the tires on yourself, just remember that many snow tires are directional (they only go one way).

Have at least 2 of each item of winter outerwear because there may be days when they get really wet and need some time to dry before they can be used again.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:43 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't let your cars run low on gas. You might need to let the engine run to warm up the car, help melt snow and ice off of it, or to keep you warm if you get stuck. It's also possible for your fuel lines to freeze if your tank is too empty and condensation forms. I don't let mine go below a half tank in the winter.
posted by donnagirl at 8:45 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Furniture: buy it at Shopko. There are 4 near Madison (home base of Green Bay, WI).
posted by jillithd at 8:50 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: Regarding layers: as others have said, this is super personal! Here's what I'm usually wearing on cold days (I'm a woman, ftr.)

Top: long-sleeved tee shirt, sweatshirt or cardigan, warm scarf, gloves, hat, big winter coat. (Tee shirt is swapped in with a thin wool or cashmere sweater on VERY cold days. I don't personally own long underwear for my top half.)

Bottom: Long underwear, tall warm socks, jeans or a long wool skirt, insulated boots.

Waterproof snow pants are a worthwhile investment if you'll be living in a place where you might have to shovel your walk or dig out your car. Standing in the snow in wet jeans is basically the worst.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:55 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: Madison is awesome! I am a lady with a bit of previous Wisconsin winter experience, so I can speak to your questions about what your spouse could wear. Does she typically wear pants or skirts? I typically wear dresses/skirts to work and jeans otherwise. I don't own any wintery work-appropriate pants, i.e., "dress pants," but if she wears pants, wool would be a good idea.

As a base layer, I have maybe four synthetic long underwear "heat generating tights" (footless) and same sort of long sleeve tops from Uniqlo, and they work well. They aren't as good as the expensive ones from REI that I use camping, but for mostly commuting and being at work, they are just fine. Per your follow-up question, I wear undies (i.e., panties. There I said it.) under the base layer tights, and I wear the tights once or twice before washing, just depending.

So on cold days, layering on my bottom half would go like this: undies, long underwear base layer tights, fashiony sweater tights over those if I'm wearing a skirt, a pair of wool socks, my skirt or jeans, and then snow boots. If I get warm indoors, I start by taking off the socks and see how that goes. If it's a long day in a warm building, I would take off the base layer tights too. It's not that big of a deal to un-layer and re-layer. Keeping a pair or two of more fashiony shoes or boots at work is a good idea, depending on her personal style. On top, I would wear the long sleeve synthetic base layer, then thin wool sweater or other type of top, and a blazer-type jacket (both J Crew or the like) over that. I usually end up taking off the base layer once indoors, as I skew warm after walking around campus.

TL/DR: Must have for her: silk or synthetic base layer long underwear, knee-length down coat with a hood and hand-warmer pockets (from LL Bean or some such), a snug-fitting hat with earflaps, and really good high-tech warm gloves like from REI (perhaps the kind where you can text while wearing), warm snow boots, and a few wool scarves (I knit my own). If she wears makeup, I suggest waterproof mascara and eyeliner for those bitter windy days that make the eyes water. Yow!

I never noticed snow chains, by the way.
posted by quixotictic at 8:57 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I think "winterizing" modern cars is mostly a scam. (And I used to live in central Maine, which also gets Real Winter, as opposed to mid-Atlantic wussy winter. With certain exceptions, e.g. diesels, there just isn't that much that changes.) However, if it's coming from a place that's warm year-round, it's worth checking:
  • The battery — cold weather is hard on batteries, so you may need to replace it ahead of schedule
  • Oil — sometimes in warm weather, shops may put in a heavier oil to cope with high temperatures. You'll want to go back to the factory spec, maybe full synthetic.
  • Tires — you have two options here, you can either just get a fresh set of all-seasons and use them year round, sacrificing some snow traction in exchange for not having a set of tires sitting around, or you can go old-school and have separate summer and winter tires. If you have a garage, the latter is probably better, but I would definitely recommend buying an extra set of steel wheels rather than having the tires remounted each time. It won't cost that much extra. If you don't have a garage, just get all-seasons.
  • Washer Fluid — it's incredibly common in warmer climates to use washer fluid that's basically just water with soap in it; it will freeze at or near 32F. You want to get rid of that (use the windshield washer a lot) this summer and make sure you fill the reservoir with good stuff (RainX Winter is good) in the Fall. You can do this yourself.
  • Coolant — make sure your car has antifreeze in it, not water or watered-down antifreeze. This is pretty rare on modern cars that haven't received shoddy service, but worth checking.
All of this is sort of normal maintenance stuff anyway; I wouldn't go to a shop and pay for "winterization" specifically. The battery and oil I'd deal with at your next oil change interval this summer, the tires I'd deal with as needed based on your current tires, and the washer fluid I'd do sometime late this summer or fall (but keep an eye on big-box stores for deals on fluid when it goes on sale). And when it gets Real Cold, try to keep your gas tank more full than usual (fill when it hits 1/2 full rather than E); this will prevent water contamination which can lead to ice in your fuel filter. (This is the most woo-y of my recommendations, I'm uncertain of the evidence for or against this, but it really doesn't hurt.) Plus and perhaps more importantly it's just good to not have to look for gas right before a storm hits.

I concur with the recommendations of putting an "I got stuck" kit in the car, with a small shovel, blanket or two, jumper cables, maybe tow straps (that's what's in mine, anyway) in a crate and keep it in back.

And you'll want to acquire a good snow brush for cleaning off the outside of the car. Opinions on these things vary, some people like the traditional straight brush, some people like the T-handled brushes, extendable ones, etc. Good conversation starter. After a season or two, you too will develop Strong Opinions on these sort of things.

And yeah, you should find out where the local spray-it-yourself carwash is, and when they start using salt on the roads get into the habit of going there periodically and washing the salt off, particularly from the undercarriage. I don't know about Mazdas specifically, but I have a Jeep that the previous owner kept up north and never washed, and its undercarriage looks like it's from a vehicle 15 years older than it actually is. Salt eats cars.

However: The biggest thing that will keep you from getting stuck, running off the road, or having an accident in the winter is not snow tires, chains, studs, or any other equipment, it's how you drive. I can't speak to Wisconsin, but in upstate NY it was common sport to play "spot the new grad students" after the first big snowstorm, because they'd be the ones hammering the gas pedal and digging their tires in and getting stuck all over town. It's sorta like driving on sand, if you've ever done that. You'd be amazed how little snow it takes to get stuck on, if your technique is poor. (As a 16-year-old, I got myself stuck in a parking space with 2" of packed snow in it, by spinning the tires. My family will never let me forget the shame. Don't spin the tires.) As soon as you can during the winter, find a big empty parking lot and practice driving in the snow, particularly stopping and starting without skidding or spinning out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "I've done some backpacking so I get the layering concept, but how many layers are we talking here, and what are they?"

So, it depends on the temperature, but this is what I wore on my last trip to Soldier's Grove, Wi.:

Cotton long underwear
winter coat

Something I appreciate about my coat is that it has a double zipper, then flaps to keep the zipper from passing cold wind through it. It also goes up around my face with a large zippered collar.
posted by klangklangston at 9:13 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: Take your car in for an oil change in October or November and tell them you want it winterized. They'll do it. Basically you want to make sure your oil stays at the right viscosity in the cold and your engine coolant doesn't freeze. They can also check the capacity of the battery to hold a charge (which diminishes in the cold). I've never "winterized" my car myself ... I just have the shop make sure it's all copacetic.

The things you need to do are a) make sure you have washer fluid and keep it topped up, because winter driving is DIRTY when there's snow on the ground; b) replace your windshield wipers if they're not wiping cleanly in the rain because this will be ten times worse in the snow; c) get scraper/brushes for each car, nice long sturdy ones that you can reach the middle of the windshield. I always keep a second one (that one can just be a cheapie free from a hardware store or whatever) in each car because sometimes you get to scrape with a friend and it's way faster.

I've always just driven on all-season tires; you probably don't need to worry about special tires unless you're going to be in the backcountry. You usually don't really need winter tires in the midwest because it's pretty flat and all-season tires do fine. Madison is hillier, but also has good transit and people don't drive a lot. I'd probably start with what you have and see if it's a problem. In the 80s it used to be really common for people to get their cars "Ziebarted," which puts a protective coating on the undercarriage to protect against road salt causing rust. This is way less of a problem with newer cars, which fight rust pretty well on their own, but Ziebart is still around and they still do that, so if you're concerned about your car, that's an option too.

My Floridian husband wears long underwear every day most of the winter. He likes silk long underwear because it's lightweight, thin, warm. He wears it over regular underwear and wears it a few times before washing. He wears the pants a lot more than the shirt, because he can build up layers on top (undershirt, shirt, sweater, blazer) but on the bottom it's basically just PANTS. I basically never wear long underwear because I don't get cold like he does. And Floridian husband looooooooooooves flannel-lined jeans.

Don't worry about your winter coats/hats/scarves looking dorky; worry about being warm. A lot of Midwesterners like bright colors in their winter outerwear simply because it can be grey for so many months. (Even though you see businessmen in grey wool topcoats, they'll often have a cherry-red scarf for a cheery pop of color.) One of the key points for warmth if you'll be walking outdoors a lot is to get a coat long enough to cover your thighs. Thighs are big muscles and when it's windy (it's windy!), having a coat that covers at least your butt and ideally your thighs as well will keep you a lot warmer than one that's cropped at the waist. Down is awesome, but synthetic fabrics have come a long way in the last 10 years and if LLBean says its synthetic is rated to 20 below, they're not lying. (My Floridian husband wears a winter parka that's a synthetic, not down, as do my small children who like to play in the snow.) Floridian husband prefers super-warm hats and balaclavas and whatnot; I prefer extra-long scarves that I can wrap around my face and head if it's very cold, and just wear as a long scarf if it's not.

Keep an extra pair of gloves in your car because it fucking sucks when you have to drive somewhere and it's cold and you have no gloves ... it hurts to touch the steering wheel. Even though the gloves will be cold from sitting in the car, it's better than bare skin on a frigid steering wheel.

You can also ask other grad students when you arrive what they wear for winter and where they buy it ... they are used to answering this question on a college campus and find it kinda fun. Midwesterners LOOOOOVE playing "winterize the southerners."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've lived in Wisconsin my whole life and I've never actually seen anyone with chains on their tires.

I made it through most of the polar vortex with gloves, hat, shirt->hooded sweatshirt->Carhartt Artic Quilted Jacket and jeans. When it's really cold and need to do stuff outside, I'd wear warmer socks (or a second pair), quilted Carhartt overalls and a single pair of long underwear.

Duluth Trading Company sells a bunch of stuff designed for people who work outside in the winter. They're definitely worth checking out. The clothes are rugged and warm.

Eventually you'll probably develop winter skin. At the beginning of winter, 30 degrees feels terrible and you''' bundle up as much as possible. By the end of winter, it's easy to go outside in the same weather in an unzipped jacket with no hat or gloves.
posted by drezdn at 9:18 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: Welcome! I live in Madison. It is a GREAT town and I'm in love with it. Also, I grew up in California and New Mexico and then moved to Minnesota for college and I love winter. My tip for enjoying it is to take up some sort of winter sport.

Driving cars is the worst part of winter. We don't use chains here, or snow tires usually. You just sort of get used to driving in the snow and learn how to do it safely, but it takes some getting used to. Just go very slow, leave yourself a LOT of room to stop, and never make any sudden movements (slamming on the brakes, merging quickly into another lane, turning, etc). You'll get comfortable more quickly than you think.

I should say though that for most of the winter the snow is cleared off the roads -- the driving is only hard when there's just been a snowstorm. So maybe 15 days every winter. Also if you do end up in Madison you might not need to commute by car, we have pretty good transit to campus and to downtown.

As far as clothes go, the two most important things to think about are your coat and your feet. You don't need a big giant parka, but you will be happier if you have one. And on your feet you need some fairly chunky shoes (they don't have to be boots, but boots are nice) and wool socks. Other than that it's just normal clothes -- jeans and a sweater or whatever -- except on the very coldest days, when we'll wear long underwear underneath.

Anyway let me just say one other thing -- you won't be colder than all the Wisconsinites. You'll acclimate through the fall, and when the winter comes it'll be fine. (Unless it's like this year, in which case it won't be fine for ANYONE and you can just complain along with them.) I always thought that midwesterners were especially hardy but really, it's just acclimation.
posted by gerstle at 9:22 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and there is an IKEA in Schaumburg, two-plus hours away. A lot of people drive down there with a U-Haul and load up. It is very annoying not to have one in town and I don't really know of any good alternatives. We have a lot of garage sales??
posted by gerstle at 9:25 AM on April 29, 2014

...but on the bottom it's basically just PANTS.

In the winter, I wear flannel-lined jeans and flannel-lined khakis. No one knows it's there, but it feels much better!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:48 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: If you wear glasses, it's EXTREMELY annoying to have them fog up when you get on the bus/walk in from outside; maybe someone here can recommend a solution.

When the sidewalks are icy because no one shoveled down to the bare pavement, you'll need some spiky cleats or yaktrax.

Also, indoor heating is very drying to your skin so you'll want tubs of hand lotion around.

Low humidity also means static cling and its sibling, static shocks.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2014

I live in Chicago which isn't quite as bad. Land-locked Madison will be colder.

My main issue isn't the cold. It's that inside office building and stores, the heat is usually cranked up too high for my taste. I say don't overthink this. Avoid driving in extreme weather. Keep a couple extra coats in your car trunk if you're going to be driving really far. I've never even seen tire chains. Buy some warm clothes, but don't go crazy. If you're moving around outside you warm up pretty quickly.

And there will be dozens of nearby stores where you can buy more stuff if you need it.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:51 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Layering is good (or at least bringing them or having in the office, if not wearing) but if I'm just going to school/office/errands I prefer to do fewer layers and a BIG WARM PARKA as my outer layer. I might wear a sweater underneath, but the point is you have less planning, less layers to peel off once you're indoors if you just wear something REALLY WARM. In high school I would sometimes skip my winter coat and just wrap up in a really warm blanket for the 15 minute drive to school, then be indoors all day and not need a coat. Not that you should do this, but just to illustrate that a good outer layer can allow you to be more flexible in your wardrobe underneath.

I love to wear long underwear under jeans because cold transforms denim into something horrible, stiff, and painful. It's most useful if you'll be spending extended time outdoors or going between indoor/outdoor regularly (like walking between building on a campus.) Another cold jeans trick: Since we kept our house fairly cool overnight to save energy growing up, I would often put my pants in the dryer for 3-4 minutes before putting them on (possibly negating energy savings?). Wear normal underwear underneath and get more wears between washings.

Keep in mind that the mental effort/adjustment of getting through winter may be more difficult for you than all these physical efforts. For people used to sunny days and green vegetation all year round, it can be depressing to live for months in gray, slushy, grimy, leafless surroundings. It can be monotonous, you may feel stuck inside, it may not always be beautiful outside. Take care of yourself and remember it's perfectly natural. Find ways to get outside and have fun (especially when you have fresh beautiful snow): sledding, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing or just strolling on cleared paths or through the park in your snowboots. Put out a bird feeder or chunk of suet. Check out nature centers for winter programming if that's your thing. It's also fun to indulge traditional, cozy nesting activities in winter and invite people over to socialize: hot cocoa, crockpot of cider or mulled wine, beer-braised sausages, baking, soups and stews, blankets, board games, fire in the fireplace and good lighting indoors.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:54 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: No, you can't use chains. But do buy good snow tires. All-season tires are ok much of the time, but newbies to driving in snow & slush are better off with snow tires.

LLBean sells silk long underwear that is warm, light, comfortable, and fits under regular clothes. The short sleeve shirt is more versatile than long sleeved.

Fleece is pretty terrific. I tend to wear a fleece vest much of Fall-Winter-Spring. Fleece pants are comfy at home, and I have some thick fleece sock-slippers that are cozy and look satisfyingly absurd.

Wool is so warm. I have a couple pairs of wool pants from Goodwill, and lots of wool sweaters, mostly cardigans. I tend to wear a skirt, boots, tights, turtleneck and wool cardigan for work. Most offices are heated too much to add long underwear, but in a cooler office, would be easy to add. I'd pick up wool sweaters once you get there, at thrift shops, unless you dislike thrift shopping. Lots of wool at thrift shops.

For coats, I have fleece vests, pullovers and jackets, a serious parka, a leather jacket with a thin layer of insulation, and have accrued a few others. What's comfortable at 10F is too hot at 35F. If you're snowshoeing, you stay warmer than driving in a car that may take 10 minutes to warm up. I do recommend talking up some outdoor winter activity it's actually fun, and you do stay warm being active. A warm scarf and hat make a big difference, and you need gloves for driving and mittens for playing outside.

Keeping warm at home - couple of fleeces on the couch, electric blanket with dual controls and auto-off on the bed. Pre-heating the bed is important. I know people who use an electric blanket on the couch. Get used to wearing a sweater or fleece in the house, and socks/ slippers. Warm feet really matter. Smartwool socks are comfy and warm(again with the wool). Hot tea warms you from the inside. When you rent, check the previous years' use of oil or gas. it makes a big difference in the cost.

When my Hawaiian daughter-in-law lived with me in Maine during late Fall, one of her biggest complaints was dry skin. Cold air is dry; you'll use lots of serious lotion.

Madison likely has the occasional big storm that takes out electricity for a few hours. Have a couple of flashlights and some candles in appropriate holders. Inconvenient, but kind of fun, if you're prepared.
posted by theora55 at 10:56 AM on April 29, 2014

Two suggestions: 1) Buy your winter gear locally in WI (a lot of the stuff you can buy in CA just won't be enough) 2) Try really hard not to wear more than one additional layer than "a local." If one puts on the parka when it's 50 degrees out... what can one do when there are sub zero temperatures outside?
posted by oceano at 11:02 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Get an electric blanket, and a featherbed/down comforter.

During the day you have all those wonderful layers to protect you -- but at night, you are only wearing your jammies, and you have to crawl into a freeeeezing bed. We got an electric blanket a couple of winters ago, and now I wouldn't go without it from October to May.

Sleeping in a warmer bed but in lighter clothes is best. Except, that is, when you have to go to the john in the middle of the night, in which case you will get so cold that your teeth chatter.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:12 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I'm a SF-->Madison transplant in 2011.

How many layers will depend on how cold it is and what you’re doing for how long. 15 is a different setup from 0, and -15 is a whole other story. If its around 0, I wear silk long underwear under jeans or casual work pants. If I’m walking the dog (outside, not working hard, long time) I’ll wear windproof pants over them. On top I wear a shirt, a sweater, and a very serious knee-length down coat. I always wear a good hat under the hood of my down jacket.

I take off a lot of layers when I get to work, because I bike, so I really bundle up. If you drive, its not such a big thing. I think changing shoes is pretty normal.

Do not underestimate the value of very high-quality down mittens with liner gloves underneath. Also boots with wool socks inside. I have poor circulation and add hand- and toe-warmers to the mix sometimes.

I own about 5 pairs of long underwear. I wear them most days in winter, but (based on what I see people changing out of at the gym) I don’t think most people do.

Be prepared to just keep buying warm things until you’re warm enough. You will become connoisseur of mittens/hats/neck-warmers/socks. The first winter is expensive.

I also bike year-round. If that’s something you want to do (and you totally can, really,) a good neoprene face mask, bar mitts, and studded bike tires are your friends.

Car-wise, we put in different washer fluid that we used in CA, got snow tires, and my husband gets it washed all the time to get the salt off. As far as cars go, one thing you might want to think about is that not having covered parking is WAY more of a pain in the ass in snowy areas. Being able to keep your car somewhere you don’t have to dig it out of is really nice. In Madison, you also have to move your car every damned day in the winter if you park it on the street, to accommodate plows.

Our Californian dog thinks snow is pretty much the best thing she’s ever encountered and can’t understand why we kept it from her for so long. She refuses to wear a jacket (and grows a pretty thick coat in winter anyway.) On the coldest days, we put boots on her.

The Ikea thing is annoying, yeah. Target, consignment stores, craigslist, etc.

When are you moving? The Madison rental market is godawful, and geared almost entirely toward students. Coming from a place where actual grownups rent, we were SHOCKED at the (poor) quality of rentals available. Most leases turn over in August, most landlords are not flexible about this. The vacancy rate is around 2%. I’m also surprised UW said they could help you with housing… as a current UW-Madison postdoc, I was on my own. If they’re talking about the existence of University Housing, you should be aware that those facilities are pet-free. If you’re moving to Madison any time in the next 6 months, you should start looking now and you should NOT rent a place sight-unseen.

Good luck. It really does get easier to tolerate the cold.
posted by juliapangolin at 11:16 AM on April 29, 2014

I wear a Buff around my neck when doing work outside (e.g., shoveling), but a nice wool scarf is fine for more sedate movement. They make a Merino wool Buff, which I would like to try sometime.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:19 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I spent four winters in Minnesota after coming from the west coast. Winter is awful.
1) keep your house warm! Pick somewhere to live that will be cheap to heat, and keep it warm. That will help you physically and emotionally deal with the being-outside part.
2) silk long underwear is magical. I wear bottoms daily from about October to May, though that's generally considered overkill.
3) you'll want a giant down coat. Get a long one with a big hood that has the fake-fur trim. I figured that was an aesthetic thing, but no - it keeps the snow out of your face pretty effectively.
4) you'll want huge, ugly, down-lined, waterproof, mega-traction boots; just change out of them when you get to work. They will make winter much more bearable.
5) if you naturally get cold easily, or have poor circulation, get the arm-warmer things with a hole for your thumb. They help my hands stay warm when I'm inside a cool building.
6) get good gloves (mittens are better) and a polarfleece neck thing that you can put over your nose and mouth on the worst days.

Good luck! Winter sucks a lot, but you can deal with it for two years, and you'll have great stories to tell your California friends in the end :)
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:31 AM on April 29, 2014

I've lived in Madison for my whole life, save 4 years. I love this town.

Chains aren't legal in Wisconsin, but you won't need them. Memail me if you'd like Madison info!

On Wisconsin.
posted by eenagy at 11:59 AM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I live in Milwaukee and have lived either here, Illinois, or Montana my entire life. I know winter!

I see the car thing has been amply addressed so I'll just add another vote for snow tires.

Here in Milwaukee, we bought most of our cheap furniture at HOBO. Farm & Fleet will have some assemble-it-yourself type stuff. There's always Target and Walmart. I also know many people who have gone to the IKEA in Illinois.

I was going to comment on the clothing, but I see "wool" appears 35 times in the thread, so that's covered. The aforementioned Farm and Fleet will have everything you need to keep warm and look like a native. If you don't necessarily want to look like a native, there's REI in Madison (and Milwaukee).

For a 25 degree, snowy day, I'd wear knee-high North face snow boots (change at the office), knee-high wool socks, pants, sweater, parka, scarf, maybe gloves.
For a 10 degree day I'd add silk or capilene long underwear top, gloves and maybe a hat.
At zero degrees, I'd substitute mittens for gloves and wear long underwear bottoms in addition to the top.
10 below zero, I'd wear gloves THEN mittens and two pairs of socks.
20 below zero, I'd add a fleece under the parka and a balaclava. But honestly, I'm probably working from home at that point.

I'm not super familiar with Madison, but if you end up in the Milwaukee area, let me know.
posted by desjardins at 1:12 PM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: Another Madison-area resident here, and the advice here is pretty much spot on. This past winter was The Worst, but we all made it. A few quick things to emphasize:

1) Seriously, drive slowly. Accelerate slowly, turn slowly, brake slowly. Especially in traffic circles, which Wisconsin likes more than most places.
2) Have more than one snow brush/scraper in the car. That way if there's more than one person in the car you can split the work. More importantly, though, when one inevitably breaks you're not stuck trying to chip off ice with the sad, broken pieces of scraper while freezing your butt off.
3) Keep stuff in the car for in case you get stuck. I keep a couple of bags of salt, an old coat, some heavy gloves, spare washer fluid, and some granola bars in there all winter, and always fill up at 1/4 tank. Through no fault of your own, you might end up sitting in (or worse, outside of!) your car for a few hours because you're stuck or there's an accident blocking the way.
4) My always-chilly wife's winter quality of life jumped about 1000% when we got a couple of electric blankets - one for the bed and one for the couch. The cat also approves. You can get nice ones for $50 or less.

Welcome to WI! We moved to the Madison area within the past couple of years, so feel free to MeMail if you want any more specific recommendations/advice.
posted by Rallon at 1:44 PM on April 29, 2014

Go to Farm and Fleet and get the car battery with the most cold cranking amps. I had a VW diesel that ran most of the Winter because it had enough juice to crank for a solid minute or two before turning over. That kind of power-to-spare can literally save your life if you get stuck.
posted by whuppy at 2:17 PM on April 29, 2014

Embrace the winter. Learn to ice fish or ski; you'll get through it much easier that way.

If you're from San Diego, keep in mind that Madison is overwhelmingly liberal, which may turn you on or off depending on how you lean.
posted by PSB at 2:42 PM on April 29, 2014

Writing from Canada - if your car has anti-lock brakes, do get snow tires, and practice braking on ice and snow - it's not at all the same as on dry land. ABS brakes can be a liability in winter conditions unless you know how to use them.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:54 PM on April 29, 2014

Response by poster: My wife came into the room while I was on the computer the other night:
Her: What are you looking at?
Me: Well...
Her: Are you shopping for ice skates?
Me: ...Yes?

Thanks for the input everybody. We'll have plenty of time after we get there (probably some time in August) to snoop through colleague's closets and stuff to see what they wear and replicate it in our own wardrobes, so we'll probably be fine. Both our cars are juuuust about at the point where we'll need new tires, so getting new ones isn't a huge burden. I'll probably need a new battery soon anyway, so that's not a big deal, and I'll probably be getting the cars serviced before we leave town. After that long a drive, they'll need another oil change fairly quickly and we can handle the washer fluid and antifreeze stuff then with WI folks.

I don't think we're scared of the winter, but we'd rather not be surprised by something that people that live in it think is totally obvious. I imagine that will happen at some point anyway, but it'd be better if it were something minor. No matter where we end up, we'd prefer to live in an area where we can keep our driving to a minimum, but we might just have to take what we can get for the first year. I did look at the bus map for Madison, and it looks pretty well covered; hopefully we'll be somewhere on a decent bus line so the whole driving question becomes moot to a degree.

I think we're generally pretty good at exploring and figuring things out on our own, and we'll have plenty of time to do so. But, I might ask questions in the future more specific to where we're going, once we actually know the location.

If you're from San Diego, keep in mind that Madison is overwhelmingly liberal, which may turn you on or off depending on how you lean.

San Diego has been trending liberal for quite some time and probably flipped over to blue in the last ten years. My wife and I were ahead of the curve here. We'll be fine.
posted by LionIndex at 3:36 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you're not used to walking on ice and snow, I think cleats for your shoes or boots would be a good idea. (Another option is YakTrax.) I'm sure UW does a good job salting their sidewalks (since they don't want lawsuits) but residential areas will vary widely.
posted by desjardins at 3:38 PM on April 29, 2014

Welcome to Madison!

It looks like most of the driving/clothing issues are covered here, but one thing you might want to consider is getting garage parking when you are selecting somewhere to live. I've lived in Madison for 10 years, and for two years somewhere in the middle, my car had a spot in an underground parking garage. It was absolutely amazing in the winter and cut down on a lot of the winter car prep/shoveling/scraping/remote start issues everyone is talking about here. For me, it isn't something that I base my housing decisions on and I don't have a garage anymore, but if you are worried about cars and winter, a garage spot is a good way to cut down on a lot of inconvenience.
posted by mjcon at 4:43 PM on April 29, 2014

Response by poster: The Madison rental market is godawful, and geared almost entirely toward students. Coming from a place where actual grownups rent, we were SHOCKED at the (poor) quality of rentals available. Most leases turn over in August, most landlords are not flexible about this. The vacancy rate is around 2%. I’m also surprised UW said they could help you with housing… as a current UW-Madison postdoc, I was on my own. If they’re talking about the existence of University Housing, you should be aware that those facilities are pet-free. If you’re moving to Madison any time in the next 6 months, you should start looking now and you should NOT rent a place sight-unseen.

I've heard something to this effect, and just in browsing Madison craigslist, it's pretty apparent that the rental market for August is happening now. Unfortunately, we don't know that that's where we're going and we can't afford to fly out and scout around until we know. So, we might end up in a shitty situation for a year. Oh well.

My wife just talked to one of the PIs on the study on Saturday, who said they have a "contact" in Madison for housing or something - there were no promises made on getting anything, or quality or anything like that. We have no idea whether their contact is actually worth anything.
posted by LionIndex at 5:04 PM on April 29, 2014

LA native who went to grad school in IA after undergrad in/near Boston.

Long coat means ankle length.

I brought my car to IA, didn't winterize it but had it washed regularly and the fluids checked when I changed the oil every 3000 miles.
I had a shearling steering wheel cover which was also cooler in summer.

For me anything below low 20s F meant triple layers (pants, silk long Johns and wool tights) and a balaclava.
posted by brujita at 5:06 PM on April 29, 2014

Oh, and re: changing out of boots at work: not only do dedicated winter boots keep your feet warm and dry, but they also protect your nicer, more fragile normal shoes. By December the world will be covered with a half-inch-thick layer of salt, and there will be no way to avoid it. On warm days, it'll turn into a slush that leaves a cake of ice on whatever nice leather boots or shoes you're wearing around; plus you'll wear through the soles faster than you can imagine. So, keep your nice shoes at work, and don't wear them out on the sidewalks until there have been a number of torrential spring rains to clean things out.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:27 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know you've gotten a billion answers and lots of helpful advice. But I wanted to reiterate a couple of things, as someone who moved to Madison from southern Arizona.

1) You certainly won't need shoe cleats all the time, but I found them so handy to have around! Not every sidewalk, curb cut, or street is plowed or shoveled clear right after a storm, so I did more walking on packed snow or ice than I wanted to. Slip-on shoe cleats gave me a lot more confidence and made for easier walking around.

I don't care for the spiral-wire Yak Trax that other people have mentioned. Too slippery on bare spots between ice, and tended to fall apart quickly.

My favorite were icetrekkers Diamond Grip:

They look kind of graaar industrial, but I swear, the rubber strap just slips over the sole of your shoe or boot super-easily (I didn't even have to sit down to do it, just bent over and popped em on), they have a great grip on snow and ice, and they didn't slide on bare street or sidewalk in between.

2) Like you, I moved up there from a very sunny southwestern area. Do not underestimate the challenges of the change in latitude! I had an extremely rough first winter because of the super-short days and very early sunsets; I'd fall asleep by 6pm, didn't have the energy to go out and do anything, seasonal-affective low moods, etc.

When I realized the problem, I started treating it with Vitamin D and light, light, light. Full-spectrum light bulbs during my morning routine in the bathroom and kitchen, etc. I never bought a special light-treatment box, but don't rule it out if you feel you need it!
posted by theatro at 8:34 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Welcome to Madison! Lots of good advice here about hard winters. I just want to add that most people here don't do most of this stuff, and somehow most survive, without enough layers (or even a hat!) in this year's awful winter, without a shovel in their car, etc. So I suspect you'll be well prepared. If you bike/walk/wait for buses, you may want great gear and lighter stuff to change into at work, where your building will probably be overheated for some part of the year. But plenty of people have something like a big down coat that they wear over normal clothing to get from a to b.

I will second yaktrax or similar, especially for walking the dog or if campus gets completely iced over like it does sometimes. I have a continuing ankle injury from an ice fall and friends who've broken legs.

But also seconding embracing the winter. I moved here in the late 80s from the coast of North Carolina, and here it was 45F with rain and a killer wind--in August! Within a year I had learned to ski/snowshoe and found that I looked forward to actual winter (it helps to get you outside in the sunshine). It's the transitions that are tough.
posted by Mngo at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2014

I don't think we're scared of the winter, but we'd rather not be surprised by something that people that live in it think is totally obvious.

Ok, here goes: if you had grown up there, you would know that a good litmus test for whether the day is truly miserably cold is to pay attention to your first inhalation outdoors, and notice whether or not your boogers freeze.

Back me up on this, Midwesterners & Canadians.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:30 PM on May 1, 2014

Buy a pair of light brown Sorel Pac boots. If you wear boot cleat things (like Yak Trax), people will giggle when you have passed from hearing.

Pacs are super homely and very warm & dry: The One True Winter Boot. (Women may wear the ones with fluffy fur around the top; men may not.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:33 PM on May 1, 2014

I had a shearling steering wheel cover which was also cooler in summer.

Ooooh, they make shearling seat covers, too, which are awesome both summer and winter. My dad has never owned a car (AFAIK) without one of these.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:34 PM on May 1, 2014

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