What is it like to be cold?
October 17, 2018 7:59 PM   Subscribe

We (family of six plus a dog) are considering a move to a cold climate. I, coastal California born, have never lived anywhere where it routinely dropped below 50F. Walk me through the logistics of living in a climate where -20F is a thing.

In case it's relevant, the potential area of relocation is the Twin Cities in Minnesota, USA. We'd be looking at living in a house in an urban area with a driveway and a garage. Our kids at the point we'd be looking to move would range from tween to preschooler, and our dog is a small terrier.

I'm particularly interested in input from people who moved from warm areas to cold ones, but all are welcome to answer!

I'm interested in: what sort of gear to you buy for yourself, your kids, your dog, your car? What does it cost? What is your winter routine for getting self, spouse, kids out the door? Do you need to put small boots on your small dog before letting it out in the morning in the winter? How much does it all suck? Are there fun aspects to cold living? I have no frame of reference for a cold climate, so if you could paint me a picture of winter prep and life, and possibly also what sort of material goods and purchases it involves, I would be grateful.
posted by Wavelet to Home & Garden (107 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not to diverge from your question, but I found the hardest part of living in a cold climate was how short the daylight hours were in the winter and I was in Maryland. Be prepared for some major funks, especially in the first winter.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:10 PM on October 17, 2018 [14 favorites]

Former twin citian here.

Bear in mind that not only does it get cold in Minnesota, winter is sometimes seven months long.

Dressing appropriately is everything. A proper down coat with hat, boots, scarf, gloves, and possibly long underwear will make a big difference.

There is a lot of fun to be had in winter! Sledding, skiing, ice skating, winter carnival, and just admiring the beautiful snowfall.

Minnesotans handle winter well - plowing is pretty well organized, and people know how to drive in snow. Which is a whole set of skills.

Also, your snot will literally freeze.
posted by mai at 8:11 PM on October 17, 2018 [16 favorites]

I don't have kids or a dog so I can't speak to those experiences. But I grew up in Wisconsin.

The number one thing you need to know is dressing in LAYERS. Especially because indoor temperatures will be very different from outdoor temperatures and being able to take off layers when you're in a building that's much warmer is important. Or having extra layers when you're in a building that's drafty or has the heat at a lower temp than you personally prefer. I, for one, am a big fan of wearing thermals under my pants. I love wearing jeans but they do NOT keep your legs warm! But wearing something thick underneath is great when you're outside but uncomfortably hot indoors, so thermal long johns are great because they help in the cold without overheating you and forcing you to find a bathroom or private room to take them off. If not, then at least long, warm socks will help.

Important to note, at least in WI so probably also true for MN, winter is the DRY season. MOISTURIZE! Especially your face as the skin is often exposed to cold, dry air more than the rest of your body. But winter itch is a thing, so moisturizing all over is good practice. Freezing cold air is also harder to breathe, especially when running.

Save on heating your home with plastic or other kinds of insulation over the windows during the coldest parts of the year. This is more of an issue with older homes and newer places may have better insulation.

I have never been a car owner so my info may be out-of-date, but my parents always made sure to warm up the car first before driving in very cold temps. And definitely not inside the garage!

Culturally, there is a weird, macho (not gender-specific) kind of thing where people are proud of the lower temps that they can withstand. Be prepared for people to make cracks about your inability to handle the cold, even if they, themselves are shivering.
posted by acidnova at 8:14 PM on October 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

OK, this is going to be a pretty big transition, but you know that! I have lived in the Twin Cities and now live in Seattle - so not the same kind of difference, but enough that I have a sense of what the differences are.

- There are days in MN when it's literally not safe to have bare skin exposed to the air. Not every day, and not usually for weeks on end, but you will want gear for every person in your family that takes this into account. Everyone will need a heavy-duty long winter coat (good down to -20 at least) plus good mittens, wool socks, warm, waterproof boots, a hat that covers your ears, scarves/neck coverings that can also go up over your mouth and nose. You'll all want long underwear to wear if you're going to be spending time outside (bus commutes, walking the dog) but you probably won't want to wear it to work/school because then you'll get hot and sweaty. So the heavy winter coat is key.

- It sucks but Minnesotans do really know how to do winter. Your house will probably be well-insulated (don't buy a house that isn't). Downtown Minneapolis has a skyway. Things are designed so you can hustle from your car to your office/restaurant/store/whatever if needed. And Minnesotans do go outside in the winter! There are winter festivals and the art shanties, and regular life/cultural events/etc. all winter. People even bike commute in the winter, amazingly. Minnesotans also do hygge very well, in keeping with the state's Scandi roots. Lots of cozy restaurants and cafes with fireplaces. I suggest coming up with some winter rituals to make it fun rather than terrible. Maybe outdoors stuff like cross-country skiing/making snowmen. Maybe indoor things like roasting marshmallows in your fireplace (don't buy a house without a fireplace).

- My dad moved from LA to Boston 45 years ago and the one thing he never got used to was shoveling snow.

- Your dog may or may not need booties and a coat. Some dogs do, some don't. Probably best to buy them and try them out on cold days.
posted by lunasol at 8:14 PM on October 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

I forgot about the importance of extra socks.
posted by mai at 8:15 PM on October 17, 2018

One thing I actually miss about MN winter now that I live in Seattle is how sunny it is. It is really pretty beautiful.
posted by lunasol at 8:16 PM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh speaking of the sun, it can be intensely bright (without offering heat) and remain quite low for a long period of time which can be troublesome while driving. Sunglasses are a must.
posted by acidnova at 8:17 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh, and Anthony Bourdain once said Minneapolis has the best Vietnamese food in the US. Pho got me through several MN winters.
posted by lunasol at 8:18 PM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

A useful thing to have, there are gloves which work with smartphone screens. Buy those, because taking gloves off so you can use your phone outside sucks. They may not be very thick, so get good thick gloves for shoveling snow or if you plan to be outdoors for long periods of time.
posted by acidnova at 8:19 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm from a southern state and have now been in the Twin Cities for seven years. It snowed on Sunday. I was not happy about that but overall I really like it, even the winters.

- Echoing what others are saying about layers. I wear thin silk long johns five or six months out of the year some years.
- Wool socks. Thick and thin pairs, again for layering.
- Down coat with a hood.
- A thin pair of gloves with thinsulate or similar lining and a larger pair of mittens.
- Buffs instead of scarves.
- Really good boots. Not fashionable. Waterproof and lined.

If your preschooler will still be in a car seat, a fleece car seat poncho will make that easier.

Remote starter for the car so we don't have to go outside to start it.

Electric blanket on the bed, flannel sheets. Extra blankets all over the house. Hot chocolate on hand at all times.

Learn how to drive in the snow and give yourself an extra 20 minutes on snowy days, so you don't have to rush. I don't know how you teach that to kids, but we are working in it. Mass transit if you can - the buses are frequent and on time, so you can time your arrival at the bus stop pretty well.

Take up a winter hobby to help pass the time. Skiing is fun and so is skating. Hockey us a nightmare, practices start at 6 am on weekend days.

Get a SAD light - the short days are harder than the cold to me.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:26 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you know it's going to snow on a particular day after you park your car, you may want to prop up your car's windshield wipers so that they don't get stuck frozen.

Don't use hot water to try to rapidly melt ice off of a car as this can cause the car's windshield to shatter.

Don't use any method of heating an enclosed space that might cause suffocation.

I don't know about Minnesota but winter conditions where I live can result in very dry air. If that's a problem supply everyone with chapstik, be aware some people can get nosebleeds, etc.
posted by XMLicious at 8:30 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's amazing, you can live in a blanket for 8 months straight and it's comfortable and no one will judge you for it.

Try living in a blanket in Florida or July, even for a day. It just doesn't work.
posted by phunniemee at 8:34 PM on October 17, 2018 [25 favorites]

Check the day's weather forecast before leaving the house every day, winter and summer. Weather in the midwest is much less consistent than coastal California.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:35 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Learn how to drive in the snow and give yourself an extra 20 minutes on snowy days, so you don't have to rush.

I'd go further and buy a set of snow tires even if you already have all-season tires. Certainly not mandatory but they'll make easing into winter driving a lot easier.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:53 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Lifelong Minnesotan here. You're actually starting out ahead on several fronts, namely that you have a garage so presumably your car(s) will be in it and you won't be clearing snow off a car in the freezing pre-dawn darkness (this part suuuuuucks), and your kids are old enough to get their own snow gear on (the preschooler might need some help, but that's NOTHING compared to trying to stuff flailing babies and toddlers into their warm clothes).

Everyone who doesn't get to park in a heated garage pre-warms the car starting about 20 minutes before departure. You'll absolutely want remote starters installed in your vehicles so you don't even need to step outside. It's a few hundred bucks a car and it's 10000000000000000% worth it.

The dog doesn't need boots just to go in the yard (and they'll probably find it GREAT FUN bounding through the snow!) but I often see dogs wearing them (and dog coats or vests, too, if they're short-haired) for longer walks, but that's often about protecting their feet from sidewalk salt.

Keep jugs of windshield washer fluid in your car at all times; you go through it like crazy in winter and you don't ever want to run out. And YES, when you know a storm is coming, definitely put your windshield wipers up if your car will be parked outside (otherwise they get crusted with chunky ice and snow and don't wipe well once freed from the windshield). That and a good brush/scraper are pretty much all I do for the car.

You're all going to want GOOD, insulated boots and down coats with collars and hoods. The easiest way to identify someone who just arrived from a warmer place in time for their first Minnesota winter is that they're wearing the sort of lightweight V-necked pea coat that passes as a winter coat in most other climates. Wool socks. Mittens instead of gloves. Hats instead of earbands or earmuffs. Fleece-lined leggings or tights. I know some people who wear fleece-lined jeans. I've never worn long underwear under my clothes on the regular but plenty of people do (the silk or other ultra-thin kinds).

Flannel sheets are nice, electric mattress pads are way better. Sliding into a pre-warmed bed is one of winter's greatest joys. Cozy lighting is key: candles, twinkle lights, do it up like crazy. Automatic thermostat to drop the house temps at night and raise them a half hour or so before everyone starts getting up; it really saves on winter's astronomic heating bills.

If you're going to be in an urban area, the city will call "snow emergencies" and you'll need to park on certain sides of the street so the plows can come through and do their thing. There are apps that tell you what to do. In theory, they're supposed to tow cars that don't move but usually they just plow around them and it sucks for everyone, both the car that just got plowed in and the people who live on that street because their street just got narrower and harder to navigate. With every storm, the side/residential streets grow narrower until only one car can pass at a time and we're all stuck with this arrangement until we get a good thaw. People walk, run, and bike all winter log; the walking paths around the lakes are often cleared before the streets are!

If the sun is out, that means it's COLDER than when it's gray and cloudy and ugh, so dress and plan accordingly.

It lasts forever, but it can be fun. There really is a strong "we're all in this together" vibe, people help each other dig out from storms, post pics on social media, do bonfires and hold soup and cookie swaps, etc. Winter hiking and cross-country skiing are always a gorgeous escape when the city starts to look gray and slushy and gross. There's tons to do...the art shanties, pond hockey championships, kite festivals, Stillwater ice castles, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, and so on; people are definitely not ensconced in their homes just waiting for spring. There are often several days each winter where the temperature climbs into the twenties and thirties (that's tropical for Minnesota) and the whole city comes out to play.
posted by anderjen at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2018 [18 favorites]

Nthing what everyone's said above, but I wanted to address your dog-related questions. We don't put booties on our dog when she goes out in the yard, but we do when walking her on the roads in the winter. The chemicals they use to de-ice the roads can hurt dog feet. And if your dog has a lot of fur between its pads, you should check to make sure ice doesn't get stuck there and cause damage.

Oh, and your elementary school-age kids will need snow pants and snow boots for outdoor recess. I think most districts try to get the kids outside unless there's a dangerous windchill.

(FWIW -- I don't find snow boots really necessary, personally. As long as you've got some shoes or boots with some water-resistance and some good socks you'll be fine, unless you plan to do a lot of walking in the winter. I also don't have snow tires on my car, and never have in 20+ years of living here.)

Does it suck, living in the cold? Sometimes, sure. The short days aren't super great. You get pretty damn tired of looking at old, dirty snow by February. But *everyone* is feeling that way, and we're all happy to commiserate.
posted by Janta at 9:03 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Product to know about: inexpensive rubber ice cleats which stretch over shoes or boots can prevent you from falling on slippery ice.

A related detail I don't think has been mentioned: you may need to buy and regularly restock sand or salt to spread on icy outdoor walking surfaces.

Also, when people come indoors after being out in snow, the snow adhered to their shoes will melt and leave large puddles or soaked carpet. So there are rubber and plastic trays you can buy for everyone to place their shoes on.
posted by XMLicious at 9:04 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Granted, I am a weirdo who loves winter in Buffalo, but that's because (a) I'm not dead inside and (b) winter is awesome! It's great!

Things that are great about winter:

*The morning after a snowstorm when there's fresh snow everywhere and it looks like your favorite deity has festooned the whole world with cotton candy and there's SO MUCH LIGHT bouncing off of everything and the sky is this particular kind of clear you only get in winter where it's just... hard.

*If they do that in MSP, people putting up their Christmas decorations and it looks like a damn postcard instead of, like when we were in the Dallas area, an inflatable snowman on a dead brown yard.

*SLEDS ARE GREAT! Note: sleds require hills, which might or might not be in abundance in and near MSP. Our suburb of Buffalo is flat enough that a nearby park has a small artificial hill. You are allowed to sled as an adult too! Or tube!

*Throwing snowballs at your beloved is great! Warning: sometimes throwing snowballs at your beloved results in your beloved scooping up snow and putting it down the back of your neck. This is the world's greatest injustice when it happens to you and hilarious when you're doing it.

*Taking a walk in a big, heavy snowstorm, watching the snow swirl around, especially if it's in big flakes. Catching one on your tongue, seeing it build up on your coat. Walking through this world that's gone away, like you're in the world's thickest fog.

*Waking up in the morning and knowing that there's fresh snow because of just how much light is pouring through the window.

*Throwing snowballs to the dogs. The entire yard is full of snow but they go absolutely berserk for me to throw a snowball somewhere, and then they go find the special snow I threw and bring it back to me.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:05 PM on October 17, 2018 [24 favorites]

For me, living in Maine, it's more of like if my hands get cold. The other thing that bothers me is my chest. My Grammie always said, wear a scarf, and she wasn't kidding. If you can keep your chest warm, by whatever means, you can survive the cold. It makes sense, keep your core warm, but Grammie always knows best.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:10 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The first thing I learned when I moved to Chicago was that fashion takes a backseat to function. Do not worry about the silly hat or the mittens. Wear them. Wear the warm coat. To me, the key is keeping your feet dry. Wear boots. Waterproof your leather boots.

If you go to an outside event such as a football game, bring cardboard to put between the cement and your feet where you are sitting. I cannot tell you how much that helped me at a Green Bay Packers game once.

Chop or buy a lot of wood for the fireplace. There is nothing more glorious than a roaring fire on a Sunday afternoon.

I have a house in the Adirondacks. One of the things I love is when January rolls around and I can drive my truck on the lake. Lots of fun. Can practice driving on ice and snow. When it is windy, wear ski goggles. Help your eye SOOOOO much.

Come tax time when the winter is coming to an end, you and your family will be so proud you made it through another winter unscathed.
posted by AugustWest at 9:18 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

A couple more notes about cars:
1) As mentioned, you'll want to get a second set of special winter tires. Winter driving in snow is very different, and you'll need to drive extremely cautiously, especially at first. Having an ice-scraper/snow brush in your car is an absolute necessity.
2) You may need to use a different antifreeze and/or motor oil in your car.
3) In general, compared to California, life is harder for cars in cold climates, especially if you drive older cars. Batteries will need replacing more often, undercarriage parts will corrode.
4) If you're buying a new car, AWD can be a very nice thing to have.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:20 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

There really is a strong "we're all in this together" vibe

That's the thing I take away from friends who moved to MN from more temperate places and have got through a lot of winters. There's the understanding that winters are done collectively: you do your own bit in terms of shovelling and preparedness, help out where it's needed, and if you need help it'll be offered to you.
posted by holgate at 9:24 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also just to note:

If you've spent your life in that stretch of coastal CA where it never freezes and only rarely breaks 80F, you will find summer at least as shocking as winter. I haven't spent summer in MSP, but you should expect long stretches of highs over 85 with high humidity and for it to approach or break 100F most years.

Same with daylight -- the short days of winter take some getting used to, but so does that stretch of June and July when the sun is rising at 4:something and it's not fully dark until around 10.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:26 PM on October 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

I moved my Floridian husband to the frigid Midwest and he's not dead yet! (And he bikes all winter long.)

Your first winter you're going to want a Lands' End catalog and to buy everybody a really good parka. (For kids, I really like the ones with Grow-A-Long sleeves, a Lands' End thing where they've basically made a hem in the arms of the coat that lets out another inch of length when you snip a red thread, which lets you get two years out of a kids' coat (or finish a year if they're fast-growing that year!)) Parkas need to COVER YOUR BUTT. Your glutes are some big damn muscles generating a lot of warmth, and if they're insulated by your coat, you're going to be a lot warmer because you're not losing all that nice butt-heat. A lot of people like parkas that cover their thighs too, but that's more personal, it impedes motion a bit. You'll want a hood on your parka.

Everyone will then need hats (I like them to fit tight to the head so it's easy to pull the hood up over if you want to, but that's personal and style-inflected), gloves or mittens, and boots. For kids who will be playing in the snow, you'll want those ski gloves. For me, I use the cheap stretchy ones and stuff them in the pockets of all my coats. When it's REALLY cold I wear mittens, keeps your fingers warmer when they're all huddled together. If you have elementary school students, school will most likely have a winterwear policy for recess -- at our school, below a certain temperature kids aren't allowed outside for recess without hats and gloves, and they must have snowpants & boots to play in the snow. (Snowpants I usually buy cheap at Target or get as hand-me-downs, they don't get nearly as much wear as a coat.) For adults you will want scarves. My husband wears a cashmere scarf that's warm and looks nice for work; I like this ridiculous 10-foot slubby purple thing that I can wrap around my head like four times. If you tuck the ends of your scarf down behind your coat zipper, you'll get less wind through the zipper. (Your parka will have a flap covering the zipper for exactly that reason, but you might have a fleece jacket that doesn't, or a dressy wool coat.) The first year I would plan on $150/person for winter outerwear, but it'll be a lot cheaper after that, since the kids will often be able to wear the same coat for two years and you'll build up a critical mass of hats and mittens and scarves.

You'll teach your kids to stuff their mittens into their hat, and their hat into their coat arm. Always clean their coat pockets before washing their parkas, it is unreasonable how much weird stuff they acquire in parka pockets! Winter in the midwest can be very gray, and a lot of people really like brightly-colored coats to cheer themselves up a bit, and men in business suits and black wool overcoats generally have a pop of color with their scarf. Don't be afraid to pick brightly-colored winter coats for YOU where every time you see it you feel a bit cheerier that you get to put on cardinal red or whatever.

Silk long underwear is much warmer than cotton, AND it's super-thin and comfortable. I don't ever bother (I'm cold-natured and prefer the cold), but my husband loves his long underwear in the winter.

There will be a week or two in winter where it's really too cold for the kids to play outdoors, and you will get hard-core cabin fever. I try to keep a few toys hidden away for this.

When it's REALLY frigid outside in the midwest, it's actually not so bad, because there's usually no wind, so going from the house to the car or to take out the garbage isn't terrible because you're just slowly diffusing body heat rather than having it RIPPED AWAY FROM YOU by a howling wind. (Also when it's REALLY frigid the stargazing is amazing because the air is so dry and clear and there are no clouds at all, but you have to go inside every 15 minutes so your fingers don't freeze off.)

Since I live in a flat part of the world, I don't have to do anything to my car for winter except make sure I have adequate brushes and scrapers for getting the snow off of it. You'll want to make sure you're winter-ready the first time (anti-freeze, appropriate oil, wiper fluid, tires), but if you're just doing city driving in a relatively flat place, you can get four-season most-stuff these days. I have tires that are rated well for rain and snow and don't have to bother with winter tires. If you end up somewhere hilly or otherwise featuring special driving needs, you may need to do more to winterize the car.

My husband has one of those daylight lamps because the lack of light in the winter really gets to him.

We're not really winter sports people, but we enjoy the season anyway. The kids like playing in the snow, we go sledding, my husband bikes all winter regardless of the weather. Winter tends to be a very social time of year since people aren't out hiking or swimming or whatever, so they throw parties.

I will tell you I actually only gave in and bought a parka last year -- after college, I had just worn wool coats and fleeces and things for years and years and years and FINALLY last year when we had the polar vortex that went on forEVER I was like "FINE YOU WIN I WILL GET A PARKA." It wasn't a statement or anything, I was just warm enough in my wool coats and managed fine without a parka!

"If the sun is out, that means it's COLDER than when it's gray and cloudy and ugh, so dress and plan accordingly."

SO MUCH THIS. It fakes transplants out. It's never technically "too cold to snow" (meteorology nerds like to nitpick this), but in the midwest, when it gets really cold, there's no moisture in the air and no clouds in the sky and it is TOO COLD TO SNOW and it's sunny and still and beautiful. BUT REALLY COLD.

Oh, get at least three good snowshovels, ideally with different kinds of handles so you can experiment a bit, and swap shovels when your back starts to get achy. (Three because if one breaks, both adults can still shovel at once.) And Target sells teeny kid-sized snow shovels and we have one for every kid because they are young enough to think shoveling is fun and two of them are old enough to actually clear some sidewalk. When the snow is really sticky, I spray Pam cooking spray on my shovel to help it slide off better.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:27 PM on October 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

Everyone in your family will probably need:
Jackets in at least two or three different levels of warmth, ranging from a fleece or equivalent to a really warm down jacket.

same with gloves and mittens, ranging from lightweight liner gloves to really warm down mittens

a couple of different winter hats (at least one of them with good ear coverage), a balaclava or face mask, maybe a fleece ear warmer headband

insulated snow boots

thick wool socks

long underwear

water resistant snow pants, fleece pants
A lot of this stuff can be purchased at thrift or consignment stores so it doesn't have to be horribly expensive. If you bought it all new you might be looking at $800 to outfit an adult.

The winter routine for getting everyone out the door is not much different from summer, except that if your car is parked outside you need to go out and scrape the ice off the car windows and brush off the snow, and sometimes shovel snow. (We have someone come to plow the driveway, but we have to shovel a path to the driveway and shovel any drifted snow around the cars.) Everyone puts on a warm coat and snow boots before they head out. The worst thing is when it warms enough to rain on top of the snow and then it gets cold again and leaves the driveway covered with a sheet of ice. We keep a bin of sand on hand for when this happens and a few times a winter I may need to spend an hour spreading sand before we can go anywhere. (We have a really long, steep driveway. You probably won't have to deal with this.)

You'll need to buy a snow shovel and maybe a snow blower and ice scrapers/snow brushes for your cars. Maybe chains, but you probably won't need them if you're in an urban area. You'll probably want snow tires.

It doesn't suck at all as far as I'm concerned. Falling snow is beautiful. The world is beautiful after a fresh snowfall. Your kids will love playing in the snow. (Make sure you get some sleds.) Sometimes you get surprise snow days and you get to stay home and be cozy. (Or go out and play in the snow. Or both.) You can have a white Christmas! You can build a snowman. You can learn to ski.

And spring is extra wonderful when it comes after a long, cold winter. You'll love seeing everything come to life again, smelling those spring smells, feeling the warm sun. Summer will be extra wonderful too, because it will be such a contrast to winter. Having four distinct seasons is really fun and means you always have a change to look forward to.
posted by Redstart at 9:28 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I moved to the Twin Cities from NYC (but before that I used to live in the coldest city on Earth, according to Wikipedia). A few things.

1) An AWD is a must. If you do not have AWD, you will regret it. Getting stuck, sliding into a ditch on the side of the highway, or getting in an accident because you are unable to maneuver properly are all common scenarios on snowfall days. Spend the money on an AWD.

2) On a related note, if you can afford an attached garage, do it, it's a god sent in the winter. Similarly, if you can afford covered parking at work, do it. If you have those two ends covered, you barely need to experience the cold.

3) You may discover that you have SAD (seasonal affective disorder a.k.a. the winter blues). It's not about the temperature but rather not enough sunshine. It may manifest as sadness or a lack of energy. Someone mentioned the lights for this but also, take Vitamin D and join a gym with a sauna, it really helps.

4) Actually feeling cold is optional, the Twin Cities just doesn't have temperatures low enough to make anyone suffer who isn't trying to (say I as someone who grew up in the coldest city on Earth). Proper winter clothing is key. On the higher end you will spend about $1,500 per adult but only once (much less if you buy second hand, and much less for kids). I have no tolerance to cold whatsoever but I do fine in my Patagonia snow pants and ski jacket on the coldest days when I have to be outside for some time, and for work/errands my Uniqlo heat tech long underwear is enough to keep me plenty warm without adding bulk.

All in all, it's just not as bad as everyone imagines from afar. I am not a fan of cold weather or snow at all, and I think the Twin Cities is awesome.
posted by rada at 9:29 PM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

A dynamic it's probably good to keep in mind as a parent: someone who ends up overdressed for the day's weather, if they're hot enough to sweat underneath all the clothing or are just exerting themselves playing and sledding and stuff, can become dehydrated. Which is a bit counterintuitive, when everything is covered in frozen water.

You'll probably want to know the signs and symptoms of frostbite. Gross pictures of severe cases at that link... when I was a kid, the most common thing was people getting mild cases of it on exposed cheeks and noses on windy days. One approach to avoiding that is to get loosely-knit scarves which you can wrap over your face but still breathe through. Or if you want to play Family SWAT Team there are balaclavas.
posted by XMLicious at 9:29 PM on October 17, 2018

I know people stan for AWD in snowy areas but I've been driving in Chicago winters my whole life and I have literally never felt any urge for AWD ... flat, urban driving is generally fine without it. I didn't even get anti-lock brakes until fairly recently. AWD has some real benefits and it may be helpful to you as a novice winter driver, but if you've got a car you like and weren't really looking to buy a new one, don't go racing out just for the AWD. 2-wheel drive is fine for most of us!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:38 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

The hardest thing for me, moving from a PNW-type climate to frozen nightmare was how hard it can be to stay active during the long, cold, dark months. I learned to skate the winter before last, got skates of my own last winter, and am actually looking forward (sort of) to cold weather and outdoor skating this year.
posted by bibliotropic at 9:52 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I made a less drastic move, but NC to NYC was still a shock. A lot of what I'd suggest has been covered, but I just want to emphasize the long underwear. I start wearing it at like 40 degrees. It makes zero sense to me that so many natives are fine with leaving nothing but a single layer of denim between their skin and the cold when they've got multiple layers of down and wool everywhere else!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:12 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

You’ve received lots of excellent and upbeat advice about cold weather survival, and that’s great.

But speaking as someone who has done the California-to-frozen East Coast wasteland move (more than once!) out of bitter career necessity: it sucks enormously and I hate it and I am counting the seconds until I can move back to a place with a climate fit for humans.

Your mileage may vary! But there really are people who just can’t adapt, and don’t let winter evangelists tell you differently.

I hate winter. I get depressed in winter. I see no redeeming qualities in winter. Lights and vitamin D and lots of gym exercise and healthy eating and whatever else they advise you to do all do absolutely nothing to help for me. And yes, I do own extremely good and extremely warm winter gear, and I know how to layer: it’s definitely better than *bad* winter gear, but it still only makes winter roughly 0.5% less heinous for me.

I pretty much only survive these days by negotiating for remote work and business travel during January and February. I am never not going to hate winter. And that is fine! It takes all types. I am just the type that cannot survive in places without palm trees.

You may adore winter - many people do! But you and your family may also be just like me, and I’d encourage you to really take that possibility into account. Don’t take this lightly or assume everyone will find it tolerable. Could you try renting a place first and seeing how you feel about it?
posted by faineg at 10:12 PM on October 17, 2018 [13 favorites]

I just want to add that some people have extra fat and some people don't and that makes a huge difference in cold weather. My husband is never cold, ever. He's got that brown fat keeping him warm. I was always cold, always, anything less than 70 degrees was freezing until I became pregnant and got to experience the joys of being a hot person. This will really make the difference for your family. Are you all cold people, hot people - or a mix. The mix will be interesting because one person is constantly turning up the heat, while the other is opening the windows. Enjoy!
posted by Toddles at 10:39 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be prepared to use tons of tissues. Your noses will run all the time, just from going in and out. Get the lotion kind, because a chapped nose is a miserable, miserable thing.
posted by cookie-k at 10:59 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I moved from a decade in Montreal (and a lifetime in the frozen parts of Canada) to Santa Cruz for a year, and honestly, I was colder in Santa Cruz a lot of the time. In Montreal, if it’s -30 outside, people heat their homes to 74. In Santa Cruz, if it’s 55 degrees outside, it’s 55 degrees inside. Depending on where on the coast you are living and whether you intend to buy a very good winter coat, you might well be just fine.
One thing I haven’t seen mentioned here is that in Montreal we always budgeted a week away to a hot and sunny place around Feb or March because the winter really gets to you after awhile.
posted by andreapandrea at 11:23 PM on October 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

I also want to point out that GCU Sweet and Full of Grace is spot-on with their comment. Summers in the upper midwest can be really tough. I could go weeks in the summer when I lived in LA without turning on the AC but that's nearly impossible when it's 85+ degrees with high humidity. AC is essential, especially because nights are nearly as hot as the days - you don't get that sweet relief of having the temperature drop 20 degrees. Summers also tend to have very intense storms because there is so much heat and humidity during the day that when a bit of cool air comes in, it explodes with thunderstorms and heavy rain. It doesn't mean that you can't have gorgeous summer days but sometimes there are stretches that are pretty miserable. And mosquitos.

When watching the weather, pay attention to the wind chill temps in the winter and the heat index in the summer.
posted by acidnova at 12:47 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Great advice upthread so just to add something so obvious:

If you are up at 6 and its pitch black out and you need to get to work and there is thick ice crusted on your windshield and the scraper isn't working to crack it... DO NOT grab a bowl of hot water from the kitchen and try to melt the ice, your exhausted lizard brain is lying to you, that windshield will be hella expensive to replace.
posted by athirstforsalt at 1:10 AM on October 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

North Dakota resident here. A lot of good advice, but a couple things to add:

-It is often not how cold it gets but how long winter lasts that gets to people. Snow in October (or April) isn't uncommon. Except early or late in the season, the snow sticks around and doesn't melt off. This was an adjustment to me, as I've lived in the midwest my whole life, although a bit further south. I found out the hard way to clear the entire driveway and not just a path for my car. Because the path will get narrower and narrower as more snow gets piled to the sides. The snow piles can also impact visibility at road intersections, so watch out!

-Besides tires, check your battery in the car. I bought new, but even then on cold days I would have to crank for a while and replaced the battery after 4 years (thanks Subaru for cheaping out and not putting in a battery with enough cold cranking amps).

-When in a garage, snow can melt off your cars and create giant puddles. A garage floor with a built in drain is a very nice upgrade if you can find it.

-Watch for ice damming on the roof. When enough heat escapes from the house to melt the snow on the roof, it then can refreeze on the edges. It can cause water to get into the walls and damage them. Have your inspector check for proper insulation and venting before buying, and maybe get a snow rake to get heavy snow off the roof.

Welcome to the frozen north!
posted by weathergal at 2:08 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

I live in Toronto (which by Canadian standards is a rather warm city, probably just a little colder than Chicago) and I hate, hate, hate the cold. I spend as much time as possible huddled under an electric blanket and feeling brutally depressed by the short days and cold dark slushy mucky damp cold grossness.

City snow isn't white and pretty once it's been on the ground for more than 2 hours. It's stained grey by exhaust and leaves salt stains on your clothes and sinks into your soul. There's less parking because snowbanks block the spots, and you have to chip ice and sleet off the car with a plastic chisel. Your hands freeze. Your boogers freeze. You can't go outside with damp hair or it freezes. You can't dry your clothes on the line. Your sweater is itchy. You get dry skin. You get sick all the time. You get depressed, for real. You don't want to go anywhere. People bail on social engagements because they just can't with the cold darkness. You buy $40 leather gloves and then lose one in the snow. You need a dressy coat and a down coat and a medium warmth coat and a million sweaters. You come in from outside and your clothes drip snow everywhere and your boots leave puddles of salty muck in the house. You have to own and dryclean and store 4x the clothing to suit up properly for a damp spring, a hot summer, a cool fall, and a frigid winter. Ugh winter.

I wish to gawd I lived in California. I grew up in this climate, I've owned all manner of winter gear, I've dabbled in winter sports, and I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed the winter for even a single full 24-hour period.

In my very experienced opinion, the only good part of winter is when it's done. It does feel pretty special in the spring, when the temperature hits 10 degrees- which to a Californian would probably feel like cold so dank it's the end of the world- but Canadians put on wrinkled shorts and tromp through the mud and all the dogpoopy garbagey horrors revealed when months-old-snowbanks melt, so they can flock to patios and sunbathe in the thinnest sunbeams imaginable, and I do it too, because we're all so starved for sun, it's hilarious and adorable.

I hope you like it more than me? But you really might not, so I highly recommend you visit and experience it- take transit, walk around, imagine doing the boring parts of life in a February snowstorm, like walking your dog at 7am and then mopping slushy pawprints, or scraping the car, or walking home with groceries- before committing to the move!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:46 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

There'll a big mental adjustment w/r/t just leaving the friggin' house in the winter. In California, you pretty much get up, open the door and step outside. But when it's winter in a cold climate, it's putting on the heavy socks and the boots and the coat and the scarf and the mittens and the hat. It takes time and effort just to get the newspaper from the mailbox.

Multiply that by the number of people in your household whenever you're going somewhere as a family. So when you are looking at places to live, consider the layout of the entryways. Are there enough clothes hooks for coats, a place to put a storage bin for hats and mittens, an area to hold a drain tray for wet boots, room for a chair to sit down to pull boots off? If there are individual cubbies for each person, well then, buy that house.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:49 AM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound like a weird and unrelated suggestion - but get a slow cooker.

I make this suggestion because you are going to really want to eat warm, filling, and comforting things in winter; big hearty stews and soups and things that have been simmering all day. Slow cookers are good for these.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on October 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

I want to chime on in behalf of those who have said they have never ever adjusted to winter and loathe it, because this is exactly how I feel — about summer. I’ve from Southern California (the Los Angeles basin, so it’s pretty mild) and I’ve been living in humid four-season climates for over a decade now, and every muggy, gross, humid, sticky summer I find more intolerable than the last. Every year I almost cry (with joy) that first brisk day in the fall when the humidity finally breaks and I’m free for another 9 months.

This is not at all what I predicted when I moved from LA to the Northeast, and it surprises Northeast/Midwest natives to this day: you just don’t know how you are going to react. As it turns out, I love winter and hate, hate, hate summer. So I want to underline the point that you may have a very different seasonal reaction, to winter and/or summer, than you may expect.

I second the advice to moisturize heavily in the winter and also to NOT TRUST THE WEATHER VISUALLY. I remember growing up in California and looking outside and deciding what kind of day it was going to be based on the blue skies or lack thereof. This heuristic does not work in the Midwest.

Shoveling has been mentioned a couple of times in this thread — it feels silly, but please read up on proper snow shoveling technique before you do it. It seems like common sense, but snow is heavy and it’s easy to hurt or throw out your back if you’re not doing it properly or with the wrong muscles. It’s also somewhat more taxing than you think (the cold temperatures kind of disguise that from you, but it’s quite a workout.)

Finally on the shoveling side, if you have a medium to major storm (like 8 inches or more) it is better to shovel mid-storm and then again at the end, instead of waiting until it’s done to shovel all at once. This may seem like ludicrous advice, but it’s so much easier to shovel freshly fallen snow than snow that has gotten packed.
posted by andrewesque at 4:39 AM on October 18, 2018 [8 favorites]

What is it like to be cold?

It sucks and I hate it, even though I've lived with it all my life. Layering is key. You're going to want to wear three layers up top and two down below (get yourself several pairs of quality longjohns) plus heavy socks, and that's before outerwear. And you'll still be cold, cold in your very bones.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:39 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

This might be obvious, but it wasn’t to me: when winter is in full swing, the accumulated snow sticks around for ages and doesn’t fully melt. Depending on how much it snows and whether there are any surprise days above freezing, you might be looking at that snow for weeks to months on end. It’ll get dirty in spots, and the surface will partially melt and refreeze several times so it can build up a hard slick crust that’s no fun to walk or play in. Be really thorough with your shoveling and get your walkways as bare and dry as possible so they don’t get icy. If you’re doing a shortcutty trudge through the snow to get to the garbage can in the side yard, it will be fine the first time or two but you’ll end up with a path of solid ice.

The combination of the ongoing coating of snow, bare trees, overcast skies, and the overall reduced daylight can feel pretty bleak. You might go outside at noon for your daily I’m Fucking Fighting SAD Goddammit walk and feel discouraged because outside looks like a faded black-and-white photo.

It helps to surround yourself with people who have compatible (not necessarily identical) attitudes toward winter. There are people who love it, people who think it sucks but kind of enjoy the adversity, and people who just haaaaaaaate winter with every fiber of their frozen miserable being. The middle group is the easiest to get along with; the people who love winter and the people who hate winter generally do not benefit from each other’s perspective.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:56 AM on October 18, 2018

You've gotten so much good advice upthread. No need to repeat any of it. Some of this may be out of date but growing up in crappy snow area there was always an annual winter car prep besides putting on the snow tires. The following items went in the trunk or each car or the back seat / hatch area. We were in the country. You're in the city. But just in case you get sidelined somewhere. Jug of extra wiper fluid. Bag of sand for extra weight and for under the wheels just in case you got stuck. Old extra pair of boots and mittens just in case. Bunch of extra snacks/food. A sleeping bag.
posted by Gotanda at 5:22 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Teach your kids now to stow their gloves/hat/scarves/layers properly (out of the house: gloves in hat, hat in sleeve or gloves in pocket, hat in sleeve; in the house, In the basket unless wet in which case on the rack over the vent). Otherwise you will spend a fortune in gloves/mittens. Also hours of your life.

Gloves/mitts: 2 pairs high-quality per child, plus extras that are cheap (I buy the $1 stretchy knit gloves + four dollar knit mitts, to layer on hands that have lost good gloves, plus a dollar pair in the bottom of a backpack for “I lost my gloves at recess.”

Snow pants: one good pair, one cheap/used/hand-me-down per child for the inevitable loss or big tear the night before the school skating party. Boots: ditto, we do a winter pair and an “all-season” neoprene pair as a winter backup.

On that note, mornings with kids and snow. If it has newly snowed, add 45+ minutes for shovelling, driving. Add 20 minutes to your current leaving routine for layering, lost scarf, and having to pee after snow pants are on.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:26 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am going to math you up briefly with my formula for What to Wear based on Temperature. We start with a unit called a LAYER. We define layer as a single thickness of clothing. Some single items can count double, e.g. parkas with a zip-in liner (two layers), winter boots with a wool insert (two layers). Extra-thick items can also count double, snow pants can be two layers, a down parka without a liner may count two, with the liner, three. gloves and hats usually count 2 for normal, 4 for thick.

Now, you need to know how many layers you should wear given outside temperatures for a moderate level of activity. This calculation is done in degrees C but it's just a simple chart. Take the average temperature expected, subtract it from 30, and divide by 10. This is the number of layers you'll want for prolonged (20min or longer), moderate activity (walking, e.g.).

86F / 30C - or higher - no layers
68F / 20C - one layer
50F / 10C - two layers
32F / 0C - three layers
14F / -10C - four layers
-4F / -20C - five layers
-22F / -30C - six layers
-40F / -40C - seven layers

For hats and gloves you can usually subtract a layer to start, e.g. at -10C you may only need heavy winter gloves and a thick toque, but colder than that you'll need liners, balaclavas, neck gaiters, etc. On the other hand, never short-change your feet: cold/wet feet are the absolute worst thing and will suck the warmth out of every other part of you. Wise money packs extra dry socks if you'll be dealing with slush or precipitation, wise money also makes sure boots stay waterproof with spray and patch if necessary. Don't NEVER wear boots with cracks or holes in, throw them out ASAP.

If you'll be sitting for a long period, ADD a layer, your body isn't making as much heat. If you'll be very active, like running or shovelling snow, SUBTRACT a layer, and make sure your inner layers can dissipate moisture or when it condenses you'll be miserable.

Okay so is all VERY GENERAL but gives you an idea of what you'll need to deal with, and how much of it. Also remember, if you're transitioning between places of different temperatures, like home and commuting and office, you'll need to be able to be presentable at multiple layering levels.

Buying SO MANY fucking layers of clothing, and knowing how to wear them, and when to wear which, and how to take care of them, and making sure there is a place for them to drip dry if needed, and having MULTIPLE COPIES of some things in case the first copy is still wet and you need to go out again (happens more often than you can imagine) is the worst thing about coming to the Great White North (I used to live in Florida). I think it is not really possible to over-buy winter clothing. That said, second-hand stores are usually absolutely FULL of this stuff in the spring, so you can save mucho buckos as long as you are careful to only buy stuff that is in good repair (no tears or holes).

I don't like winter, despite growing up in Massachusetts -- I spent my first adult life in Florida, but now 15 years into my second life in Ontario I've reached an understanding with it: I will get a little bit fatter, I will spend more time inside, and I will EAT SO MUCH SOUP and drink SO MUCH TEA. I guess that's the best part of winter, is that eating huge bowls full of extremely tasty just-off-the-boil liquid seems like a really great idea while six months earlier it was all I could do not to just stand in the frozen food section. Ahh, variety.

My partner loves winter, though: it is beautiful at times, and unlike places that are always green, it reinforces the cycle of the years as they go by. There's always change, and that can be beautiful. Things to look forward to, things to enjoy as they pass.

One last bit of advice: find social things to participate in ASAP. Do some volunteering, join a club, pick up a part time job if you're under-employed, because when winter sets in it's very easy to feel totally isolated, especially if you're living in the burbs. People's social networks often shrink a bit when it's 20-30 minutes to get ready to "go out" so casual encounters are rather rare.

Good luck, etc!
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:46 AM on October 18, 2018 [8 favorites]

I've lived in the Twin Cities my entire life. The above advice is good, but the cold is not always that big a deal. If your routine is home->car->work->car->groceries->car->home, then you're indoors and climate controlled 99% of your day, and it doesn't make a bit of difference whether you dress in layers or have the right kind of long underwear. Most people wear the same wardrobe all year round, excepting shorts and flip-flops.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:09 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Snow clearing tips:

1) Driveway: Prioritize budgeting for a snow plow service. The way it works is you hire them in advance to come by every time it snows more than X amount. This way the only things you need to deal with are the berms at the end of the driveway that happen when the street plows go by and any walkways you have. Depending on your municipality, there may be sidewalk plows. If not, it's typically your responsibility to clear them.

2) Shoveling. Get a light shovel, because snow is heavy. Push the snow any time you can rather than lifting it and throwing it. I find that if you are getting a lot of snow at once, shoveling when a little bit has accumulated and then shoveling again later is more manageable than doing it all at once.

3) Ice-melting. After shoveling, make sure you put down salt/ice-melt stuff where you or others walk to keep it safe and less slippery.

It's a horror show if you don't keep up with clearing snow, and it's hard by hand. If you own a snow blower, it can be like having to mow the lawn before you go to work in order to get your car out. If you don't, it's a strong, long workout.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:11 AM on October 18, 2018

I live in a cold climate with a small dog, and the first thing I have to do in the morning after a snowfall - yes, even before coffee! - is pull some boots on over my jammie pants and go shovel a path in the backyard so she can pee - it doesn't take much snow to flummox a dog who's only 3 inches off the ground. Generally I keep a decent-sized toilet area cleared out, with snow walls around it as a windbreak. When the wind chill gets really harsh, we go back to using pee pads indoors; she'll use them if they're down, and when the weather improves she's happy to switch back to going outside - she doesn't forget her house-training but she's perfectly capable of doing a cost/benefit analysis and choosing to pee indoors rather than face a cold wind. If your dog has some fur, they might love the snow... but my near-naked chihuahua definitely does not.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:15 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lot of good ideas here. Apologies if mine are repeats.
1) Get humidifiers for, at least, bedrooms.
2) Buy plant-and-pet-safe snow melt for your sidewalks and driveway. (Petco sells it.) We almost killed a rose one winter with salt.
3) Get a bird feeder. It makes your yard more alive.
4) Look forward to and then celebrate the Winter Solstice in whatever way you want. The worst of the cold and the most of the snow are ahead of you, but the light lasts longer every day.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 6:17 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

I hate being cold, and I hate wasting energy by heating an entire house when I'm only in one place. Solution: space heaters. And a bathroom heater, which is my absolute favorite thing in the house for months.
posted by oryelle at 6:18 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Machine-washable down parka with a hood. I've lived up here (MN/WI) my entire life, but only got one a few years ago. It's a revelation and has allowed me to reduce the number of layers that I need to wear during the winter.
posted by esker at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Something else that might be helpful in terms of clearing snow is having a broom and different sized shovels. Depending on the type of snow, you might be able to sweep it off surfaces with a broom rather than using a shovel.

Also, I personally have a smaller shovel (about half as wide as the usual snow shovels that are common) which I prefer when having to work around cars and in smaller spaces, like getting snow out from under the car and around the tires. It also keeps me from loading up the shovel with more snow than I can physically handle. Don't be afraid to take breaks when shoveling either! I usually bring a thermos of hot chocolate downstairs with me when I have to do a big snow clearing job and will set it inside my car to cool while I work on shoveling--about halfway through it's cooled enough to not burn my tongue.
posted by sperose at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2018

I'm from Minnesota and have lived in California and various other places. Here's some stuff to know:

We have great apples here. Honeycrisps? Bred here. Honeygolds, ginger golds, a ton of delicious apples you may not have had because they don't travel well, they come from here.

Food co-ops. We have awesome cooperative groceries and also really great farmer's markets. Go to them and get a ton of delicious local food for fairly cheap.

I'd recommend a pressure cooker in addition to or instead of a slow cooker - they're faster and I think they work better. There is a great food scene here in the cities, and it's true that we have amazing Vietnamese food. There's also some really great Ethiopian food.

I highly recommend a heated mattress pad, and keeping blankets on your couch or chairs. Also, humidifers, lotion, and moisturizing soap are your friends.

As far as winter, folks are correct. I'm one of those people who is cold all the time and even so, I came back here on purpose. Here is what I wear in the winter, after slathering myself in lotion every morning:

- compression socks (because I have disability issues - regular cotton socks are fine) and then wool socks over them
- regular underpants
- long underwear pants
- regular trousers, like jeans or corduroy
- bra (skip if not applicable)
- long underwear shirt
- regular shirt
- sweater

and that's for inside. If I go outside, I add:

- lined boots
- gloves
- long coat, like down to below my knees
- scarf
- possibly another scarf
- a wool hat

For your kids, consider putting their mittens on a long string that goes through both arms of their coats so they don't lose them.

I drive a tiny car and do not have snow tires, but generally stay inside the city and commute via the mass transit, which is largely very good.

Also there are tons of activities in the winter, inside as well as outside. If anyone in your family wants to learn to knit, this is a great thing to do here and it's a useful skill.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:24 AM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

I lived in Iowa for 25+ years. I enjoy being out in the cold, but I hate being indoors and not quite warm. The only thing that got me through those winters was a big woodstove. That massive radiant heat drives the chill right out.
posted by bricoleur at 6:26 AM on October 18, 2018

Since you have a lot of kids, it occurred to me you might be interested in a kid's perspective on what it's like to move from California to a place that has winter. I did this when I was 12 and I loved it! We moved to Maryland, which doesn't actually have much of a winter, but it was a pretty drastic change from southern California. I was so excited whenever it snowed. I got to go sledding and build a snowman and find animal tracks in the snow, just like kids in books! One time it snowed like two feet overnight and I remember what an awesome thrill it was to go outside and be up to my thighs in snow and see the whole world snowed in and stopped. It still makes me happy to watch snow falling and to see the world covered with deep snow and I think a big part of that is having spent my early childhood in a place without it, which made it seem like a storybook, fairy tale thing. Where I live now, we have white Christmases, pretty much without fail. White Christmases, like in a book or a song!

I bet your kids will absolutely love being able to have real winter, even if it sometimes feels a little overwhelming. I remember the first winter in Maryland seemed so long. By February it was starting to feel cold and dreary and I was really ready for spring. So the first spring was glorious. Spring is my favorite season but it has to have a winter before it for you to fully appreciate it. Getting tired of winter by the end is part of what makes a four season climate so great. Now I ski, and spring skiing is the best so I never mind if winter takes its time going away, but I also garden so I don't mind when it does go away. (Also, I'm old enough that everything passes in the blink of an eye so nothing ever feels long anymore.)
posted by Redstart at 6:32 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Having kids makes things slightly more complicated. Those easy "let's meet at the park and let the kids play" meetups become much more difficult when it's super cold and they have to be hosted at someone's home.
I feel like I see our friends a lot less in the winter because everyone has small houses so can't host a bunch of people.

The grown-up version of a relaxed snow day (baking something delicious, warm blankets and a movie on the TV) doesn't really translate to small kids...particularly when it's super cold and they only want to be outside for 20 minute increments. It's fun to play with them in the snow, but there also are snow "chores" (digging out the driveway, digging out the car, spreading salt, etc.) that can take up a large amount of time.

Read up on kids and coats and car seats and invest in a car that can be automatically started so it's warm when you get it. Kids can't wear most coats in a car seat, and it can be painful...
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 6:40 AM on October 18, 2018

Nthing the advice to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Get a humidifier for everyone's bedside, get some heavy-duty aquaphor or bag balm or whatever you prefer and slather it all over your hands and knees and elbows every night, moisturize your face even if you don't usually bother before you go out in the morning. Put chapstick in the pockets of every coat. I find the dry itchy skin and constant hangnails and chapped lips to be the most annoying part of winter.

Also, yes to SAD lights -- they help a lot!
posted by EmilyFlew at 6:55 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

- Hold on to the handrails when you go up and down stairs. They make look dry, but they be icy.

- Flannel lined jeans.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:59 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, back with a couple of other thoughts:

Layers with clothing is wise. But the fabric you choose is also important - cotton fabric is a bad choice in winter because it soaks up moisture really easy and holds onto that moisture, which then freezes. Wool, silk, and synthetic fibers are better.

I mean, a couple of your layers being cotton won't kill you or anything (your underpants, your button-down shirt that you wear under a wool sweater), but if you have cotton socks under your boots and cotton sweater over cotton t-shirt, you'll be uncomfortable.

If you're on a budget, the "Heattech" stuff at Uniqlo is the bomb. I was on a hike in winter once, when the temperature was below freezing - and I slipped while I was picking my way across a brook and planted one of my feet ankle-deep in water. But I was wearing a Heattech undershirt under my long-sleeve T and sweater, and I also had on two pairs of Heattech socks, and was perfectly comfortable during the 30-minute quick march back to the car. (The cuff of my jeans, however, froze solid because it was cotton.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Minor tip from another Upper(ish)-Midwesterner (Cleveland) - don't pack away all of your "off-season" clothes in hard-to-get-to places. There can still be a pretty high degree of variable weather conditions within seasons and especially during the transitional spring and fall. We can get 75-degree weekends in January, 45-degree cold snaps in June, and this year (apparently) we're having an annoyingly short "fall" - it went from highs of 75, lows of 65 to highs of 50 lows of 39 in about 3 days last week. And for all I know it's going to be 80 next week for a day or two.

Having at least a few pieces of "wrong" clothing readily available year-round makes it much easier to deal with these variations, you're not left scrambling through bins in the very back of the closet when the temperature drops 30 degrees overnight in the middle of September.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:22 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Former east coaster who now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, a tick less cold than Twin Cities but in the same general range.

1. -20F is only a very occasional thing. In fact, I've lived here 12 years and the coldest weather I've ever been out in was -14, and most years there are only a couple of days I'm out in 0F. Normal January low in Minneapolis is 4F. So don't freak out about being ready for sustained subzero temps; that's not what you're in for.

2. All the advice in this thread is good but everybody has their own equilibrium and you shouldn't expect to have to follow all this advice. I definitely keep an ice scraper in my car, but I don't change my tires for winter and I don't own a pair of long underwear and I've worn ski goggles to work only once in my life (the -14 day.)

3. The main problem with winter here is that it's too long, not that it's too cold. Everyone is right that it's very bright/sunny/cold a lot of the time, which I actually find is better for mood than the less-cold constant grey wetness of coastal winter.
posted by escabeche at 7:35 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Cold weather is one of the great joys of life.

I always explain as: When you're cold, you can always put on a sweater, or get under a blanket, or drink some hot chocolate, or whatever. But when you're hot, there's a limit to what you can take off.

Realistically, you'll be indoors most of the day, and assuming you have a well-insulated house with a functioning furnace, a car with a functioning heater, and you're not working in a sheet-aluminum warehouse, the difference won't really be noticeable. The primary time you'll notice a difference will be during your commute, and commuting already sucks. The difference is marginal.

The biggest problem with cold weather is not the temperature, or even the precipitation. It's the wind. (Very similar to what people say about heat and humidity.) A 10-degree day with no wind is infinitely more pleasant than a 40-degree day with a howling wind. A lot of of your preparations will involve wind protection. This is why people advise you not to leave skin exposed, and why you need to insulate the cracks where air can get in door frames and stuff like that. When you buy gear, wind resistance should be your primary consideration.

In terms of what gear to buy, you just play it by ear. There's not a Cold Weather Starter Pack that everyone just has. If your current jacket isn't warm enough, you go out and buy a warmer one. If your hands get cold, you buy a pair of gloves. Honestly, I think most people who move from warm climates to cold ones overprepare. If at all possible, move during the summer. That way, you can gradually build up a cold weather wardrobe as you need the items, rather than buying an entirely new wardrobe as soon as you arrive. In late September, you can start shopping for wool socks and fleece. Then, if the fleece isn't cutting it in November, then you can go back out for a winter coat. You'll probably need to buy gloves and scarves, but there's no sense in buying boots if you're just walking from your back door to your garage and from the parking lot to your office door. And keep in mind that there's room for fashion; you don't need to buy all technical clothing like you're outfitting an Everest expedition. A nice wool peacoat and some chunky sweaters will serve you just as well as a puffer coat and fleece, if the former is more your style.

There great thing about cold climates is that there's a whole 'nother world of recreation that you never had before. Almost everything you can do for recreation in California (running, hiking, swimming, tennis, performing arts, whatever) can be done in Minnesota as well, but there's a lot of stuff you can do in Minnesota that either can't be done in California, or would require serious effort. Things like sledding, pond hockey, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice sculptures. As a cold weather guy, these are the things that make life worth living.

Good news and bad news for recreation. The bad news is, a lot of this stuff is fairly expensive. The good news is, everyone realizes that and works to mitigate it. So you can rent skates and skis, and there are gear exchanges and shops where you can buy used gear. Try everything once, and if you like something, rent for your first year. Then if you like it, buy in the offseason. Especially for the kids, you'll find lots of used gear from parents whose kids are a year older than yours and are moving up to the next size, and what you can't find used, you can find on sale.

One thing that's not particularly fun is shoveling snow. Hire a neighborhood kid to do it for you.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of cold weather is office heating. It's a rule of life that whenever the outside temperature drops below fifty, whoever controls the office thermostat compensates by adjusting the heat to triple digits. You'll feel like you work in a Bikram yoga studio. It's unbearable. I wear short sleeved shirts and have a fan running in all weather, because otherwise I break a sweat at work. Layering is good advice in cold weather in general, but in the office it's absolutely crucial. Short sleeve shirt, long sleeve easy-on layer (e.g. cardigan), fleece jacket, heavy coat.

The other thing that even people who like the cold have trouble with is the duration. Winters last a long time, and the further north you go, the longer they last. It starts to get pretty old by the time you get to late February. It's not a bad idea to take a vacation somewhere warm in late January or early February to break up the winter.

And after you've prepared for all this cold weather, the fun part of life in the midwest is that you'll have several months of 90+ degree heat with 70%+ humidity to deal with.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:43 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Buy extra snow boots & gloves/mittens for the kids. They can take a long time to dry after playing in the snow & you do not want to send a kid outside with still-damp boots. Boots with removable liners are good. We usually have at least 2 and sometimes 3 pairs/kid. (I buy the backup pairs at the thrift store)

Also, buy extra gloves/mittens in fall/early winter when they are on sale (and stock up again once they go on clearance). Because your kids will inevitably lose a mitten in January (and February & March) & you will find that all the stores are selling swimsuits instead of winter gear by that point. The only mittens left on a rack in the back corner of the store will be $30 and you will cry.
posted by belladonna at 7:52 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add - I know a lot of people, a LOT of people, who wear jeans and t-shirts and a reasonable jacket or jacket + hoody in the winter and don't seem to need to layer up. I am always cold (I hate how cold everyone wants to make the AC in the summer) and dress accordingly, but you may find that you don't need to be Maggie Simpson in the star suit quite the way some of us do. If so, awesome. But it's good to be prepared, and to have the option.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:56 AM on October 18, 2018

Just a note on the dog - if you've only lived in California, you may be used to having your dog outside for most of the time. I grew up in a place with a similar climate and our dogs were always "outdoor dogs" primarily or even solely. That is not going to be possible for a small dog in a place like Minnesota (although some big dogs may be able to spend more time outside and do OK with eg a specially designed doghouse - sled dogs are a thing, of course).

You don't say what kind of terrier you have. If they are a single-coated dog with little body fat, say a rat terrier, they will certainly need a sweater and possibly a coat as well. Start getting them used to wearing clothes now, not when it's ten below. If they are used to mostly being outside, or having free access to the outdoors, get them used to staying in and asking to go out when they need to pee (or figure out a schedule that you and they can stick to).

My dog needs boots because ice melt chemicals hurt his feet, but also for warmth (he is very small and very low body fat). The first time we put boots on him he acted like his feet didn't work. It also took a couple tries to find the right size of boots. So try the boots on early, too.

Some dogs like snow and some don't. If yours doesn't, you may need to come up with more indoor things to do with them than you would normally—especially since terriers are generally so smart and inquisitive. Otherwise you may have a cooped-up and grouchy dog.

Good luck! My first winter in a cold climate was difficult, but I quickly came to love it, and I'm sure you will too.
posted by branca at 7:59 AM on October 18, 2018

I have lived in coastal California, and now in Portland, Oregon. I grew up in Winnipeg (similar weather to Minneapolis). The secret no one will tell you is that you will probably feel a lot warmer more of the time living in Minneapolis than in these other places. Why? Because the houses are all cozy and insulated. I have spent the last 25 years living in so-called warmer places shivering inside drafty, porous rooms and being ever conscious of the changes in weather while supposedly sheltered. In a house/apartment in Winnipeg? Constant, even, wonderful ambient temperatures! It is a revelation, I tell you.
posted by nanook at 8:01 AM on October 18, 2018

I'll echo so it's not missed, but depending upon where in the coastal california you were, summer might hit you hard. I spent a few years in Pasadena, and a summer in San Francisco, and they were pretty nice (San Francisco was much nicer than Pasadena) compared to the high humidity heat in Milwaukee, WI and my current South Western Ontario climate.

As for the cold, I'd recommend trying to do your best to embrace it. Someone I knew in Silicon Valley spent her first 22 years in Israel. She couldn't get used to how cold it was in California and was wearing sweaters during the summer and hated air conditioning. Maybe spend the first winter keeping your house only heated to 66F during days and 60F during the night.

Snow shoveling - shovel early, and shovel often. It's much easier on your back/muscles to shovel 1-2 inches of snow 4 times in 12 hours than it is to shovel 6-8 inches of snow once. Even if you have a garage, you need a snow brush / ice scraper in each car for errand running.

N'th that boots are primarily to protect dogs feet from salt/ice melters. An alternative to this is paw wax. Depending upon your neighbors, boots/wax might not be necessary all the time. If you go without, and your dog suddenly starts holding a paw up, either their salt over a crack/invisible cut, or ice is balled between the paw pads. If you put your finger (non-gloved) into the paw pad, try to dig out any snow/salt, and then hold it there for a bit to warm up the pad/melt any snow that might be missed. About 10 seconds and the dog is cured. I've never had good luck with cloth boots - the dogs shake them off. I've had good luck with the balloon like boots, but they don't last long before developing holes, which can then hold snow/ice in against the paws.

You ask about cost? Primarily up to now, I've been stubborn about the cold, and lived with $20-40 winter coats. As I've aged, I've become less insensitive to the cold. This year I swallowed my pride and bought a good $200 coat; water/wind resistant goretex outside, sleeve liners that connect over the thumb, elastic buckle to prevent wind from coming up on the underside and an amazing hood. Now, I can walk the dog in -10C with a pretty nasty wind and I just don't care, when previously I'd be feeling the cold, and feeling it for 30+ minutes after getting back in to warm up.

Gloves/hats/scarfs could be $20-40 per person depending upon quality, but go for an expensive coat. Long underwear is about $20 per item. After throwing in some boots, probably expect $300-500 per person for a good collection of everything, depending upon sales/etc. Note, most good pre-winter sales are already underway, and will soon be full price until March when the clearance begins. Have a lot of dollar store kids gloves; when our kids were <10 it was quite common for them to get lost and kids come home from school without them and won't let you know until the morning of. Bad things happen if you send your kids to school without gloves/hats during the season.

Warn your kids about actually not licking metal items, like in A Christmas story. Our kids always lived in a cold climate, but still our youngest ended up licking a fence at school when he was 5 or 6.

If you don't want to deal with swapping out winter tires, "All-Weather" tires are a thing. They're as good during snow as bad winter tires (i.e. better than all-season), and as good for "all-season" as the lower-end all-seasons. You never have the best tires, but you always have at least reasonable tires and you don't need to pay/worry about tire storage or swapping them out.

I've never lost control or felt scared driving and I've always had just front wheel drive, and only switched to all-weather tires instead of all-season ~3 years ago. Reasonable driving and good awareness are sufficient. Definitely test attempting to lose control in a parking lot (be *very* wary of light poles) during some early snow.
posted by nobeagle at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2018

I haven't seen anyone mention a major winter concern; black ice. Black ice is thin, smooth patches of ice on apparently clear ground that are invisible until you or your car is slipping on them. You have to learn to be on the lookout for it. Similarly, you have to walk/balance on slippery, icy ground, often while wading throung slush or snow. This is a learned skill and you will almost certainly fall down at some point. Learn to be good at falling down so you land on your butt or side rather than falling forward onto your outstretched hands and whacking your head. Sometimes it's safer to shuffle/glide slowly than to walk by lifting your feet entirely off the ground.

Keeping your feet dry is really important. There are few things worse than having your feet crammed into cold, wet shoes or boots for hours on end; it's truly demoralising. Keep spare socks and plastic bags available everywhere. If the inside of your boots or shoes get wet and you aren't able to change footwear, you can put on dry socks and put plastic bags over your feet before sticking them back in the boots. I feel like doing this is really embarassing but I think everyone has done it at least once. If I had to choose between having a crappy coat or having wet feet in the winter, I'd take the crappy coat every time. Get used to having indoor shoes and outdoor shoes.

It takes a really long time to leave the house in the winter because getting ready is a procedure. When you enter a house, business or vehicle, kick and stomp and shake a bit to get the snow off of your boots and, if applicable, body. Don't forget to brush off your hood before lowering it. There will be massive puddles of water and saturated floor mats inside most businesses.

Street salt is really corrosive and does a shocking amount of damage. Expect at least a few boots/shoes/pants/miscellany to get white salt stains. If you aren't wearing high boots, the bottoms of your pants will become stiff and encrusted with grimey salt water.

Buy your boots a half size too large to accommodate two pairs of socks, even the useless fashion boots that only get worn from the house to the car.

Sometimes in the winter, the trees will get coated in a thick, perfect layer of ice. It's the most beautiful thing in the world.
posted by windykites at 8:09 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I moved from Northern California to Portland and it was a bad idea and I regret moving here. I have some sort of psychological barrier to going out when it's cold out. I don't enjoy wearing the layers of clothing necessary to be comfortable. I have a whole pile of sun dresses that I get to wear like one month out of the year.

My everything is wool from September through May. I have wool pants from a surplus store, we've built up a collection of wool socks from Darn Tough (lifetime warranty, we send a pile in when they are all holey and they give us new ones), wool jacket half-off from the thrift store in the "heat" of summer (people who are from here think it gets hot in summer), wool hat and scarf were gifts.

The thing about wool is that you can wear it in the rain and still be comfortable and it will still keep you warm. And you can wear it for more than five minutes without having to throw it in the laundry because it's anti-bacterial or something. So wool helps. Especially if you bike and walk for transportation, like I do. I won't go into gearing up the bike for rain because it sounds like that's not applicable for you.

The dark is the worst. Here in Portland, we're at the same latitude as Montreal in Canada. They say you get used to the winters, but I've been here five years. I'm not used to the winters. Admittedly I skipped town for a couple of them. The winters are that bad. At some point, my partner figured out that on the rare sunny days, I'll say "It's not that bad here; let's stick around!" Portland is great when it's sunny! But it's not a sunny place.

Snow is better than rain because it's less likely to get you wet quickly, and snow on the ground reflects light.

The best thing about the cold is getting stuck out in it (like, say, it's the first rainstorm of the year and you went for a walk to the library and got caught in a downpour wearing summer clothes) and coming home all froze from your nose to your toes and stripping out of wet clothes into dry clothes and putting the hot water on and having hot chocolate under a warm blanket.
posted by aniola at 8:16 AM on October 18, 2018

I lived in England for a few years as a child, followed by Hawaii for a few years.

As a child, I didn't know the difference. As an adult, I can easily look back and tell you that I was significantly happier in Hawaii than in England, and I know with near-certainty that it was for reasons associated with climate and sunshine.


Some people say things like "When you're cold, you can always put on a sweater, or get under a blanket, or drink some hot chocolate, or whatever. But when you're hot, there's a limit to what you can take off. " but they are winter evangelists. Sometimes, for some people like myself, there is just no warming up in a cold climate. There's a limit to how many layers you can add and how helpful those layers will be. Sometimes you have to wear gloves instead of mittens (mittens keep your fingers together which allows for conservation of heat) for dexterity, etc.


Oh, another trick. Make sure the hot water heater is turned up hot enough. It won't save energy, but it means you can take shorter showers because the shower is hot enough to actually raise your body temperature. Sometimes literally the only thing that will raise your body temperature is a hot shower.
posted by aniola at 8:56 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

one thing i don't think i saw mentioned is the greatest item known to humanity in cold climates: THE HEATED MATTRESS PAD. i became an intense heated mattress pad evangelist after jessamyn recommended me one years ago and it is the best thing i own. you can get ones that have 6 heating zones, 3 on each side, but i'm fine with just one on each side.

also depending on how much walkway/driveway you have, you should probably just get a snowblower, bc shoveling is fucking horrible. everyone i know who thought they could hack it with shoveling (although admittedly in far upstate NY with the lake effect snow) got a snowblower the instant they could afford one.

i love the winter extremely very much and like an opposite bear i am the most active during this season, and the main issue i run into is sweating in layers. if you are going to be doing anything active, and i include stuff like just walking the dog or carrying groceries, you want the layer closest to your body to NOT BE COTTON, because it never dries and clings clammily and repulsively to your cold angry torso and it's horrible and gross.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:58 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Have a lot of dollar store kids gloves; when our kids were [under] 10 it was quite common for them to get lost and kids come home from school without them and won't let you know until the morning of. "

Buy them all the same color! I raid the dollar bin at Target and get five identical pairs of black gloves and that way when my kids lose ONE glove I still have nine others that match it. (They never lose both at once.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:27 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

there's so much advice here but here are few random thoughts re living in a cold climate (for reference, am a Finn):

- the darkness can suck, so stock up on hot chocolate and vitamin D, it'll totally help w/the feeling of wanting to hibernate

- we got little LED lights on our dogs leash & collar for walks, also got cool lit up arm bands for running so we don't get run over first thing in the morning

- lack of sunlight can be hard on your plants

- getting out the door will take more time cuz theres just more stuff to put on (my Chilean husband still never takes this into account when we gotta go somewhere..we'll get there..)

- inner tubes from tractor tires are the best thing in the entire world for sledding

- if your kiddos are outdoorsy, teach em what the stages of frostbite look like & how windchill works

- keep an extra blanket in your car

- get to know the best ways to keep your house warm (insulate windows etc)

- shovelling out the driveway in the morning is a great way for kids to build character (or so i was told)

- there really is no feeling like waking up to a frosty bright beautiful morning and getting to putter around a warm house in your pjs

best of luck!
posted by speakeasy at 9:29 AM on October 18, 2018

If you encounter a situation where no combination of heavy gloves and mittens seems adequate to keep your hands warm, in recent years I have discovered ice fishermans' closed-cell neoprene gloves (as manufactured and sold by this company at my local Walmart and presumably sporting goods stores too) which are basically the gloves from a diver's wetsuit. I am confident that they would keep my hands warm in the icy cold vacuum of outer space.

Also in general: if you need gloves which permit good manual dexterity, as well as the aforementioned property of working with touch screens, places which sell automotive supplies usually have ones designed for mechanics.

One other thing: on days it snows you may need to set up an indoor clothes line or clothes horse for everyone to dry their various articles on.
posted by XMLicious at 9:29 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Florida and moved to Minnesota in 1993 for college. I'm still here.

It's really not that bad. Every couple of posts here says, "you have to have X" and I think, I still don't have that. Should I? People get by with less. Maybe you'd really like it, but don't try to buy everything now.

Also, don't always buy the biggest thing out there. When I moved here, I bought these Sorel boots, super warm. They probably weigh 2 pounds each. Most winter days, I wear hiking boots not labelled as winter boots with wool socks. I bike and transit commute in them. I rarely wear my biggest coat. It can be OK. At worst, you'll layer up or buy a nicer replacement.

I don't think you can oversell the idea of layers. When you buy your coat, make sure it would fit over a bulky sweater of sweatshirt.

Costco has some great long underwear, wool blend socks, and touch screen gloves. Probably a bunch of other stuff I haven't been looking to replace too.

Treating yourself to something super cozy is great though. Maybe even greater if you buy it when it's cold and you recently grumpy about winter.
posted by advicepig at 9:35 AM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh, and if you are really bargain hunting, the Goodwill Outlet in St.Paul often has a ton of great jackets for adults and kids for cheap (unless you go on the day after Dr. Advicepig and I buy them all up for the homeless.)
posted by advicepig at 9:36 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Moved to Chicago area after a lifetime of living in Australia. Things I learned.

Good coats make a difference. As do good hats, gloves & boots. Don't skimp on these.

Layers. All the layers. Thermals are amazing. You will spend half your time in winter putting clothes on & taking them off, get things that are easy to put on & off including shoes.

You will be hotter & sweatier than you think you'll be because everywhere overheats. So layer appropriately. I've lived here 10 years now and have resorted to dressing for the indoor temperatures with a sherpa hoody over the top & just running in from the car most of the time as I hate lugging my layers around when shopping or visiting. Train your kids to carry their own coats.

But if you are going to be outside for any length of time a good coat really can make a difference when you are aclimatising. My MIL gave me a down coat to "borrow" the day I arrived and it saved me, I still have it, I highly recommend them.

Get a snow blower or pay someone to shovel your driveway.

Make sure the house you get is newish build & well insulated. Has a good reliable furnace, a thermostat system that lets you control zones and while open plan houses are fun to live in they suck to heat as you are heating spaces you aren't using. I live in a 100+ year old house that has no insulation bar lathe & plaster walls & have a geriatric furnace. I love my house but if I'd moved here straight from Australia I'd have run home crying as it's a pain to keep a constant temperature & stop pipes freezing.

Nothing on earth beats an actual white Christmas. Nothing is prettier than stomping through the snow on an evening before Christmas to look at the christmas lights, the sound of the snow crunching the way the lights sparkle. It truely is magical.

Your dog should be fine, I have a Rat Terrier that hates to wear coats & he manages if we force him into one. Get your dog used to coats before you move. Get a nice warm coat for him. Use dog safe salt on your driveway etc. Watch their feet if you go out walking as some salt people use can burn & hurt their feet. We have a big yard so in winter we exercise them running around that to solve the problem as I had a nasty fall one winter so am terrified of slipping on ice. Have a back up plan for your dog to pee & poop if there is a blizzard. We let ours out into the garage as they think that's outside & they will go there. without messing up their house training.

Speaking of ice. Read up on Black Ice. Driving in snow is easier than you think if you are sensible, I still hate it as too many other drivers drive like nothing has changed and make me nervous.

Don't make your first experience of it getting off a plane after a 3 week heatwave in Australia where everyday was over 100F & then stepping into a Chicago blizzard at midnight. You will think you have died & gone to hell.

I actually love the winter now & really look forward to it. To be honest after California, the sticky humid horrible summers will make you suffer more than the winter because you know what a nice summer is like. Everyone is like oh it's just like back home for you as soon as it gets warm. and I'm all "no it's not that's a lake not the ocean, it's so humid my boobs are stuck to me, I have mold growing on everything in my basement, ticks are trying to kill me & my dogs and tornadoes warnings terrify me and I'm too sweaty to think the second I go outside. Trust me you'll find winter way easier.
posted by wwax at 9:37 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh forgot to add. I had always mocked cars with seat heaters built in when I lived in Australia. After moving to the Midwest I think they are the best invention in the history of the planet.
posted by wwax at 9:42 AM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Much good advice above. I'm going to restrain myself to telling you about my two favorite layering items: long underwear & thick wool socks. Without these, winter life is misery; with them, it's fun hikes and frolicking in the snow.

Basically, get like 5-7 pairs of long underwear bottoms per person (you'll be wearing these daily through most of the winter), and maybe around 2-3 long underwear tops per person (you'll likely need these only on the coldest days, because you have other options to layer on top --sweaters/hoodies/etc).

A note on jeans: in cold weather, jeans are basically garbage pants. The wind blows straight through them, and if they get the littlest bit wet, they will freeze you. There are two things that will make jeans ok to wear in the cold:
- Flannel lining like this - feels great but might be too hot once you get inside
- Wearing long underwear under your jeans - great, b/c once you're inside, you can go to the bathroom and take the long underwear off if you need to. It can also be worn under skirts (in place of leggings) or work slacks, or even doubled up if it's super-cold.

Types of long underwear:
- Waffle-knit cotton thermals are cheap and readily available, but they kind of suck. Because the fabric is cotton, it stays damp (with sweat or melted snow) and doesn't keep you that warm. Better than nothing, but not recommended.
- Technical base layers are what I wear most of the time. You can find them in cheap, mid-range, or very pricey versions, depending on your preferred price/quality desires. Typically they will be some sort of synthetic fabric blend with moisture-wicking and wind-blocking properties, so you stay dry and warm.
- Silk long underwear is very luxurious. It feels lovely on your skin, it's thin so it doesn't add bulk, and it keeps you nice and toasty. Downsides: it's expensive, it can't be tumble-dried, and sweat eats it.

In general, you will probably want to pay more attention to the fabric in of all your clothes. Cotton = hypothermia (it holds moisture close to your skin and does nothing to block wind). Your best bet will be technical fabrics designed for cold, or natural fibers like wool/cashmere/silk. That's most important for anything that might get sweaty or wet from melting snow -- basically, your innermost & outermost layers. If you have a cotton sweatshirt on as one of your middle layers, that's probably fine. Your innermost layers should be moisture-wicking, while your outermost layers should be wind-blocking and moisture-resistant.

Every year, I'm so happy when it's time to pull out my wool socks. They're just so comfy and warmth-bringing! Get a few different thicknesses for different sorts of weather. Make sure that, when you buy your boots, you try them on with your thickest socks, since they take up significant space in the boot. Tight boots = poor circulation = cold feet. Good sources:
- Darn Tough socks - mid-weight, super-cute, great lifetime warranty.
- REI or EMS - they sell light, medium, and heavy-weight wool socks, and often have sales & 3 for 2 deals
- Smartwool is often recommended but I generally find them a bit overpriced and somewhat lower in quality than the options above. I do, however, like their dress socks -- they're lightweight, though, more for fall than winter.

Get everybody a pair of nice warm slippers, too. LL Bean makes my favorites.
posted by ourobouros at 9:47 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

also depending on how much walkway/driveway you have, you should probably just get a snowblower

I have it on good authority that teenagers make excellent snowblowers.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:51 AM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, handwarmer packets like these are quite helpful if you're sitting outside for a long time like at a football game.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:06 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, reading through this, I should add, winters in damp climates are unlike ours here in Minnesota. I never feel like I can warm back up in New England winter, but in Minnesota winter, it's just no big deal. The dry winter is just so much better.
posted by advicepig at 10:11 AM on October 18, 2018

I'm a year-round bike commuter in Boston (so, slightly warmer but can be miserable in its own way). I'm outside a lot in the winter. Layers are great and you'll figure out what works best for your situation. When I'm biking, I like to have an outer wind-stop shell with long underwear and then my normal work clothes in between. I find it important to avoid any exposed skin when it's very cold and windy, so I wear a wool skullcap under my helmet, a neck buff that I can pull over my nose, and cheap ski goggles if it gets really bad (my eyes tend to water a lot when it gets cold). I also like these mitt/glove combo that we got that includes a glove liner that fits into a mitten - I can wear the liner only if it's not too cold, only the mitten if I'm doing something like shoveling snow, or both if it's really terrible.

Driving around here in winter, the worst things that people do are 1) not clear the snow off their cars and 2) not scrape their windows sufficiently. It's a huge safety issue if you don't get all the snow off your roof, so make sure you get a good snow brush for the car. The (maybe uniquely Masshole) phenomenon of scraping just enough ice off the windscreen to peek your eyes out of is also terrible and is guaranteed to cause an accident. We bought a new car with the "winter kit" which includes heated seats (nice!), heated wing mirrors, and heated windshield wipers which I feel is a definite safety improvement - if you're forced to drive through a snow storm, those mirrors will ice over very quickly and then you can't see out of them.

Speaking of driving - one nice thing about winter is not having to! I can work from home if necessary and the companies I've worked for here have all been very supportive of the "alternative work location" if the weather is bad. Even though I could take public transit if the weather is too gnarly to bike through, working from home on snow days is a nice perk and reminds me a bit of the days when school would close as a kid. Plus, you can take breaks during the day to do that progressive shoveling everyone has recommended. Or you can bundle up under the blankets with a mug of tea and your laptop, which beats sitting in my office at work freezing. If you can, I definitely encourage you to stay home on snow days.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:13 AM on October 18, 2018

Are there fun aspects to cold living?

Howdy. Native Californian here (not any of the snowy parts). I moved to Sweden last January. It is the third time I have lived here. I am so enjoying autumn. The sounds of the leaves as they fall. The many acorns crunching underfoot as I walk through the local park to see my kid nearby. The gorgeous autumn colours. Of course, that won't last. But there was snow on the ground when I got here and it reminded me how much I like living in a 4-season climate. Snow is great, as far as I am concerned but I don't own a car. Oddly, I spend more time outdoors in Sweden than I did in California. Perhaps I simply took the outdoors for granted. YMMV.

The many dark and/or overcast days can become dreary, for sure. But I seem to be thriving, in part because I do have a SAD light, I do belong to a gym, I do have decent winter clothes, and I do make sure to be social to the extent possible. If you move and it turns out you hate it, you can move somewhere else. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2018

Lifelong Minnesotan here! I am worried that some of the above responses sound so extreme that they will scare you away. Minnesota is great and there are plenty of us in the Twin Cities who go around in jeans and sneakers almost all of the time. if you're just running from your car to the grocery store and back you don't need to wear seven layers. All the talk about boots and thermal underwear is helpful if you'll be out in the elements a lot, but for most people that's not an everyday thing.

That said, I always tell people if they feel too cold, they're dressed wrong! Part of the joy and glory of a Minnesota winter is stomping around in snow boots and heavy layers and then coming inside with rosy cheeks to drink a warm beverage.

Indoor playgrounds are a popular thing here, as are indoor play spaces at libraries, fast food restaurants, and malls. Even if you don't like to play outside, you don't have to be cooped up all winter. Kids do need to have a good complete set of winter gear for recess at school. They'll stay in on days when the windchill is dangerously cold, but if it's just regular cold school will send them out to the playground with boots, snowpants, coats, hats, mittens.

If you have a big driveway (or a lot of sidewalks to keep clear), you might as well invest in a snowblower. Maybe like $1000 for a nice one and a little maintenance every spring/fall. It makes driveway cleanup much easier and less tiring.

I've never owned an AWD vehicle. I have gotten stuck once or twice - last winter I foolishly tried to drive up my steep driveway when there was about 8" of snow on it. A neighbor came and helped me get unstuck. A little embarrassing but it's just part of life here, happens to everybody. I do subscribe to AAA roadside assistance on the theory that if I get a flat tire in winter I'd much rather call someone to change it for me rather than try to tackle it myself when it's cold and wet and dark with kids in the car. You will want to make sure you have good tires on your vehicle, but snow tires are unnecessary IMO unless you are going to be driving a lot out in the country or something. It's true, commuting takes longer on snowy days. If you can arrange it so your commutes to and from work are as short as possible, I think you'll be happier, but that's probably true wherever you live.
posted by beandip at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hm, maybe someone wrote something similar and I'm just missing it, but I've found the best thing I can do in really cold weather (I only live in NY but have lived in much colder climates before) is make sure I have a pair of winter boots that are REALLY EASY to just pull on. Even if I have a pair of very sturdy lace-up boots for the worst days, I find that in order to make myself walk the dog or run ANY less-than-necessary errands, I need to be able to get ready to go out the door quickly or I'll lose all motivation mid-preparation. Pull-on boots are it.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Own at least one pair of snow boots that are knee high, so that when you get a big snow and it drifts in your yard/driveway, they don't get overtopped as soon as you go out.

Everyone in my family has their own snow shovel. In practice that means we have one with a crook in the handle that's designed to be used more as a plow (you push it and it scrapes snow off the sidewalk; this is the best for light snows), one that's actually shovel-shaped (for when snow is deep and you have to move it), and two kid-size ones (which coincidentally are super useful for stairs).

I am FANATICAL about clearing snow off the stairs before anyone steps on it. Compacted snow is much more likely to turn into ice. I keep a straw broom in the vestibule and it is excellent for clearing light powdery snows.

Winter gear for kids is easily obtained secondhand and this will save you a lot of dough. Especially snowpants I like to ensure that my kids are prepared for school recess by keeping a full set of snow pants / hat / mittens / etc there. But especially snow pants, since they often don't wear those just to dash in the door of school in the morning.

For clearing your car of ice and snow, you absolutely want one of the big-ass ridiculous scraper/brush/plow sorts of thingies. I like one with an extendable handle and pivoting head so you can just push snow off the top of your car. (Example. I have no opinion about this one, and you can certainly get one cheaper, but this is the idea.) Clear the snow off the top of your car. Don't be the jackass that drives down the road with 6" of snow on top streaming onto the windshield of the person behind you. Also clear snow off your head and tail lights.

Find a nearby sled hill if you have one! We have one in a city park nearby and it is THE BEST.
posted by telepanda at 11:47 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

It sounds like everything's been covered. But, since this is an area in which I consider myself an expert, I'll chime in as well about the dog stuff.

1. There is pet-safe sidewalk salt. If you're letting your pup out in a yard where you'll be using sidewalk salt (on steps too), use the pet-safe stuff. You'll probably still get bad salt in their paws from walking around town, but this way you'll get less of it.

2. If you have a fence in the yard and a jumping dog, keep in mind that piles of snow will raise the ground level and suddenly your 4 foot fence is a 2 foot fence, and your doggo is heading off down the street.

3. If your pupper is on the smol side they might have trouble in deep snow. It's totally okay to dig a potty pit in the yard so that they can do their thing without having to break a path each time. It might mean that patch of yard isn't that nice looking, but at least your dog won't get snowbound every time they need to take a wee.

4. My dog is well acclimated to cold, but she will lift one foot off the ground at a time (then switching to the other) when she starts getting too cold. That's a signal that she's ready to come back in.

It sounds like you'll be in the Cities, which means that there'll be a lot going on in the winter to help you get through the dark cold days. But I encourage you to find an outdoor winter activity that you love! I snowshoed when I lived in the sticks, and this year I'm finally getting out my cross-country skis. I'm hoping it'll help with the winter blahs.
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Your kids will absolutely love it. This has been mentioned upthread but just to reiterate: teach them to stay by the door to take off their wet things and not to start running around the house with their boots on. And when getting into the car, it's definitely butt first, click feet together to knock snow off the boots, and then bring feet into the car. You're going to have a dirty car (especially the outside of it) in the winter, but you can minimize how much dirt gets into the car.
posted by acidnova at 12:42 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fyi, you might want to post a follow-up question regarding Twin City summers—80 degrees is absolutely brutal when the dew point temp (a measure of humidity) is pushing 70.
posted by she's not there at 1:43 PM on October 18, 2018

Winter is lovely. It gets dark early. You get to walk outside and see the stars without having to set your alarm to get up at one AM. Even the kids can walk with you outside in the dark and not miss their bedtime. City lights and stars can be gorgeous. Once home you light the fireplace or wood stove (possibly a fake electric one) and light some candles. Winter is candlelight time. Hot soup or stew from the slow cooker, hot cocoa or hot tea - Hot drinks in the winter are gorgeous. Plush bathrobes and fluffy socks or slippers. You can never get properly cosy in the summer or in warm climates. In a winter climate the whole family can pile on the couch and watch a movie or read books together and being in a puppy pile is blissful. The wind howls outside the house. It's the most peaceful white noise in the world. Falling asleep in winter under a heap of blankets, the house sometimes vibrating with the wind - you feel so safe and so protected.

Space heaters are helpful for reducing your heating bills, but they are also helpful for warming towels, and clothes before you get into them. Obviously you don't have to, but it's such a tactile bliss and you don't get that in hot climates. You can also use the dryer. No need for heated towel racks or a heated bathroom floor.

Snow is fantastic for playing with. You know how your kids like to play in the sandbox? Make roads and make heaps of sand and call them mountains? With snow you and them get to do that in life scale. Get child sized shovels and tell them that if they are good you will let them come out and shovel with you. Get a plastic sled. No hills? You can pull them, or each other. With the right plastic sled you can stand on the spot and turn around and send the kid on the sled spinning around you like a merry go around. Did you know that snow is a great landing surface? Jumping off the porch into the snow is great, but then when you've got a foot of snow you can jump off the fence. Light kids with deep snow will want to jump out of the upstairs windows. Snow angels and snow forts are a lot of fun.

Use sand instead of salt on the ice on your walkway and driveway - it will not scorch the dogs's feet or kill your plants. Kids encounteing frozen puddles will take a running start and slide.... wheeee! If you do it too you will get better at ice and be less likely to fall if the city has not iced the sidewalks properly. That sled you bought can be used to tow groceries from the car around to the back door.

If you can get a house with a big vestibule with a washer and dryer in there and lots of storage space - called a mud room.

You will want two sorts of coats. There are car coats which are short enough you can't sit on them, which are what you will wear when dashing from the house to the car, and from the car inside, and are not staying out for more than a few moments. these are not too bad to carry around all day while running errands or at school. If you are going to actually be outside you will want either coats that go down below your butt or snow pants. The coats for spending time outside are not the same clothes as you want to carry around all day.

There will be indoor parking. There will be tunnels and skyways between buildings so you don't have to go outside.

Smokers always have the best clothes for the weather because they go stand in it without moving. They have sensible umbrellas and really good insulated clothes they can throw on quickly that keep them warm enough.

Get a haircut that can survive wearing a hat without turning into a bad hair day. Wooly tuques can send your hair standing on end when you pull them off. For long straight hair a fur lined bomber is good.

There's really no point celebrating Christmas without snow. Find a suitable little spruce tree outside and decorate it with bird food.

Snow days. Depending on where you work, not only will you get up early to find out that school has been cancelled for the kids but you may find that your work has been cancelled too. Your employer is likely to be enthusiastic about setting you up to work remotely for those days when the police warn you that you should only go on the roads for essential purposes.

If you like ice in your water or your pop you can surely understand liking the feel of cold on your cheeks. If you are cold run, or walk briskly. Guess what? If you have dressed properly you won't overheat! Just unzipper your jacket when you warm up and then zipper it back up again when you stop running. The children's mittens should be on strings that run up their sleeves and around their backs so they can pull their hands out without losing them.

Baking: One day the kitchen gets cold. Wait until you kids discover that this means you are looking for any excuse to throw something in the oven. Ready to go cookie dough is easy, or a ready to bake pie. Next thing you know the house smells like a bakery. Cinnamon buns. Roast beef and potatoes. Home baked bread. Get the kids involved. First one out of their boots when you get home turns the oven on to preheat.

Bad times. It hurts when your fingers and your feet start to freeze. It hurts even worse when they start to defrost. Learn what is merely cold hands and feet and what is too cold and make sure you get the kids inside before they will sit crying and holding their toes. Make sure that their socks will stay up - this can happen because a sock elastic lets go and the sock slips down into the toe of a boot leaving the foot and heel bare.

Rubber boots that you wear in the rain are not ideal in sleety almost frozen conditions. You can put felt innersoles and layers of socks in them to make them warm enough but they do not have a decent grip on the ice and there will be falls. They work better in snow and hard frozen conditions than they do when it is close to freezing.

Slush can spatter. Watch out for that. It's not just water puddles that can send you home soaked. A car going through a thick wet pile of snow can drench you too.

Snow can block storm drains. So can ice, leaves that fell in the fall and snow and debris. If it thaws your storm drain may not do its job. So take the kids out, provide long sticks for poking and assign un-blocking the storm drains to them.

If the snow is deep you may have to carry small kids and small dogs. If the dog whimpers or the kid whimpers and wants to go home, pay attention. It could be that something is freezing. Kids normally adjust to cold much better than adults and have faster metabolisms, but if something got wet, or a sock has come un anchored you better get them inside.

One of the first rituals of the winter is tucking a pair of mini-gloves on one side and a pack of kleenex on the other side into each one of the jackets. Get a pair of mini gloves for each jacket or coat and store them in the pockets. These are to be worn under the thick mittens when the weather gets really cold. Some will get lost. But if there is a pair in each jacket you will always have something to prevent skin being exposed to the cold - this is important. You might have to open a door with a metal handle with bare fingers on a cold day, and your fingers could get stuck to the door. If you don't have gloves pull off your hat and use that, or unzip your jacket and use the front of it.

Pay close attention to what type of furnace you are buying and what the fuel costs. There is often a sizable difference between paying for furnace oil, versus electric, versus natural gas, versus wood. Be aware that a wood stove usually results in much higher insurance costs and emphatically must have chimney maintenance to ensure you don't have a fire. But a wood stove is something you want for if there is a power failure. If a blizzard takes down the power lines your furnace will not light. A wood stove can be the only source of heat.

Pipes can freeze. If the power goes turn your cold water on a trickle. That will keep them open as long as the house is only couple of degrees below freezing. If the house starts to go below freezing temperature drain your pipes. If your pipes do freeze get a sharkbite to put in a temporary repair so that you don't end up with a flood until the plumber can get there.

Double glazing is helpful. If the window is greyed out and it looks like there is moisture between the layers of glass it means that the seal has failed. Sometimes the window can be repaired or it may have to be replaced. If the grey is frost on the inside or outside that can be scraped off you are good to go. Your kids can use this frost to write with and leave messages or drawings. Many people like to have a thermometer mounted on the house outside, facing the window so they can see it from inside.

Where you have winter you have spring: Crocuses. Snowdrops. One day you will want to open your windows, and you will throw them open and chill air will flood in and you will breath deep. It will be wonderful to feel the moving air in the house - But in an hour or so you will want to close all the windows and let the house warm up again. It's not that warm outside yet! One day the ground will defrost and the ants get busy cleaning out their nests and there are little castings all over the bare patches of earth. Look up and you will see skeins of geese on their way. The robins arrive when the lawns is bare and brown still. The grackles start making the sound of a rusty gate hinge creaking. That means they are setting up their breeding territory. May is dandelion season. Seeing that first dandelion will be a surge of delight. If you don't have winter you can't really appreciate the flowers. If you want flowers that need warmer weather you can often plant them under your dryer outlet and they might survive there. Otherwise think mulch. In the fall you put your plants to bed under a two inch thick layer of leaves or chipped bark. In the spring you get to rake the mulch back.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:10 PM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

"there really are people who just can’t adapt, and don’t let winter evangelists tell you differently. "

What feineg says is true and should be heeded. I for one ABHOR hot and humid climates. And even though I was forced to live in Florida for four years - a sunny, warm place that many people love- I never got used to it. I cannot CANNOT stand the hot and humid weather. It truly changes my mood to an extent that I really feel like it turns me into a different person. I get bitter and pissed off really easily in the heat and when it gets too humid I feel like I'm suffocating. I've chosen to live most of my life in colder climates of the Northeast and when vacation times come around I choose places like the snowy north of Italy and Canada when others are headed for the beach- (another place I hate). If at all possible I'd recommend spending a vacation or two in the twin cities first to see how you fair with the change in climate because it's one of those things that you won't really know until you experience it more readily.
posted by fantasticness at 2:54 PM on October 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

For a lot of people, there comes a time, maybe late December/early January, when your body finally says...oh! We're doing this cold thing, and it just kind of adjusts. By late February/early March, the same 30 degrees that felt Baltic in November now feels positively balmy.

Every winter when it snows for the first time, I go find a big empty parking lot and get my winter driving legs under me. I practice turns and braking in the relative safety of a big area without anybody or anything to hit. It helps remind me what my car feels like in the snow.

Someone upthread mentioned paw wax for your dog. We use "Musher's Secret" and it is particularly helpful for preventing ice balls in the hair between their pads. Just be careful how much you put on (a little goes a long way), especially if you have wood floors....dogs tend to slip when it is first applied.

Nthing the heated mattress pad...not a heating blanket, which goes on top, but a heating pad, which goes underneath. Best thing ever.
posted by Preserver at 6:34 PM on October 18, 2018

Thank you so much to everyone! I’ve marked some best answers, but all the perspectives are fantastic food for thought, and really helpful for picturing winter prep and daily routines.
posted by Wavelet at 7:46 PM on October 18, 2018

Some people say things like "When you're cold, you can always put on a sweater, or get under a blanket, or drink some hot chocolate, or whatever. But when you're hot, there's a limit to what you can take off. " but they are winter evangelists. Sometimes, for some people like myself, there is just no warming up in a cold climate. There's a limit to how many layers you can add and how helpful those layers will be.

Yes! This is me, too. I get cold really easily, particularly my hands and feet, and I stay cold for hours afterward even after coming inside. Even with proper clothing and layering and all, I'm actively uncomfortable in the cold. And my poor nose, I'd need to wear a ski mask at all times to keep my nose from freezing off, and even that's not enough. Give me the heat any day.
posted by sunflower16 at 1:14 AM on October 19, 2018

Most topics have been well-covered, but I'll add a few tidbits. I live in a boreal confederation where it becomes quite uncomfortable in winter. You need:

* Sunglasses! (Snow blindness is real, unpleasant, and dangerous while driving.)
* Purse snacks! (When you're all bundled up but still cold, have a wee nosh.)
* Moisturizer! (Don't get chapped.)
* Pre-emptive bundling! (By the time you feel cold, you're already lost the battle.)
* Vitamin D supplements! (Sunlight, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, is important.)
* Exercise! (The Winter Blahs can be debilitating. Keep your mojo flowing!)
* An emergency kit in your car! (Imagine getting stuck on a closed winter highway due to an accident, and coping with many hours of staying stuck. ALWAYS have key survival gear ready to rock -- extra layers, blanket, big boots, snacks (I was once trapped on a closed highway for 11 hours in -20° weather)).
posted by Construction Concern at 6:04 AM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing to consider is that kids of a certain age--yes, I mean teenagers--have brains which are mostly concerned with fitting in with the fashion of the day, and will dress inappropriately for the temperature. Like "I'm not wearing a COAT or HAT just to wait ten minutes for the bus ... jeeze!" inappropriate. Based on the fact that I don't know any young adults without a nose or ears I suppose it is self-regulating, but I certainly see some examples every week in the winter.

I have no advice on how to get a teenager to actually pay attention to you, of course...
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:20 AM on October 19, 2018

Largely just to repeat what Jane the Brown said. The thing you will notice about a cold like -20° is that it's a completely different experience from "dressed improperly for a chilly day". It will simply hurt. It will hurt your skin, and it will feel like your tendons hurt as well. It will hurt going into it as well as coming out.

It will feel immediately like irreversible damage is being done to your body, and the ache when you warm back up will seem to confirm this experience. You just have to trust that you will be warm again.

You will have a longer adaptation time for this than people who have lived in the cold for longer. They may have a more active hunter's response, even. Smaller people sometimes have it easier because the blood has less distance to travel to redistribute heat from the core to the extremities. I'm told children can survive temperatures that kill adults dead.

You will find moisturisers marketed as "liquid gloves". Believe this marketing: you will use a layer of cream as a base layer beneath your base layer.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:53 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, another cold urban center thing I found useful back in the day: If you like to wear headphones when you're out and about (walking to get groceries, taking public transportation, listening to a podcast while you walk your dog), switch from earbuds to the largest, most padded over-ear headphones you can find. Splurge if you must. Make sure you look like the most idiotic, over-the-top DJ you can imagine. Combine those headphones with a hat and your head will never be cold. I wore my headphones around even when I wasn't listening to music, to be honest. They were more effective than my other go-to, a hat/earmuff combo (my ears almost always hurt in the cold).

We have these for our dog, for whom paw wax doesn't work. They are ridiculous but protect his feet from salt and they're the only type that hasn't slipped off during a walk.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 10:40 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow--I have lived in the Twin Cities for 30 years and these answers make me think I should move to a warmer climate! It is cold here, but not -20 for extended periods of time. I do own various levels of coats, boots, long underwear, socks, etc. but we don't require a separate room for storage. I wear a packable down coat most of the winter.

My favorite boots are Bogs--rated for low temps, rubber so waterproof and good year round for rain and snow. In sizes for the entire family. Boots need good tread (and/or the cleats mentioned above) for icy frozen snow. I didn't see sock liners mentioned--I wear these under all kinds of socks to wick away moisture, because I hate damp feet. The other thing that can help outdoors is a neoprene face mask on below zero windy days--not the most attractive piece of gear, but welcome when walking or waiting.

I wouldn't rush to the outdoor store for expedition-level equipment until you have figured out what your regular activities will be, including commute and school. Standard issue gear from Lands End or Sierra Trading or the thrift store--coats, boots, warm socks, etc--will certainly get you started your first winter. Think about the quantities, too--you will need a lot of storage for the amount of gear per person recommended here. Back-up outdoor gear for younger kids is necessary, if they are outdoors a lot. Snow pants abound at thrift stores. Kids won't want to wear long underwear in school. Or probably much of a coat by middle school. (Minnesota macho is flipflops/shorts in March or Jan if it is above freezing.) Good luck getting a MS kid into snow pants unless they are going skiing. You will need a carseat cover/blanket for anyone in a carseat--dangerous to put a kid in a snowsuit in a carseat because they can shoot out of the snowsuit & carseat on impact. Probably not something you'd think about!

Having lived in Washington DC (without AC), I don't think we have a lot of high humidity days. Summers & fall are one reason to live here--beautiful weather, lots of outdoor activities, lakes everywhere, just generally nice. (Spring is mud season.) We do have AC, but it isn't on for most of the time. Think about your house--insulation matters as much for heat as cold, and a house (or porch) with lots of west-facing windows will be hot in those parts of the house. Try to buy a house with a three/four season porch that faces not west to enjoy outdoors in your own house. Great for early morning coffee, afternoon cocktails, reading anytime. We do have mosquitos until the first frost.

• One thing that surprises people is that kids go out for recess unless the wind chill is at a dangerous level. And kids need the right gear at school or they won't be allowed outside. Don't be surprised by calls for volunteers to help kids suit up for recess--it takes a lot of time to get kindergartners ready to go out & then come back in.
• Schools do close for weather (private schools that use public school buses following those closing schedules.) Recently schools have closed more often for cold than because of snow--although last winter St Paul PS had a disastrous response to a daytime snowstorm that left kids stranded at school until 11pm. (St Paul policy: schools will close if the forecast for 6am calls for a windchill below minus 40 degrees, or air temperature below minus 25 degrees or more than 6 inches of snow falls in 12 hours or more than 8 inches of snow falls in 24 hours. School officials will make a decision by 6:30 pm the night before cancelling classes. Plus the Governor can cancel all schools in the state for cold.)
• Keep in mind you will need back-up child care for those snow/cold days & for those days schools close early because of daytime snow fall & the after school programs close early. You will be expected to pick up kids earlier that usual.
• Minneapolis PS, which now starts school before Labor Day, has closed/early dismissal for heat, too.
• Not cold-related, but most schools in the state close Thursday & Friday of the 3rd week of Oct for'MEA week' (this week!), for teachers to attend their convention in St Paul. So more child care considerations if you aren't taking the time off--might need to get that vacation bid in early, because lots of parents want those days. This means the airport is crazy busy, too.
• One program that was a lifesaver for me when we moved here from Washington DC in November was Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). A parent/child program, it connected me to people with kids the same age, adult conversation, and resources. I am still friends 30 years later with parents from our first classes. Made winter doable, connected me with a babysitting co-op, and generally helpful. Available in every school district although administration & programs vary. Participation is not income-limited. It is run through Community Ed in each district.
• Community Ed is good to know about in general--classes for all ages PreK-adult on all manner of topics year round, one-off events, often run the senior centers... May be a source for release day child care, too. Plus summer programs for kids, (year round)swimming/swimming lessons, sports teams, exercise, yoga, & similar.

Where to Live
• Try to move in the summer--way easier in so many ways from the logistics to meeting people. While it is true people are playing outside in winter, it is easier to meet people in the neighborhood in the summer. Just more casual opportunities for passing conversation, etc. and for you to quiz neighbors about local stuff. It is easier to find your way around when you don't have to concentrate on winter driving, too. For hitting the thrift stores, too, for all that gear people think you need.
• Think about where your 'urban house with driveway & garage' will be. Both Minneapolis and St Paul are cities of alleys--not a lot of driveways or attached garages. There are pockets of these, and priced accordingly. You will need to shovel a path from the back door to the garage after every snow. Suburbs will have more of both.
• Alley plowing in St Paul is handled by the houses that border the alley--someone arranges for private plowing (usually a guy with pickup truck with plow) and collects the annual fee from the neighbors. It works, but it also means your alley might be on a later plow schedule. It was never a problem for us, but just a note how cities are different. The city plows Minneapolis alleys.
• Sidewalks need to be shoveled, too. If you live on a corner, you will need a snowblower (and lessons on how to use it. Don't use your hand to unclog the snow chute. Use a stick. When it is off.) Buy it from a local dealer/hardware store not a big box--they know what you need (E-Z start, size, etc) and can service it--before the first snow.
• Someone always says 'but they know how to plow the streets.' This really depends on the city! I work in St Paul and we think seeing a city snow plow is the equivalent of seeing a unicorn. (My suburban residential street will have been plowed 2-3 times before St Paul has plowed main arteries once.) Some years with big early snow means we can barely get into the work parking lot because of snow/ice accumulation on the side street, which gets old after a few months. Lanes narrow because St Paul can't always plow curb-to-curb--move your cars, people! You will learn the plowing schedule--which, of course, is different city to city--because having to retrieve your car from the impound lot sucks big $$ and time. Minneapolis seems to do a better job of plowing.
• You didn't mention where you will work, but take that into consideration (obviously) when choosing a home (and school district). It can be more of a hassle to live in the city, IMO, than in the suburbs, depending on where you work. Street parking in both Minneapolis & St Paul can be a hassle depending on neighborhood, esp during a snow emergency. City kids may need to scale mountains of curbside snow to clamber onto the school bus. Clearing curb cuts seem to be overlooked by everyone shoveling/plowing snow.
• The Cities are very civilized and you can have just about anything delivered--food, groceries, what Amazon Prime/Pantry offers, and so on. Usually even in a blizzard until it is too dangerous to drive. All of the public libraries have downloadable books, magazines, movies, & music.

• This will be a big adjustment. I agree with the recommendation of AWD. Don't fall into thinking it is a panacea and you can drive beyond the conditions. I don't have snow tires and am fine. I commute about 18 miles each way on 35E and it is usually clear. The big bridges over the Mississippi & Minnesota Rivers have automatic de-icing, which looks like a lawn sprinkler spewing blue liquid on the bridges. Seems to work.
• The big problems happen when a 'surprise' early snowstorm arrives before the streets are treated with the anti-icing stuff. Then the snow melts and freezes solid to the streets for the duration. This was the issue in St Paul for the Halloween snowstorm--a lot of snow, but the real problem was the deep icy ruts on all major streets. You can use the spreading of the deicing stuff as an early warning system--if you see the trucks out or see stripes on the street, chances are a 'weather event' is on the way.
• Practice driving in the snow in a big empty parking lot, especially stopping. Anti-lock brakes make a difference. Driving is snow is easier than driving on ice--traction.
• Black ice is the worst. It forms a lot on freeways or intersections where traffic is backed up (exhaust freezing).

Growing Season
• One adjustment I had to make was to gardening. In DC, you could throw the seeds on the sidewalk and they would grow. We have a fairly short growing season and not the huge variety of colorful perennials & trees like dogwood in the Mid-Atlantic--or CA. Azaleas are not the same here and herbs like rosemary & lavender don't overwinter well. Iris are usually in bloom by Memorial Day or shortly after.
• Apples abound, as noted above. Farmers markets, too. So you can can tomatoes and such to extend your summer into winter.

The Twin Cities are a great place to live. It is really not the frozen tundra people assume. Winter is logistically harder (dragging the recycling/trash out of the garage, shoveling, driving...), but you and your family will adjust quickly. Attitude is everything. We have lots of great cultural institutions that are family-focused, great libraries (101 buildings in the metro area) with all kinds of programming, park systems with family-friendly & kid or adult-focused programs for free or cheap to learn about nature, the environment, how to skate, snowshoe, or ski in various ways, skating rings indoor & out, ski trails, sports teams of all sorts from pro to peewee, and so much more. It can be an urban adventure at times, but I hope you move here and love it!
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 12:45 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I see it's gotten mention but, I think, not enough emphasis. HOT TEA. It's like the high point of getting home from work on a cold grey day. I have loads of different caffeine free teas (Celestial Seasonings makes a nice range), and if you made me go back to Chicago the first thing I would buy when I got there is a new electric kettle so I could make my tea because I am not fooling around with polar vortex nonsense anymore. Sometimes after being out you'll get so chilled that you can't shake it off even after sitting curled under an electric blanket for ages and you feel like you'll never be warm again... stave it off with a big cup of hot tea to warm your core. It helps.
posted by sldownard at 6:40 AM on October 21, 2018

A few further points I thought of while reading other people's answers:

Kids and winter clothes:
Your kids' schools will start working with them on putting their own winter outwear on in preschool. Where we are, the preschools have them put their own coats on (flip over the head method) at 3, and they start zipping their own coats at 4. (preschool teachers are way better at teaching this than parents, between the peer pressure and the infinite patience.) In kindergarten, they add their own hats and boots (and snowpants), and mittens if they can manage it. In first grade they get themselves ready for recess with only a little teacher help. My second-grader is now being coached every day to put his hat and mittens away properly so they don't get lost and they're working on putting on gloves, and how to take off coats and snowpants without turning them inside out. In fourth grade, my district stops enforcing hats and mittens and so on (as long as it's not dangerously cold), and instead the fourth graders learn about windchill and stuff in their meteorology unit in the fall and are expected to make their own outwear recess decisions based on the weather, so they learn not just HOW to put on winterwear but they start making their own decisions about WHEN to do it and living with the minor consequences of being butt-ass cold for half an hour at recess if they decide not to wear gloves or a hat when it's below freezing.

My kids rid buses to school, so normally I have them start putting on shoes and coats about 5 minutes before they need to go out to wait for the bus. In the winter, I typically start 15 minutes early so they have time to put on all their layers and so we can locate all missing hats and mittens. They're generally ready about 5 minutes early. (And I could certainly dress them faster than 10 minutes but the point is for them to do it themselves.)

Weather closings:
Your neighbors are a wonderful resource for local knowledge about this kind of thing. Here in Chicago, heavy snow that begins after 2 a.m. stands a good chance of closing the schools; heavy snow after 4 a.m. DEFINITELY will because they won't have time to get enough streets plowed before school buses have to run. But heavy snow at 10 p.m. the night before, that's no big deal, they have plenty of time to call in plow crews overnight and get everything clear by bus time. In Peoria, time mattered less; what mattered was the passability of rural roads (for plow and bus drivers to get to the city, and for buses that ran out to more rural areas to run) and the sidewalk situation, since our residential neighborhoods mostly had street-side sidewalks, and if there were five-foot plowing piles on all the sidewalks, there was nowhere safe for kids to wait for the bus or walk to school. So snow -- even pretty big storms -- didn't usually close schools, but ICE on rural roads would, and several snowfalls in a row that on their own were no big deal but all together added up to five-foot sidewalks drifts could too. Your neighbors will be able to tell you things like, "I know they haven't cancelled school yet, but if this storm hits at 3 a.m., there's no way the buses are going to run tomorrow."

Crappy winter chores:
You can hire teenagers or college students for almost all of these. Lots of teenagers make extra cash by shoveling (or even snow-blowing) driveways and walks. I had TAs in college who earned money by shoveling people's roofs (a thing some people do!) and/or knocking the eaves clear to prevent ice dams. You can even hire winter dog-walking kids (although probably you can press your own into service). You can also hire a plow guy to come and plow your driveway, but if you usually clear it yourself but sometimes Just Cannot, there's a high school student somewhere in your neighborhood who will do it for $40. If you're thinking, "ugh, I just cannot deal with all this shoveling I'm going to have to do," you don't have to, as long as you're willing to pay for it!

(Also if you make snow plow pockets when you shovel your driveway, you will groan that you're spending an extra 10 minutes to shovel something that doesn't need shoveling when you've just done the whole driveway, but the next day you'll be doing a jig of glee when everyone else is re-shoveling snowplow detritus snow off the bottom of their driveway and you got all that detritus in your snow plow pocket!)

Finally, your city will have a snowplow map somewhere that tells you in what order they do the streets (and sometimes which streets get salt). Typically it goes major arterials, minor arterials and emergency access, residential streets on a grid, residential streets that are weird, and last of all, cul-de-sacs. Don't live in a cul-de-sac. In Peoria I lived on a quiet residential street that HAPPENED to provide the secondary ambulance access to a retirement home, so we always got plowed right after the major arterials and it was GREAT.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:29 AM on October 21, 2018

I have been driving in MN winters for over 20 years and haven't ever gotten snow tires. LOL. Where I've gotten stuck in the snow: the end of my alley and my driveway when I haven't shoveled yet. The gutter at the end of the alley the direction that the snowplow goes through gets filled with snow and my front-wheel drive car can possibly get stuck in that snow if I don't gun it the right way in the right part of the season. This happens mayyyybe once a year. Snow tires wouldn't fix that, though. My city has excellent plowing, except for the alley. I've heard terrible things about St. Paul plows. YC(ity plows)MV. I also still don't have any long johns. *shruggo*

I work in an office and have my winter boots for outside (some pull on Sorel boots that are waterproof on the bottom) and have nice office shoes I keep at my desk in the winter. I call these my "shuffle boots" and use them for quick trips to the mailbox when it is too cold to go barefoot. I have lace-up winter boots for more active outdoorsiness.

The shuffle boot equivalent I have for mittens are yellow leather choppers. These yellow choppers are my favorite for dog walks and shoveling.

I have three kinds of winter coats (seriously):
1) a light-to-mid weight nice coat with a hood that is one of those quilted down packable things. I wear it from October to December and then maybe March and April.

2) a snowboarding winter coat (I don't snowboard). I use this for playing in the snow with my kid and for shoveling. It is made for wind and extra body heat from movement. It has an elastic snow skirt I can snap over my snow pants to keep snow out of my shirt and pants when playing. It has a hood. It has zippers in the armpits for airflow.

3) a heavier weight down cold weather winter coat with a hood (a Montreal company, so they know cold and wet). I usually wear this in January and February.

It seems ridiculous to have multiple winter coats, but they are fit for purpose. Kids tend to just have the one winter coat, but then a lined and hooded jacket for spring and summer.

To me, the coldest weather can be 30-40F, especially with a wind and humidity or rain. Brr! Sometimes the warmest and most perfect winter days are 20F - too cold for much humidity! Below zero is hardest, I think, for the doggies. It just is no fun to go for dog walks when it is below zero out. The Twin Cities don't get that cold for too often for too long, but keeping an eye out for an indoor doggie daycare for those super cold days can help with active puppers.

When snow is on the ground, it is so bright in the winter time. The darkest days are November and December when there isn't much snow or daylight. For these days, get you and your dog reflective vests or lights for dog walks. Unfortunately, these are usually for sale in the Spring (wtf?).

I am anti-space heater because electricity is more expensive than natural gas furnace heat in our house. Yes, it is weird to be heating the whole house, but it is cheaper!

Nth the humidifier, lotion, chapstick, hot tea, hot chocolate, remote car starter and heated car seat mentioned above!
posted by jillithd at 1:12 PM on October 22, 2018

Freezing rain. The city shuts down. Trees drop limbs. If you're lucky, you have power. Also, the sidewalks are extraordinarily slippery. A decent subway newtork would be nice, if we had one. (*stares accusingly at Ottawa city council.*)
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:24 AM on October 25, 2018

I just had my first opportunity to wear my ice fisherman's gloves while cleaning the ice and snow off my car and it was awesome to finally be able to quickly do the whole surface of the car by hand, by just rubbing it all away with my fingers rather than switching between the plastic scraper for the windows and the usually-inadequate-for-ice brush on metal surfaces, while keeping perfectly warm and dry hands rather than ending up wearing soaked-through cloth gloves or mittens over freezing cold fingertips.
posted by XMLicious at 3:45 AM on November 18, 2018

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