The weather the past week has been so cold that it makes you wonder why anyone would choose to live in this (insert unprintable adjectives here) state.
That particularly is the case when, thanks to the wonders of social media, you can learn from acquaintances how nice it is where they are, which is far from you. To read about temperatures in the 60s in central Florida, where Wisconsin played in the Capital One (formerly Florida Citrus) Bowl New Year’s Day is one thing. It’s something else entirely to read from someone who moved to, of all places, Australia, where it’s in the 30s … Celsius.
The 30s Fahrenheit would be vastly preferable to what we’ve been cursed to experience recently. (You probably figured out my feelings on this subject from my anti-winter screed in this space of your favorite weekly newspaper a month ago.) As a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers, I got several emails last week encouraging me to buy tickets for the playoff game against San Francisco Sunday. Independent of the cost (which just started at the ticket price north of $100) and logistics (with a 3:40 p.m. start, I wouldn’t be likely to get back before midnight, and I still have to go to work Monday morning), I don’t think I would have really wanted to sit in double-digit-below-zero conditions for three hours.
And yet … I predicted with confidence that, as cold as it was Sunday and Monday, we wouldn’t set records. That’s because the predicted lows were not as cold as the record lows of those days. The record low for Jan. 7 — indeed, the all-time measured coldest temperature in Platteville — is 32 below zero, set in 1887 and matched Feb. 3, 1996. (In contrast, Platteville residents celebrated Bastille Day — July 14 — in 1936 by basking in 110-degree heat, the fifth of six consecutive days of temperatures over 100. Eleven of the record highs for July were set in 1936.)
When I was growing up in Madison, every time we visited my grandparents in Richland Center, we would drive past the U.S. 14 billboard with a polar bear commemorating Lone Rock as “Coldest in the Nation with the Warmest Heart.” That celebrated, if you want to call it that, Jan. 30, 1951, when Lone Rock’s 53-below-zero low was the coldest temperature in the U.S. that day. (Platteville was much warmer that day: 30 below zero.)
I am convinced some Wisconsinites live here merely to be able to tell bad-winter stories. The aforementioned winter of 1995–96 might have been the winter that we tried the throw-boiling-water-up-in-the-air trick to see if it would indeed freeze when it hit the ground. (It was at least slushy.) I’ve been off the road when I didn’t plan on it a few times, but I’ve never been stranded in winter weather ... yet.
The standard bad-winter tale of someone who grew up in Madison was listening to the radio announce school closings of every school district in the area except Madison. (On the other hand, I once got a day off because of my school’s roof. It was flat, similar to my future high school a few miles away, whose roof collapsed due to the weight of snow.) Once I moved to Grant County, I was surprised how often school was called off, the result of the more litigious environment, one school district administrator told me, added to the topography that makes winter drives a challenge.
Here’s some weather irony for you: So far this school year, Platteville has had one early dismissal due to heat, one day off due to ice, and now two days off due to cold. That leaves, I guess, snow, severe weather (Wausau schools once closed early for a predicted major tornado outbreak), floods and drought, I suppose, though the latter is unlikely to close school.
My favorite, if you want to call it that, weather story wasn’t in this state. My family went to Florida on vacation in January 1977. You know your trip will have an interesting start when you’re awakened to a call from your neighbor the National Weather Service meteorologist about the bad weather in Illinois and Indiana, where you’re headed. That was the first time I’d ever experienced a “whiteout.” The first night, instead of being in Kentucky, we were stuck in a truck stop outside Merrillville, Ind. The second night, we were in a hotel in Portage, Ind. (which is north of Merrillville), after an Indiana state trooper got on the truck stop’s public address system to announce that anyone who tried to go south of the truck stop on Interstate 65 would be arrested.
Imagine the conundrum. On the one hand, not being able to see past the hood of the car — which, by the way, lacked such 21st century niceties as all-wheel-drive or even traction control, rear window defroster and heated seats — and seeing snow drifts across the road as high as the hood of the car was truly scary from the back seat, even before hearing about 70-below-zero (by the old scale) wind chills from the howling winds outside the truck stop. On the other hand, I had all my homework done in advance, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school.
We did get to Florida, a day late, after avoiding I–65 by driving as far east as South Bend and taking two-lane U.S. 31 to Indianapolis. We got to Disney World after meeting another weather disaster, an ice storm in Atlanta — which had melted by the time we got there, leading to the strange sight of sunny skies, temperatures in the 50s, and cars everywhere they weren’t supposed to be, looking like a scene out of a movie about the Apocalypse. Once we got to Florida, we enjoyed temperatures in the … 40s and 50s.
One of the games Wisconsinites with more vehicles than garage space (common at least in Platteville) is the Will It Start? game. While living in Cuba City two years before the aforementioned winter of 1995–96, I discovered that my car would start at 25 below zero, when I had to go out of town, but it would not start at 28 below zero three days later. (It’s always fun to push a non-functioning car into a garage, even if it’s a small car.) That is a game that can be played not only with cars on cold days, but with snowblowers on snowy days.
Here’s a poll question I should post on SWNews4U.com: Why do you live in Wisconsin? (No obscenities, please.)