The Special Cold

So we’re having our first cold snap.

Sort of.

Because it’s just going down to minus 24C tonight.    That’s hardly a record-breaking temperature there I live.

But it’s the first noticeable cold of the season.

We’ve had freezing temperatures since late October.  But minus single-digits are par for the course.

Minus teens are tolerable, just mildly annoying.

But minus 20’s are the point at which it starts to become obnoxious outside.

Starts to.

Because it can easily go down to the minus 30’s, and (somewhat rarer) it even pushes minus 40.    And I’m sorry, that’s cold by anyone’s standards, even for Nanook of the North.

And it’s a Special kind of Cold, that you have to experience first-hand to understand.

Sorry, Chicago, Seattle, or Buffalo, you just don’t get it.

But Rugby, North Dakota, North Bay, Saskatoon and St. Jovite, you probably do.

It’s that Special Cold that gets into your house, into all the nooks and crannies and chills your marrow.  Even though the thermostat says 70F, and you’re wearing a sweater

It’s that Special Cold that slams you like a brick wall the instant you leave the house.   Where you pray that your engine starts.  Where the steering wheel burns to the touch, and feels like it’s lubricated with molasses, it’s so sluggish to move.

Where you turn the heater on full-blast, but it’s not until you arrive at your destination that the car’s finally warmed to a civilized temperature.   And then (dammit) it’s time to go outside eand you’re instantly chilled all over again.

It’s that Special Cold where your cheeks and nose feel like they’re on fire.   Where your nostrils stick together, your eyes water and the tears freeze to your cheeks.   Where your beard or mustache (if you have one) ices up within seconds.

Where you get an ice-cream headache from your bare forehead, and it hurts your lungs to breathe deeply.   Where you can’t feel the surface-skin of your legs, and your toes start to get that dull ache, that will really start to hurt if you don’t get inside soon.

But the Special Cold is also beautiful, in its own way.

The air is perfectly calm and still,  as if Mother Nature herself is hunkering down.  Everything seems to grinds to a halt.

Whitish smoke rises perfectly vertically from everyone’s chimney, forming low-level clouds that drift on for miles.    The snow has that extra squeaky sound as you walk on it.    Ice crystals dance suspended in the air, reflecting whitish-yellow against an azure sky. Everything sparkles.

Sound travels farther.  Jet aircraft WHOOSH though the crackling air much louder than usual.    You can take a cup of hot water, flick it into the air, and it will turn to ice vapor before it hits the ground.   (It’s not a myth, I’ve actually done this)

And if you dress warmly enough, with enough layers, and keep moving, you can actually go out in the Special Cold and enjoy it for short periods.

Skiing, skating, ice-fishing, snow-mobiling.   We Canadians are kind of nuts, that way.

(After all, what are we supposed to do?  Stay INDOORS all winter?)

And besides, the Special Cold is short-lived.

By March, the minus 20-30’s are pretty much done.

April is mostly rain and slush.   By the end of the month, there might even be a short heat wave where you can go out in shorts.

By May, we can easily hit plus 30C….

And then, we’ll start complaining about the heat…

Never a dull moment here, in the Great White North.

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32 Comments on “The Special Cold”

  1. Friar's Mom Says:

    @ Wee Friar,

    I worked for hours and hours cleaning out my garage. I can’t thank you enough for moving my four heavy summer tires into the back shed this past weekend. I’m able to park my car in the garage.

    I no longer have to rush out in the Friggin cold to move my car to the street so that the snow removal guy can clear out my driveway.

    Whenever I run errands, I get into a car that is fairly warm and the snow doesn’t have to be brush off, nor the windshield scraped. The bonus is that I keep the small automatic door opener in my pocket, I don’t have to get out of the car to open or close the garage door.

    I’m truly spoiled. I haven’t used the garage in years.

  2. Friar Says:

    @Friar’s Mom

    Not since you played “Star Wars” in 😉

  3. Davina Says:

    Hah, hah… So, the Deep Friar is in the Deep Freeze 🙂

    “Ice crystals dance suspended in the air, reflecting whitish-yellow against an azure sky.” Beautifully put. As a native of North Bay, I can say that you’ve described this very well. I like it (sometimes) when it’s so cold that the snow is extra crunchy under your feet; so much so, that when you walk it squeaks with each step. And when you speak to someone, voices sound different. Maybe that’s because ears are frozen. Even our dogs (on the farm) would lift their little feet uncomfortably…

  4. Karen JL Says:

    I know that cold.

    But I used to wait for the bus in it or walk to the Metro in it. Good times.

    I don’t miss that cold. Brrr. 😉

  5. steph Says:

    Oh my God, Friar. Not just the freezing cold took my breath away today. Your post is brilliant. As usual, you captured everything exactly right. Well written!

  6. Friar's Mom Says:

    @Wee Friar,

    Coincidence that you should mention “Star Wars”. When I first pulled into the garage on Monday I was reminded of that day, two decades ago. I almost mentioned it in my comment, but it’s and in thing betwen you and me.

    All those years, and I never explained to J. about skid marks on the garage floor and the smell of burned rubber.

  7. Friar Says:


    Yeah, living in Trout Creek, I’m sure you can relate.

    But now you’ve moved to Lotus Land, along with one of your fellow bloggers, Karen.


    Ahhh..Montreal in January.

    Fun times.

    I once went there with a bunch of Grad Students from China who never experienced a true Canadian winter. They had no idea how to dress.

    Needless to say, they were not amused. 🙂


    Well, sometimes it’s fun to write, without being a smart ass.

    I do it once in a while, to prove to myself that I can.

    I’m just waiting for Eyeteaguy to read this and give me shit, though.

    @Friar’s Mom

    I think the Star Wars is a good story. I can explain it here with your permission.

    (Heck, it was 20 years ago and Friar’s Dad was never the wiser).

  8. Hi Friar – Great description of the creeping cold in the house. Already arrived in Minnesota this year! Even though I grew up in Michigan, I didn’t know cold until Minnesota, and had never seen a sun dog, either (where the golden ring of ice crystals around the sun creates a kind of rainbow). Aren’t we just full of experiences! 🙂

  9. Friar Says:

    Yep.. Depending on where you are in Minnesota, I dare say it could be the same, or worse than where I am. A lot of Minnesota is basically Northern Ontario or Manitoba, a bit further north than Splat Creek.

    We get sun-dogs here too.

    As I write this, it’s minus 25C right now…I’m looking out the’s pitch black and I’ll have to leave to go to work soon (Shudder).

    Like I said…not record breaking temperatures. But noticeably starting to get obnoxious.

  10. Wendi Kelly Says:


    Great writing and great description but you are misinformed about the windy city of Chicago. Although I will say it (thank god) isn’t all winter long, when we aren’t getting pummeled with snow or biting wind we have at least a hand full of days exactly as you just described well below the zero F. mark before the windchill. THEN…the winds start in and make it feel like you’ve just landed on some foreign planet where humans shouldn’t be able to survive. Windchill of 20 below is not uncommon by the lakes. I think last year we had a succession of days where it never got above zero for…I don’t know ten days or something. It might have been less….it felt like forever.

    After a bad spell like that Sero feels like summer. And..people put for sale signs up. It runs off the thin skinned.

  11. Brett Legree Says:

    The Special Cold contributed to a burned out starter on my car.


  12. Friar Says:


    Okay…those are respectably cold temperatures. I’ll give you that.

    But Chicago is like Windsor/Detroit. Yes, you might occasionally get the Special Cold…for only short periods. But it’s still the “Banana Belt” to me! 🙂

    (That’s okay…you guys still win, with regards to tornadoes and violent thunderstorms)


    What…just since last night? (Man, that would SUCK!)

  13. Brett Legree Says:


    No, the other day… I just haven’t had time to fix it.

  14. Kool Aid Says:

    wow, I got cold reading that. But right now, I’ll take that cold over the dreary rain we’ve had all. day. long.

  15. Kat Says:

    Friar, that was a beautiful post.. I’m pretty sure I can safely say that no time soon do I want to experience that kind of cold. It sounds like it might have gorgeous moments, but being from Texas where we call it cold at plus 32 F I can’t even think how I would survive minus 30 C (Yeah, that’s right, we Texans are wusses in the colder parts of the world.. Or at least we are for the most part).

    We get snow that sticks overnight here and I’m excited (and complaining about the cold). I think I’ve built a snowman twice in my entire life, and one of those times it was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand.

    Cold, such a strange thing, but then you mention summer heat and I’m reminded that we usually break the 100s in Fahrenheit all summer long, and that I don’t usually complain about. =p

    Lovely imagery. Thanks again for another good read.

  16. Friar Says:

    And I’m sure the Splat Creek Crappy Tire will give you wonderful customer service.

    @Kool Aid
    It’s true….the white snow covers up all the dreary mud and grey from Novembers, and brigthens everything up.

    If I’m going to have winter, I prefer it to have snow in it, than non

    You can’t always make snowmen. It has to be the right type of snow (that’s just wet enough and sticky).

    When it’s 20 below, it’s a dry fluffy now that just blows around. You can’t really do anything with it.

    I’ve spent a good part of a summer once, in the Southwest (Utah, Arizona, Nevada). 100F is quite hot..but 90F in the desert is no problem. They use the cliché “it’s a dry heat” but it’s true. A dry heat lot easier to take.

    We can easily hit the 90’s up here, plus the occasional 100F. But when it’s like that, it’s 100% humidity, a veritable steam bath.

    And dosen’t last too long…within a few days, it usually gets broken up by a thunderstorm and things cool nicely back down to the 70’s.

  17. Friar's Mom Says:

    @Wee Friar,

    Here’s my “Star Wars” Saga.

    Years ago I was in the process of parking the car in the garage, and for some unknown reason the gas pedal go stuck. I found myself accelerating uncontrollably into the garage. I was aiming straight for the back wall. I passed all the stored items on either side at a blurring speed. It was like the rapid blur of those small space ships in “Star Wars”. All this took place in a second or two, as my life flashed before my eyes. I was certain I would impact with the rear wall. I held on to the steering wheel and jammed the brakes with all my might. That’s when the car screeched, my heart pounded excessively, the garage filled with smoke, and I smelled burned rubber.

    The following day my husband asked me about the long black skid marks in the garage. I walked with him into the garage, feigned ignorance, and said I probably stepped too hard on the brakes. It scares me how easy it was to lie. He actually believed me.

    The skid marks have since gone, and he too has passed away. I never told him about “Star Wars:”. I completely forgot about this incidence, until I parked in the same garage on Monday.

  18. Brett Legree Says:

    That’s why I figure I’ll fix it myself…

    Anyway, back to the real topic – The Special Cold can be pretty good if you have a real, roaring wood fire – indoors or outdoors – or a steaming hot tub.

    Nothing like warming the old bones to the core.

    (And a good glass of Scotch doesn’t hurt either…)

  19. Kat Says:


    I remember going to Georgia to spend some time with my best friend… We went out to an amusement park. The temperature was in the 80s (F of course), and.. I remember being floored by how much the humidity kicked my butt. I’m used to hotter temperatures, but the humidity made moving around there, walking up those hills (did I mention I’m also not accustomed to elevation changes?) seem like ten times the work!

    So yeah, I’d take dry heat over humid heat any day.

    And further, I’ve never seen snow that wasn’t sticky. However, most years the only ‘snow’ I see is really more of sleety, slushy ice and so I discount it… But any snow is better than ice-slicked roads without the pretty, white landscapes (to me at least).

  20. Friar's Mom Says:


    This morning, our eastern Ontario temperature was in the low -20°Cs. The radio announcer informed his listeners that at -21°C, the salt, spread on the roads for traction, no longer works. I drove 60k across the city and into the countryside to watch my grandkids in their school Christmas pageant. My drive along the country roads was breathtaking; the sun was out, the sky a bright blue. The fields were blanketed with white untracked snow which sparkled in the morning sunshine. Car exhaust hovered as a delicate white cloud. Trees, poles, fences, and tall dry grasses were covered in hoar frost.

    I wish I had my camera, the photos would have made beautiful scenes for Christmas cards. Better still, I felt as if I were inside a real Christmas card.

  21. Brett Legree Says:

    I find winter is *much* easier to stomach when you can choose to go outside.

    I.e. it’s fun to go for a winter hike when the sun’s up, but I find absolutely nothing “fun” about a 6:30 drive to work, when, as Friar says above, the heater just starts to produce heat as you arrive at work…

    I would imagine the people who serve you drinks at a tropical resort feel much the same way about the heat.

  22. Friar's Mom Says:


    I wish everyone in this Cold Canadian Climate was privy to a garage like I am. It is such a decadent luxury to step from the house into relatively warm car, and back it out into the street, without shoveling the snow off the car roof. The electronic garage door opener/closer is an added windfall.

    My last eight winters were spent in B.C., where I had to park outside. There have been occasions where the car was buried under 40 cms of snow.

    From experience, I learned to tuck in my car by covering the windshield with a heavy plastic sheet and securing the plastic into the front doors. Wee Friar thinks I’m anal. But do I care? My anality prevents the windshield wipers from freezing to slush on my windshield. It also means no scraping of hoar frost, refrozen moist snow, or freezing rain.

    It feels so good to whip off a few inches of fresh snow in one fell swoop of the plastic sheet. Ta da!

  23. Friar Says:


    Exactly. A nice winter hike at noon when it’s a more civilized temperature is pleasant.

    Driving to work just before the COLDEST time of the day…then walking 1 km from the parking lot to your office…is NOT.

    The only time I’ve been around that area was Tennessee in April.

    I hear Georgia is BRUTAL in the summer. (I was once offer a job there, but I’m glad I turned it down)

    I dunno. That sounds like a culture shock to me (and I’m not just talking about the climate)

    @Friar’s Mom

    My Mom lays a patch in the garage. Without damaging a single thing.

    That’s pretty impressive, actually.

    I think even car nuts like Brett and Eyeteaguy would approve.

  24. Donald Mills Says:

    I think you’ve captured it extremely well Friar. I remember the iced beard and nostril freeze only too well. I also recall, years ago, running to catch a bus when it was likely -20 or worse. After a half dozen running steps I nearly collapsed. It felt like someone was jumping on my chesting. It must have been half an hour before I could breathe normally. Missed the bus too.

    All the best for the holiday season, Friar. I hope you have a nice breal

  25. Cath Lawson Says:

    Well Friar – I was wondering just how cold this special cold gets in Canada and that is probably the best description I could wish for.

    It’s -7 here right now and I didn’t switch the heating on so my feet are blue.

    It sounds fun tho and I like the way you just get on ennjoying yourself regardless. Here – a few centimetres of snow brings the country to a standstill.

  26. Friar Says:

    Wow. That must have been some serious cold, for you to feel like that. You’ll have to watch in next time, or you’ll get pneumonia.

    Even a younger lad like myself…I get really bad chest colds and if I push myself too hard when it’s cold outside, I can get really sick.

    I’m working till the 23rd..then I have a nice week and a half off for Christmas. I’m really looking forward to it…as the Widget Factory can be tiresome at times, and I could use the break.

    When I was a grad student, one of my lab-mates was from the UK. She really wanted to experience the “real cold”, and kept asking me “Is it cold yet?”.

    Living in Southern Ontario, it never really got that bad, and I had to keep telling her “no”.

    But then we were at a conference in Montreal in January. We went to the top of Mt. Royal, overlooking this city. The burning cold wind wanted to tear the skin off our faces, eyes watering, the whole ice-cream headache thing…

    I told her “ THIS is cold”.

    And she was quite thrilled (now she could go brag to her friends back home!)

    PS. A few cm of snow here is just an annoyance. But it still brings out the idiot drivers. There are always fender-benders on the road, blocking traffic.

  27. XUP Says:

    Look at you getting all poetical and everything. Very nicely put. I don’t mind it when it gets like this for a short while. It’s nice to have a break every so often though. I lived up near Collingwood one winter and it was minus 50 for a couple of weeks that January. THAT was freakin’ cold. I don’t think it’s usual though for that part of the province, but I wouldn’t know since I refused to spend another winter there. Except for those 2 bitterly cold weeks, it snowed every day from the end of October until mid-April.

  28. Yanno, Celsius temps are wussier than Fahrenheit. When you’re talking -20C that’s the equivalent of a balmy -4F, fairly routine in the Twin Cities in December and January, and after the January thaw, into February. Up at our cabin, by Bemidji, temps are generally about 10 to 15 degrees colder. Last week it was a high of -9F (-22C)for a couple of days, but now we’re back up in the 20’s (your -6)and things are quite manageable. Just sayin’. 😀

  29. Lily Fossil Says:

    My Dear Friar,

    I hope you don’t mind me stopping by to say a few words. Do you know what one of my favourite things is? Here in the Southern hemisphere (in Australia) we are in our Summer and experiencing heatwaves (above 40C for days on end) and do you know what makes it bearable? reading beautiful blogs like yours describing the cold and the ice of your Northern Winter.

    It does have a strangely cooling effect. When it is so hot here I also love watching movies set in the snow and looking at all the snow and ice pictures from the northern hemisphere. To me, they are just magical and soothing.

    May I take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season.


  30. Friar Says:

    Yeah…heh heh. I DO occasionally like to write seriously. (It’s kind of like sherbet between main cleanses my palette between the smart-ass posts).

    Been to Collingwood but it’s not usually that cold, being in Southern Ontario. But they do get there wicked snow squalls off Georgian Bay.

    Dunno if you were in Ottawa the winter of 79/80. I was…and I remember it being minus 45C..without the windchill.

    Our family went skiing that day.



    I know…that’s why I said minus 20C was starting to get obnoxious. It’s cold…but not REALLY cold…yet.

    But we get into the minus 30’s quite easily….and that’s when Celsius and Fahrenheit get quite close (And of course, they equal at minus 40, after which Celsius start to pass Fahrenheit

    But I have to admit, since a significant part of Minnesota is further north compared to Splat Creek, and you’re closer to the Great Plains, your weather is probably at least as bad (if not worse) than over here. 🙂


    Do I mind you stopping by? No, quite the opposite. In fact, I was tickled pink to see you show up here.

    I actually spent one Christmas in Oz (visiting a friend at the time). It was a total culture shock to see 30C weather and people BBQ’ing instead sitting down to a huge turkey dinner. But experiencing those warm temperatures in December was a nice change.

    Though I did experience some rather hot weather, later on that trip, when we headed North to Queensland to dive the Reef. There was one particular day, outside of Mackay, with the sun directly overhead, and 100% humidity. It was one of the hottest days of my life.

    The Locals on the dive boat were all wearing wetsuits to keep warm in the water. I swam in shorts and T-shirt, and it was the only time I didn’t’ feel hot.

    Anyway, I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas, and I hope you drop in again soon.

    – Friar

  31. Rita Says:

    Agreed – what a great description. Once the temp. gets below 0 degrees does it really matter how much lower the thermometer goes? Living in the US Northeast, we have an expression: when the temperature is between 0-30 it is “cold,” but when the temperature is below 0, it is “f*cking cold.” We all know what it means and dress accordingly – if we go out at all.

    Have a Merry Christmas, Friar! Stay warm.

  32. Friar Says:


    Hahah! That’s exactly what I was telling my friend from the UK. There’s “Cold”. Then there’s “F**ing Cold”. And then there’s “GD F**ing Cold”.

    GD F**ing Cold is no fun for anyone. No matter where you live.

    Hope you enjoy the Holidays too!

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