How cold is it?

Published 9:16 am Friday, January 19, 2024

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You call this cold? I remember one of my jobs on the farm was to go out to the barn every morning and jumpstart the cow so the milk would be warm.

When my kids were growing up, they would groan and roll their eyes when I began telling them how hard we had it in my day. No matter how much I embellished the hardships, they never seemed to buy into my suffering.

So here we are in the usually mild Isothermal Belt going through our annual period of winter when it gets real for a week. Temperatures in the teens overnight means frozen water pipes for some, dead car batteries for others and fingers that don’t work the way they are supposed to.

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Suddenly no one is talking about real-life issues such as death and destruction in Ukraine, bombs, killing and torture in Gaza or our now infamous propensity for school shootings. The conversations right now are all about how cold it is.

No matter where you are in the country, that region has sayings particular to it. With no particular locale in mind, here are a few of my favorites:

  • It’s colder than a well digger’s (insert some part of the anatomy) in Montana.
  • It’s so cold there are dogs stuck to the fire hydrants.
  • It’s colder than a mother-in-law’s love.
  • It’s so cold I saw a politician with his/her hands in their pockets.
  • It’s so cold they are selling coffee on a stick down at the coffee shop.
  • When someone asks a Vermonter to describe that state’s seasons, they might say that a year consists of nine months of winter followed by three months of poor sledding.
  • Garrison Keiler, the Minnesotan maestro of “A Prairie Home Companion” fame, says winter is the season that raises the social status of plumbers.
  • Mark Twain said, ”Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we’d all have frozen to death.”

Even the words used by scientists, farmers and most of all television meteorologists to describe winter weather can be, well, withering. Thundersnow, bomb cyclone, bombogenesis, polar vortex, snow shower, hoarfrost, arctic freeze, bitter cold, and perhaps the most misunderstood winter weather term of all—blizzard. Friends and neighbors often say “We’re going to get a blizzard” without knowing what that is. For a storm to be a blizzard, you must have snow AND sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph wind for at least three hours.

So keep the coffee hot and snuggle. This will be over soon.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at