Today was cold.
I mean, REALLY FREAKING COLD.
I knew I’d be in for a harsh winter before I moved to Toronto, but even the locals are saying there hasn’t been an icy epidemic as ridiculous as this for many years!
Almost every consecutive week for the past month now I’ve broken my record for the coldest weather I’ve experienced. Prior to leaving for Canada my record remained at -11°C, achieved in Jindabyne, NSW in 2001 (that’s even despite spending 15 months in Europe from 2008-2009). It didn’t take long to reach my -11°C record upon my Canadian arrival, followed quickly by minimums of -14°C, then -18°C, then an ice storm, and on Friday last week exceeding all my expectations at -23°C with a -35°C wind chill.
And then today happened. A blast of air direct from the Arctic made its way over Canada & the US, breaking decades worth of wind chill records. Just before I left home for work this morning, I checked the weather on my phone and found this:
Yep: that’s -24°C with a -39°C wind chill.
To think that the ideal temperature for a freezer is -18°C, today’s weather more than doubled the recommended climate for freezing food.
As an Australian who spent much of my life in tropical North Queensland, this kind of weather is simply unfathomable. So what’s it like to experience such bleak conditions?
The first thing I notice as I leave the warmth of my abode and venture into the outside world is that it’s surprisingly pleasant. Of course it’s colder than normal, but I’m wearing a few layers, gloves, a beanie & a scarf, and the alcove between my front door and Dundas St West is safe and relatively well sheltered from the blistering atmosphere. However, a step onto the footpath exposes the bare skin of my face to the elements and I can tell it’s not going to be a pleasant journey into work. My lungs appreciate the crisp intake as I breathe in deeply, but as I do, I feel icicles form in my nose. It’s an uncomfortable sensation and I try to only breathe gently through my mouth going forward, for fear of freezing my pharynx.
I walk along happily for two or three minutes until a gust of wind catches me by surprise, whacking me across the face as if it were the back of a saucepan lined with razor sharp chunks of ice. All feeling instantly drains from my uncovered forehead, cheeks, eyelids, lips and nose. I now know the true meaning of a -39°C wind chill: if this preposterous breeze sustains for any more than a few minutes, there’s a pretty good chance frostbite will kick in.
I make my way to the streetcar shelter on Spadina & Dundas. One other guy is waiting for the tram, but there’s no sign of an arrival any time soon. I debate whether it’ll take me longer to die if I stand still and keep waiting, or get active again and continue a few hundred metres to Queen St. I choose the latter, refastening my scarf so that it covers as much of my mouth and nose as possible. A few more gusts of that dastardly wind ensue, and I check that I can still feel my cheeks. Thankfully somebody had cleared & salted the ice along the footpath earlier in the morning, allowing me to speed along toward Queen without paying too much attention to the slippery undergrowth. I notice my scarf beginning to freeze at the point where my mouth touches the material. I wipe off the frost building up on my eyelashes. I clench my hands deep in my jacket pockets to try to regain the feeling in my fingers after wiping my brow.
I finally reach the Queen & Spadina streetcar shelter, only to find the next bloody streetcar isn’t due to arrive for another 23 minutes!
I curse the TTC and bitterly decide to continue with the walk after recuperating in the shelter for a moment. Just as I’m about to head eastbound along Queen, a tram appears out of nowhere. All my problems are instantly solved and I arrive inside the warm Hudson’s Bay building a few minutes short of 7am. My time at -39°C has come to an end.
As I write this, I’m in my toasty, centrally-heated bedroom wearing a t-shirt & shorts – a far cry from the polar frost of this morning, and having survived the slightly milder return journey back home. I’ll remain right here until my next venture into work tomorrow where the ambient temperature is currently set to be -18°C. Who knows what the wind chill will be.
But you know what? I love it like this! The 2013/2014 Toronto winter has turned out so remarkably different from any climate I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s extreme, it’s unpleasant and it’s just so goddamn freezing that it makes me feel an odd sense of accomplishment to have survived it (so far). I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s the most extreme temperature you’ve experienced? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!