2/22/15 February Frigidity

I will complain a bit about the cold weather, if you don’t mind. I will complain a bit if you do. I want to complain about it and will not be deterred. If you are satisfied with the weather, then turn the page, or rather, in modern parlance, hit the back button. If you are interested in the eternal/infernal futility of complaining about it, then you may proceed.

Before I get started with the complaining proper, I want all of y’all to realize that there is the exact nature of coldness as compared with the dynamic, relative nature of coldness as perceived by humans. The former is not really interesting to me because it is easily explained. It is the latter that concerns me most, though I will deal a bit with the former so we can dismiss it promptly and get on with the complaining.

Zero on the Kelvin scale (0K/absolute zero) is the definition of cold. Anything above that is considered heat, though heat may be as far removed from warmth as the love of a future mother-in-law for her daughter’s impecunious betrothed. At 0K, the complete absence of heat, all thermodynamic/mechanical energy processes are halted, suspended, and deactivated since there is the complete absence of energy to conduct them. I suppose if we could actually get anything down to 0K, we’d see that atoms no longer stay together. I am embellishing about that a bit since thermodynamic processes are all that’s halted. Nuclear bonds are not broken at 0K, but it makes for more exciting reading. I am not a scientist, and will lapse into friction [Of course I meant to type f-i-c-t-i-o-n, but decided that friction was just fine!] with no provocation whatsoever. It is up to the reader to discern for himself the veracity of what I am writing here. I am not frustrated with the limitations imposed by science trifles or rumors of facts. Having said that, I suppose it’s fortunate that we can’t get temperatures down to 0K, else the whole universe would disappear, like the fears some have voiced over experiments conducted at the super-conducting hadron collider in Bern, Switzerland. When man creates anti-matter, we’ll see what happens. When man gets to 0K, we find out then, too. 0K has been hard to reach, since, in all likelihood, the measuring devices and mechanical processes needed to reach and record it function less efficiently as they approach absolute zero, and will fail to work at all in close proximity. It is akin to calculating the tangent of a 90° angle. It is like a 10 on the Richter Scale. It is an infinite event. One really does not want to be there when an event of infinite magnitude occurs since people can get promptly swallowed up in the infinite, vanishing forever like the people who fulfill the lifetime guaranteed money back if not satisfied warranties promised on products sold via two-minute infomercials on late-night TV, if you’ll just pay separate shipping and handling.

We have three common scales to measure temperature. We have the nearly arbitrary Celsius or Centigrade scale (it’s so arbitrary they can’t make up their mind what we should even call it), which is based on the freezing and boiling points of water, popular everywhere in the world except for the USA and perhaps some strongholds left over in Britain. We have the even more arbitrary Fahrenheit scale, which we Americans grew up with, where the boiling point of water is 212°F and its freezing point is 32°F and 0°F represents practically nothing other than it’s really cold outside. And we have the Kelvin scale which is based on absolute zero, or the complete absence of heat. Only the Kelvin scale is used exclusively to measure heat, since only zero indicates heat’s absence. It is interesting to note here that the Kelvin itself is a unit of measurement, which is why temperature on it is not now referred to in degrees. We also have, just so you’ll know, the far less common Rankine Scale, which is based on absolute zero, but uses a unit of degree measurement equivalent to one degree Fahrenheit.

0K is pretty dang cold, being the equivalent of −273.15°C or -459.67°F. I’d have died long before absolute zero has been reached. You would’ve, too. That’s far colder than the relatively balmy temperature observed in Antarctica in 2010, which claims to be the lowest temperature ever observed (through satellite data) at -135.8°F, or -93.2°C, which is a perfectly hellish sounding 180K. Another site claims the lowest temperature ever recorded at ground level as occurring in Vostok Station, Antarctica, in 1983. It was a frigid −89.2°C, −128.6°F, or torpid 184.0K, however you choose to look at it. I suspect the poor fellows there to record the temperature in an Antarctic July winter were pretty cold, only dreaming of torpor while in their relatively warm ice caves, practically having the sweat freeze on their bodies in their toasty 400lb goose-down/Polartec L.L. Bean sleeping bags, seal fur having long since gone out of style due to a plethora of reasons, some practical, some political.

If you ask me, anything below 65°F is cold. This is related, no doubt, to my Mississippi upbringing. Last year was unreasonably cold, I thought. This year is even worse, though it could be only my memory is bad since this year is here and now, and last year’s memory fails proportionally with the current numbness of my fingers. While I do not want all of the bad things that climatologists and global-warming alarmists tell us will happen to life on earth as we know it, I could stand for it to be a bit warmer, and one or two degrees C will not help my feelings. Wave after wave of cold weather has been thrust upon us. I am not talking about mere nights where the temperature in the early morning falls to the high twenties, but I refer instead to single digits.

While folks in the mid-west may laugh at my complaints about the cold, they have no right to do so. I live in Mississippi, for goodness’ sake. It’s not supposed to be cold here. Of course, I have every right to laugh at Floridians who complain about nighttime temperatures down into the 40’s, but that’s different.

I do not like the cold. Oh, I suppose I like the feel of the cold, dense air in my lungs, but I don’t like cold ears, cold hands, or cold feet. I do not like it. I can’t be persuaded to like it. I suppose we are a lot like the folks up north in our response to the temperature extremes, except their inverse…when it’s too cold, they don’t seem to mind, but they don’t do anything, either. It’s that way in Mississippi. When it’s 95°F and 95% relative humidity on a Mississippi July evening, no one really minds, but we don’t do anything other than sip on a glass of iced tea, gently wave funeral home fans in our faces, and rock quietly on shaded front porches if we are outside, and listen to the steady whir-whir-whir of slowly turning ceiling fans. One really needs three hands on evenings like that…one for the iced tea, one for the handkerchief, and one for the fan. It is a flaw of nature that Southerners were not born with the third hand.

Even folks filled with a fractious petulance don’t have the energy to argue, becoming as docile as a neutered dog grown old, fat, and lazy. Mostly, we Mississippians have retreated inside to air conditioning in the hot, humid summers, much like Minnesotans have retreated inside to their heat (air conditioning) on a -30°F Alberta-clipped-polar-vortexed-named-winter-storm January morning. It is interesting to note that in Mississippi, you have to mow the grass no matter the heat, and up North you have to remove the snow, no matter the cold. One does what one must, even if one does not like it.

Frost on my windshield is a nuisance that can hardly be endured. I can only imagine the vexation of having four feet of snow and ice covering the entire vehicle, it frozen to the ground as solid as a skating rink’s icy veneer adheres to the floor. Man was not meant for this, but for white linen and light silk, or muslin, a thin layer of soft cotton against one’s skin, and the lilt of slow, musical voices bursting forth from beneath the brims of a straw Panama hats as handkerchiefs dab sweat from brows furrowed over the thought of being required to do something strenuous, like getting up and moving to another chair because the retreat of the evening sun means that it has moved to an inconvenient position, or the ice has finally melted in our glass, not brows furrowed because of the heat, itself. Ice is something that should come from a machine, not fall from the sky, and the fetching of more ice for your glass is about the only legitimate reason to force one’s self to move, other than hiding from the sun. Ice, from the sky, is unnatural, I tell you.

They tell us, those who make up the ubiquitous “they” who seem to know everything, that frigid climes gave mankind a boost in intelligence, since only the hardy, industrious people were able to plan for and survive frigid winters. I am not so sure about that. It seems to me that the smart ones departed those icy latitudes for a far less demanding climate. I could be wrong, but I am as of yet unpersuaded about any wrongness, choosing instead to cling to my own hypothesis, which seems verified by the number of people from Minnesota and Michigan who prefer to spend their retirement down South, or perhaps in Arizona, which is still South, though not in the classic sense. It is worth remembering that South is relative, too. If one goes too far South, one finds the coldest of temperatures, even in July! Let us be temperate in all our ways, though temperate is not what I particularly prefer in a climate since temperate seems intemperate at times, prone to excess, particularly excess of cold, or less heat, as it were, depending on the scale you choose to measure.

By whatever scale it is measured, it has been too cold for me this winter, and the scale of my reckoning has no interpretation other than the one I place on it. If one asked my friends I Boston, they’d likely agree, though I daresay our ideas of cold are dramatically different. Cold is relative. Cold is absolute. It all depends on who is doing the measuring.

On the Kelvin scale there is no cold, only heat and its absence.

Anything below 291K is too cold as far as I’m concerned.

©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp

PS….WHEN did they start naming winter storms?? In search of better ratings, I guess. Godspeed to The Weather Channel.

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