Justin Isherwood: What Is ‘Bitter Cold’?

The weather reporter said, “Bitter cold, frigid cold, dangerously cold.” NPR characterized recent Midwest temperatures as “unbelievably cold.”

I have a problem trusting a news source that refers to Wisconsin and Minnesota temperatures of -20 as “unbelievably cold.” Out of fairness, it did compare Duluth’s temperature to the daytime temperature on Mars, also at -20. It did not report that Martian temperatures can reach 68°F, if also -243°F at the poles, to average out at -67, some below Duluth.

As for unbelievably cold, news sources should fact-check the word. Minus 20 is not unbelievable. Neither is -40, nor is -50 “unbelievable.” Minus 60 – now that’s pushing believability.

When it comes to weather, the fair use of language is a core issue. Against weather we allow blatant misdemeanors. Too readily we forget nuance, gracefulness or accuracy. As for the casual abuse of credibility … talk about the weather.

As a matter of core value, every citizen in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, Maine, Vermont and Montana should come equipped at birth, or soon thereafter, to wage winter.

To quickly acknowledge that many of us dress the same in winter as we do in summer, to include T-shirts and baseball caps. When a person so attired addresses an honest Wisconsin winter day at single digits at high noon as “unbelievably cold,” they are correct enough, considering they are dressed for middle July. Equally unbelievable is that they should be comfortable in a baseball cap, T-shirt and flip-flops on a single-digit day.

There are people in responsible positions, reporting weather, saying Wisconsin weather is “dangerous,” “unprecedented,” “unbelievable,” “risky,” “extraordinary,” “extreme,” “horrid,” “monstrous,” “super-frigid.” All of these words equate to criminal convictions. Words designed to instill a sense of victimhood. To only imagine the traumas as might result. Quite remarkable for a species systematically wiping out 75 percent of the rest of the world’s species to feel the need for victimhood.

Here a basic back-country, natural moral is involved: If you don’t dress to the weather, maybe you deserve to be cold, and whether you hold this grudge up to the point of freezing to death is your own business.

To mention the terminal stage of freezing, victims often remove their clothes as the nerve signals collapse and they who are about to die irrationally feel hot. To that end, they strip off their clothes to cool off, in effect speeding up the process. In clinical circles known as “terminal burrowing,” as accompanies the get-naked syndrome of freezing to death. The science of freezing to death is relatively limited, referencing the ethics of duplicating these conditions in a laboratory. However, there are yet enough Flower Children around who might give this a try for the sake of science and another chance to get naked.

News organizations need to adopt a fair-use vocabulary when it comes to weather and storms. “Shocking,” “cruel,” “evil,” “unbelievable” do not apply to weather, storms or cold. Weather is like gravity: it exists. That you fall off the roof is your own fault.

Why does being fair to weather matter? First off, to avoid the known avarice for warm weather that is now not so subtly part of our national political debate. This, the weather preference allied to climate change, including the bulk of humanity doing something real about climate change.

To the result of saving honest winter for future generations. The very element we not so secretly reject when attached to our T-shirt-and-baseball-cap syndrome, and the hope that climate change will gain for Wisconsin the winters of southern Illinois or central Missouri. Traitors to genuine Wisconsin winter, including its frozen tundra that is supposed to protect the Packers from humiliation any given November/December home game. I have yet to analyze the historical record of northern football franchises against the point spread of more worthy opponents by the home circumstance of their frozen tundra.

Loving cold weather is and ought to be a Wisconsin oath – to include both the weather report and the Green Bay Packers.

Justin Isherwood is an award-winning writer, Wisconsin farmer, humorist, author and contributor to numerous collections and publications, including Badger CommonTater, Isthmus and Newsday. His books include Christmas Stones & the Story Chair, Book of Plough, Farm Kid and most recently, Pulse.