Wednesday January 2, 2008

Keeping warm in sub-freezing Miami

43 degrees I’m always hot and sweaty, so on those few evenings every year when the temperature dips below 60°, my response is usually a bitter “too little too late,” and some attempt to enjoy the cold while it lasts. But when the outdoor feels-like temp starts to approach 30°, even I have to resort to some drastic measures, living as I do in an unheated and drafty apartment. My big discovery this year: ironing. Just so happens that I had a pile of recently-laundered but unironed shirts laying around, plus more stuff that stood to benefit from a freshen-up, and ironing is just the perfect get-warm and do-something-useful activity perfect for a freezing evening. Other tips for staying warm in a normally-temperate climate, in order of increasing effectiveness:

10. Hot baths The problem here is that you have to get out eventually.
9. Liquor No reason not to drink, and it may well keep you from dying if you fall into icy water, but sorry: booze does not actually make you feel less cold.
8. Layered clothing A necessary, but not really sufficient solution. Right now I’m wearing four layers (three long-sleeved), and while it’s better then nothing, I’m very far from snug.
7. Slippers Growing up, my parents would never let me walk around barefoot when it was the slightest bit cold. They had sort of a point. Of course nobody here has slippers, but two pairs of socks, or even sneakers indoors, can help.
6. Cuddling No particular explanation required, except that unless you’re wearing your slippers to bed, your toes will still have issues.
5. The hat thing You know how on all those survival shows they tell you that you looks 40% of your body heat through your head? They’re exaggerating, but still.
4. John Coltrane, Ascension “You could use this record to heat up the apartment on those cold winter days,” goes the famous quote, and it’s true. The only problem is that this is effective in proportion to the volume it’s played at, so on those cold nights your neighbors might not be happy if this is your only recourse.
3. Ironing As previously explained.
2. Tea Or any hot liquid. Soup, coffee, even hot water. Yum.
1. Suffer, baby Geez, it’s for what, 24 hours? People go for months sleeping on the streets of New York in the winter, looking for crappy grates that spit a little steam every few hours(?), and you can’t take one evening of discomfort? How about going for a nice brisk 2-hour walk for some perspective on the situation.

Update: Oh, and don’t go messing around with space heaters — you will burn down your house and die (The last line made me chuckle, too: “protect exposed pipes. Freezing temperatures can cause pipes in burst, especially those in unprotected areas” … like, huh? What am I supposed to do, wrap my pipes in blankets?)


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  1. I was there    Thu Jan 3, 07:28 AM #  

    I’m always amazed when I realize that this is actually a blast of cold air from the north.
    Imagine how they must feel this morning in Chicago or Toronto!

  2. Biscayne Bystander    Thu Jan 3, 08:31 AM #  

    It is damn cold today, but the wind chill yesterday felt worse.

  3. Ms Calabaza    Thu Jan 3, 08:55 AM #  


  4. alesh    Thu Jan 3, 09:55 AM #  

    Chicago and all those people up north are up against something completely different: they have central heating and big fur coats. Not to say that their coldest few days of the year aren’t much less pleasant then ours. On the other hand, we have many long months of 100° heat-index action.

  5. Guv    Thu Jan 3, 01:03 PM #  

    Pipes: you leave a trickle of water on all night. Warms them up just enough so that they don’t freeze during the early morning hours.

    I grew up w/out heat or air in Florida, and I don’t have heat now, and it’s totally a matter of warm blankets, and waiting 24 – 48 hours until it’s t-shirt and flip-flop time again.

    Makes you feel resourceful, and tough, right?

  6. Lolo    Thu Jan 3, 01:49 PM #  

    Plug plug plug: Sweat is open 12 to 12 daily and serves up piping hot espresso, tea, coffee drinks and smokin’ organic hot chocolate… and we’ve got free wi-fi! Stay warm, folks.

  7. Tere    Thu Jan 3, 08:58 PM #  

    Actually, drinking in cold weather is not a good idea.

  8. Tere    Thu Jan 3, 09:03 PM #  

    Alcohol, that is.

  9. alesh    Thu Jan 3, 10:40 PM #  

    OK, Tere, you mean alcohol will not make you warmer in cold weather, and I’ve crossed that assertion out of the post. But I say that, except in the case of a danger of death by freezing, drinking in cold weather is still a good idea.

    It’s all a question of what you choose to drink. I particularly recommend (1) equal parts of scotch, honey, and lemon, slightly warmed and (2) coffee and brandy.

    Other combinations?

  10. Carlos Miller    Thu Jan 3, 11:07 PM #  

    Alcohol will most definitely make you forget about being cold, which in a sense, makes you warmer.

    How about a good Irish coffee?

  11. alesh    Fri Jan 4, 08:52 AM #  

    Wait a second . . . what about the St. Bernards who run around the mountains rescuing frozen hikers with little barrels of brandy around their necks? Are the St. Bernards wrong??

  12. Carlos Miller    Fri Jan 4, 11:22 AM #  

    It looks like the St. Bernards may have been wrong. But if I was found freezing out in the cold, I would accept a couple of shots of brandy.

    “Consumption of alcohol undoes many of the human body’s healthy reflexes, one of which is keeping the core body temperature warm in cold weather,” says Dr. William G. Haynes, Director of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. “We may feel warm from the blood rushing to our skin, but our body is actually losing heat faster, bringing about an increased danger of hypothermia.”

    The absence of this blood flow reflex during intoxication makes it quite possible for a person’s body temperature to take a major dip without them even realizing it.

  13. Steve    Fri Jan 4, 05:00 PM #  

    Drinking alcohol in cold weather is as good an idea as drinking alcohol in warm weather. I advocate (and practice) both. I ain’t no fair-weather drinker.

    As for St Bernards, I’ve drunk with better company. What with all the preaching, saints can get tedious.

  14. Mustang Bobby    Tue Jan 8, 07:26 AM #  

    Having grown up in the north (Ohio and Michigan) and having recently spent six years in Petoskey, Michigan, where we got fourteen FEET of snow every winter and the ground froze three feet down, I know that yes, you do wrap pipes with blankets; they make a special electric pipe blanket that insulates them. Keeping a trickle of water running prevents the pipes from expanding when/if they freeze.

    Of course, there are stupid people up there as well who try interesting methods to thaw their pipes. One genius tried an arc welder. The electricity ran through the pipe to his neighbor’s house where the spark jumped in the presence of leaking natural gas. Guess what happened. [Phoom!]

    Another one tried to warm up his car buy building a little fire under the oil pan and turned his ride into a Buick Flambe.

    The cold snap was just nature’s way of reminding us we don’t technically live in the tropics.