The World at Large

Moving to the US

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cold Again

Our last week in Victoria had some interesting weather. I watched the animated view of the weather radar while an intense storm developed on top of us, spread out in a circle, and then dissipated. We drove through Melbourne on the way to Anglesea, and could barely see through the smoke haze to the high rise buildings. We had cold days, followed by 42℃ (108 Fahrenheit) with strong winds.

Then we arrived back in Chicago.

Our first day back was spent indoors while we tried to sleep as much as we could. 30 hours door-to-door will do that to you. But by the time work came around on Monday, I thought I'd check online to see the local temperature.

I'd love an outdoor thermometer of my own, particularly one that I could record on my computer, but these do cost quite a bit. So I just look online at the weather at O'Hare. This has the added benefit of predicting the weather for the day, and the coming week.

So when I was readying to leave for work on Monday morning, I did a quick check of the local temperatures, just so I'd know what I'd be in for. So it seemed like quite a big jump to me when I remembered the 42℃ of a few days ago, and compared it to the -11℃ I could see printed in front of me. There was even supposed to be some snow, though this ended up being insignificant.


I saw snow several times when I was a young boy living in New Zealand. We usually traveled somewhere to see it, but it did fall at our house once in Khandallah. But I'd never seen it falling, and after returning to Queensland I didn't see snow again for 27 years, when I came to the USA on a trip for work.

With such infrequency, snow has always seemed quite special to me, and I've often thought that it would be nice to live in a place where it falls regularly. In fact, while I've seen snow a few times recently, I hadn't had a chance to see a good amount of it in the process of falling, and had therefore never had the chance to see real snowflakes up close. Monday saw a change to that situation, when I was waiting in a miserably cold bus shelter on my way home from work. There wasn't a lot of snow (and it was all melting as it hit the ground), but there was enough to see the flakes on my sleeve. I'd love to have seen some under magnification, but even with the naked eye you could see those gorgeous crystaline shapes. All the same, it was nice when the warm bus arrived.

It's funny how everyone who has always lived with snow was dreading the first snow fall of the year (back in November). The whole city seemed to be holding its breath for the event, and people were wasting no time complaining about it. In contrast, I was excitedly looking forward to it, and even relished the idea of walking to work through it. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but these are things I'd never experienced before, and easy or not, I hoped it would be fun. Many of my friends admitted to loving snow as children, but they assured me that it quickly became a burden.

The big day arrived, and sure enough, I had a few inches to walk through on my way to the train. Most of the way it provided a pleasant crunch under my feet, when I went to cross my first road I discovered a feature of the snow I hadn't expected.

It isn't usually too cold when it snows. If the temperature gets too low, then the stuff just doesn't fall. As a result, snow often comes down on ground that may not be freezing yet, even when the air is several degrees below 0℃. This means that the snow might melt and run away (like it did this last week), or some of it might melt, leading to a slushy mix.

Water runs down drains quite well, but slush tends to block them up. Consequently, the gutters at intersections will often be filled with several inches of near-freezing water (0℃, but not having undergone the phase change). In fact, the water is so cold, that it doesn't melt the snow that lands on it, meaning that you get a layer of snow on the top which completely hides this water.

Enter one intrepid foreigner, crunching his way through the snow on his way to work. He gets to the edge of the road, and proceeds crunching his way along the solid layer of snow... only to discover that it wasn't so solid after all.

My shoes are a little worn, but fortunately they're gor-tex meaning that they are waterproof (or they were, before they got a "little worn"). Fortunately, I only got a tiny bit of water in the shoes, as I'm not sure how I could have dealt with a wet foot on that day. I quickly learnt to avoid drains. I was later to learn that well-trodden foot paths, which hadn't been shoveled, could also hold a lot of deep water in them, as the resulting slush had no where to run, due to the surrounding snow.

Hidden puddles aside, it was a lot of fun, and I think I had a silly grin on my face all the way to work. I have to say that it's been a disappointment for me to learn that Chicago really doesn't get much snow, though the longer term residents of Chicago all seem happy about this. Apparently the 2 inches we had in November is about as heavy a fall as we are likely to get.

The weather report is predicting more snow for Sunday (it's after midnight right now, so it's Sunday already), so I'm hoping we'll get to see some more. If we do, then Luc will definitely have me outside with him, throwing snowballs. Nic will want to come too, as he thinks it is hilarious to see a snowball explode as it hits Luc.

I'm not sure how the rest of the city feels about the impending fall, since the Chicago Bears are playing the New Orleans Saints today, and the winner of this game gets to the Super Bowl in two weeks!

Maybe it will snow and we can win the game, all on the one day!


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