Can you feel the difference between “cold” and “really cold”?

I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. My Mom was utterly perplexed at what I was saying.

“It’s only 23 degrees, it’s not THAT cold today.”

As a Southern California native, anything below 40 degrees was “unbearably cold” to me. I couldn’t tell you what temperature it was – I couldn’t sense it – because “too cold” is “too cold”. I can tell the difference between 60 and 65 degrees though, meaning if I were to guess the temperature without looking, I’d be right within 1-2 degrees. I had no idea that moving to Wisconsin would give my “human thermometer” a whole new range of sensitivity. It all started with the clothes.

Wardrobes and Windows

You know how you can tell how warm it is outside just by looking out the window? If you answered “yes” to that question, you might be from So Cal. Based on how bright the sun is and whether there seems to be any wind, I could usually predict what kind of jacket I would need if I went outside. If the grass and “Curb Your Dog” lawn signs are dancing in the wind, bring a sweatshirt with a hood. If the sun is partially hidden by clouds, grab a windbreaker or zip-up jacket. If the sun is bright and the wind is light, a T-shirt is just fine. All these internal guidelines went out the window when I moved to Wisconsin.

Deceptively Sunny

One of my first “Winter in Wisconsin Lessons” was when I wore a zip up jacket outside on a bright sunny November day. It looked like the perfect day to lounge outside and play with Gjalla, but after 5 minutes I was trembling from the cold breeze. Turns out it was about 20 degrees outside, and a cold front (or something?) had just come through, replacing the “jacket weather” from the day before with a cold snap.

Note – this weather language is new to me so forgive me if I’m using the wrong terms. I’m still learning

Since visually discerning the temperature was a lost cause, I soon learned to associate the weather indicated by my phone with the kind of clothes I need to wear.

  • Twenty degrees = T-shirt + North Face jacket + leggings + beanie + cell-phone friendly mittens
  • Temps in the teens = Zip-up jacket + North Face + leggings + snowboard pants + beanie + thick gloves + silky scarf
  • Single digit degrees = Sweatshirt + North Face + knee-high socks + leggings + snowboard pants + beanie + thick wool scarf + gloves with the dexterity of oven mitts

When “unbearably cold” becomes “Not THAT cold”

Thanks to my new temperature-appropriate clothing methods, I’m getting used to playing outside in weather which was previously unfathomable to me. Before moving to Wisconsin, my brain just couldn’t grasp any meaning behind “6 degrees Fahrenheit”.  Describing weather below 20 degrees to me would have been like describing the surface of Jupiter. Sure, I might recognize all the words but my brain just can’t place the context into anything meaningful. Now, thanks to my clothes, I have that context. Something that was previously “unbearably cold” is now “not that cold” because I know I have the proper equipment to go outside and still feel comfortable.

If you’re wondering, no, they don’t make jackets in So Cal like they do for Wisconsin. The warmest jacket I’ve ever owned didn’t last five minutes in twenty-degree weather. But selling a Midwest Winter-worthy coat in So Cal would be like selling umbrellas in a desert.

Next Lesson – Meeting Sting*

(*Going for a LOTR reference here)

This morning I was determined to take my dog outside because she’s been expressing a lot of pent-up energy. Work has been busy, so I’ve been ignoring her longing stares at the snow outside and her anxious tail wiggles when I walk past the door. This morning, I was determined to make it up to her. Yeah,…that didn’t happen because it was BELOW ZERO outside.

I’ve never experienced temperatures below zero, so I had no idea how different MINUS five would feel from five degrees. Turns out MINUS five is unbearable.

I had my single-digit-appropriate outfit on but five minutes later my face was stinging with cold and my hands were aching with numbness. Much to Gjalla’s disappointment, it was time to go back inside. Based on her bulldog face and her Manikin Challenge response to me telling her to come back inside, she’s just fine with -5*F. After all, she was wearing her sweater.

Eventually, I was able to coax Gjalla inside, but this marks a new challenge for me. I don’t (YET!) have the equipment to deal with NEGATIVE DEGREES weather. If there’s some face mask or space helmet or something that will allow me to stay outside and play with Gjalla without the sting, it’s worth it.


How do you deal with “beyond cold” weather? What’s your “human thermometer” sensitivity?


  1. You are right. I was definitely perplexed at you’re “not that cold” I am glad to hear that my layer girl has found appropriate Wisconsin layers. When I was skiing in Utah I had a hood that covered my head, nose, mouth and neck. It was made of a material that I could breath through. It saved me. The twins had neoprene smaller versions. Maybe you can find something with ski gear.

    Liked by 1 person

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