I used to live in Nebraska. It wasn’t for very long—only four years, or less than one-eleventh of my life. At Hastings College in January, we had what we used to call “Interim,” but is now called “J-Term” (the latter which feels like a racially charged insult of some sort, but I’m not in charge of marketing for Midwestern liberal arts colleges, so what do I know?). I have a lot of memories of the time I spent in Hastings, some good, some bad; but Interims, with their university-like focused classes and more spare time than we were used to, really stuck out. I bonded with people I’d never really spent any time with before, I’d had a lot of adventures, I played a metric shit-ton of Doom II in the computer lab, and most of all, I froze.
I lived in Indiana for another four years later in my life, and I spent long January and February weekends in Upstate New York. I loved winters in New York City, as I often had a girlfriend at those points, and there was a lot of cuddling under the covers to keep warm. Also the city seemed so much more electric at that time of year, sometimes because of Christmas, and sometimes it might have been that the cloud of air in front of your face that invigorated everyone. Of all these places I’ve lived, nothing has measured up to winters in Nebraska, where once, as I walked across campus to get to my dorm, a gust of freezing wind caught me and slid me back about a foot on the ice.
Winters in New York were impersonal, dropping in because they had a job to do and leaving as soon as was polite in March or April, only to return again later in the year. Winters in Indiana brought ice storms with them, which were just kind of mean. Mostly what I remembered of the winters in Upstate New York, as well as those in my hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, was the slush, which felt like the season just throwing in the towel. Winters in Nebraska, though, were brash yet cozy, like that relative who was just going to stay over a few days and ends up using up all the hot water and eats all your food. It got into your bones, and even when you were sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in a cable-knit sweater over a set of long johns, you just can’t get warm.
Winters in Virginia and DC, however, have been nothing short of mild. They’re actually pretty wet. Sure it gets cold every once in a while, like when it was in the low 20s (-4° Celsius) last week, but within a few days, it was almost 40° again (4°). And we never, ever get snow. Well, we got snow this year. It was like somebody dumped a big bucket of it on the region. I thought this was great. Winter doesn’t start in DC until mid-January, and on the rare occasion we do get snow, it happens later in the season. Therefore, a major winter storm on January 3 means we won’t get one in February (this is not remotely how meteorology works), and hopefully spring will come early.
I’m thinking about winters in all the places I’ve lived, especially Nebraska, because this morning, when I woke up, it was 16° (-8°) out, certainly not the coldest I’ve ever been, but the coldest I’ve ever been in a long time. I opened the front door to stand in it for a minute and remember what it felt like to absolutely freeze to death. It was not as fun as I remembered. Also on the horizon is a snowstorm that is supposed to be as bad as the one two weeks ago, but with freezing rain to add to it, and I’m like, what am I, in the Midwest? We still haven’t gotten rid of the last snow.
Weather’s not the same as when I was a younger, and that is 100 percent because of manmade climate change. Where weather that approached 0° (-18°) used to be pretty bad in the Midwest, thanks to polar vortices, temperatures far below that are frequently gripping the Heartland and bringing it to its knees, which is a particular hardship given the shoddy American infrastructure—which tends to be worse in states with Republican governors. This is the way it is now.
I don’t know if DC’s recent run of actual winter in the winter is a result of climate change, but I do know that this morning, I stood in the doorframe, my breath visible, wistfully remembering what it was like to bundle up and brave the outside, as well as curling up under a blanket with someone special, sipping hot chocolate and watching through the window what looks like stars, slowly drifting from the sky and resting peacefully on the ground with all of the rest of the stars in the universe.