It's 4 degrees F right now and some people who are new to the Midwest might be unfamiliar with dressing for such extreme cold. Follow this step-by-step process to protect yourself against dangerously cold temperatures.

1. Gather all of your long-sleeved t-shirts and sweaters.
2. Put them on.

Do not deviate from this procedure.

34 thoughts on “ICE STATION ZEBRA”

  • The winters in the northern Midwest can be quite comfortable once you learn that cotton clothing is a deathtrap in cold weather. That guy who tries to sell you waffle-weave cotton "thermal" long underwear is not your friend.

    A light synthetic underlayer, a poly or wool sweater or wool shirt or poly fleece top, a wind-shell layer over all, some synthetic or wool socks, winter boots a size too large so as not to compress all the insulation out of the socks (you want Sorel Caribou or equivalent), a stocking cap, lined leather gloves — you're good to go.

    It's those who insist on tight bluejeans, cotton tshirts, cotton sweaters, cotton jackets, cotten socks, and are too damned concerned about style to wear a proper hat who are vituperatively miserable at 5 degrees.

  • I have a ridiculous-looking hat from Spirit Hoods (I won it in a contest) that is the warmest thing I've ever worn. I'm sad that I can't wear it without looking utterly absurd.

  • It's not bad unless there's a stiff wind. The wind is the factor that will make you freeze your genitals off.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    The keys to not letting winter freeze your private parts and extremities, till they drop off?

    Layers, a warm hat, warm gloves (preferably, mittens – those Socialist tools, which, "collectively" keep your hands warmer), and socks and boots/shoes that keep your feet warm.

    Oh, and if there's a lot of slippery ice?
    Put a pair of socks on the outside of your boots/shoes – my Russian-born Grandma taught me that trick.

  • @ cu

    Sorry, No New Yorker gets to comment. :). Illinois cold goes to whole 'nuther level!!

    That wind blowing across the prairie just cuts right through you. Actually, the number 1 item on my bucket list is to never set foot in Illinois in late January ever again. Forty winters were plenty.

  • Californian here, enduring my first really bad Midwestern winter.

    Any tips for staying warm below the waist? I'm considering hitting up the army surplus store for some two-sizes-two-big khakis.

  • @acer

    You want an under-layer close to your skin – long wool underwear or running tights or the like and if needed, snow pants or something else wind-proof to stop the wind chill.

    Also, two layers of socks, with the outer layer thick wool. Nothing is worse than having cold feet.

  • Purple Platypus says:

    4 Farenheit? A mere -15 Celsius? That's downright *balmy*. Here in Winnipeg it's dropping to -30 real degrees (-22 of the cheap American ones) or worse overnight, and with windchill we're routinely getting conditions equivalent to -40 (in either system – that's the one point where they coincide) at about the time most people are heading to work.

    Any US city would be pretty much shut down, but here it's just a normal day apart from some school closures.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Walk down any NY City Avenue in the middle of a cold and windy day or night, and hit a major cross-street like Canal, Houston, 14th, 23rd, 34th, etc. – the wind might knock you on your @$$ if you're not prepared for it.
    It almost did me when I lived there – and I weighed around 220 at the time. Now, it would take some major gale-force wind to knock me on my fat @$$.

    Still, I hear ya!
    Living near the ocean does tend to temper our temperature.

  • The only time I ever experienced having tears freeze right on my face was once pumping gas in the middle of January in the middle of Ohio. One good thing: it allows the radio talk hosts to open the phone lines so folks can discuss the hoax of global warming.

  • @ CU

    Walk down any Chicago street in the middle of a cold and windy day or night, and hit a major cross-street ………………


  • @ acer

    Tips for staying warm below the waist:

    Fed Ex legs to Florida. or Mexico. or Arizona.

    The only other idea chance is to hope that global warming speeds up.

  • Granted, I live in NM, but it does get cold here (no, really, it does) and I've been other, colder places. But my advice is the same as Joel's–get you some long underwear, silk, synthetic or wool, if you can tolerate it. That keeps a nice, insulating layer of warm air around your body. Yes, wear it on the bottom, too. Sock liners and heavier wool socks are de rigeur. Hat. WEAR A GODDAMN HAT. Scalia may have looked medieval yesterday, but his noggin was likely warm. Also, wear a scarf. But that's all if you have to go outside. My best advice is just to stay inside as much as possible.

  • It's nice and sunny here in Minnesota, and the temperature is over 250 degrees Kelvin. It's all in how you look at it.

  • Well Upstate NY gets its wind blowing out of Canada – is that sufficient to be allowed to comment? It was 7° F here this morning.

    These observations are culled from 20 years as a Bills season ticket holder having to spend hours on end out in the cold and wind (upper deck seats) during December (and many moons ago January). Never mind the years on end out in the cold just rooting for the Bills.

    1. More layers are better than thicker layers – material isn't much of a factor as long as the weave is tight; it helps if you have various sizes – put larger sizes on over smaller sizes. 5 layers can be pretty binding if they're all the same size. Water proof layer on the outside – this will also block the wind very effectively.

    2. Flannel, or even better – fleece, lined jeans. I haven't needed long johns since I bought fleece lined jeans. I can't recommend them highly enough.

    3. Water proof (NOT resistant) boots large enough to comfortably fit over multiple sock layers. Cold and wet is a thousand times worse than just cold, but it doesn't really help if you're cutting off the blood to your feet.

    4. Layered gloves/mittens – yes, they make them. You can pull off the outer glove if you need to do something especially dexterous.

    5. Try to avoid heat sinks as much as possible if you have to be outside for a long period. Avoid metal. Don't stand on pavement if wood or dirt is available. In the stands we would put a newspaper between our feet and the concrete flooring.

    Live and be warm.

  • I spent 4 years in Ithaca at the staid old Ivy League University. Winter typically started in October and lasted until early May. What I learned was the value of layers. Chamois or flannel shirt over long sleeve t-shirt over thermal base layer. Gore Tex coat over the top. Flannel lined pants over base layer. LL Bean Gore Tex/Thinsulate 10 inch boots.
    25 years later and the base layers are lighter and warmer and I'd replace the flannel shirt with a fleece pullover.

    Stay warm out there.

  • I'm one of the few people you will ever hear say of weather like that, "Well, at least it's better than the heat!"

    Because I really, truly, do hate hot weather that much.

  • So if we're really talking about cold weather clothing, we need to differentiate, as the military does, between cold/dry and cold/wet.

    The basic plan for either condition is to transport personal moisture (perspiration) away from the skin, and give it somewhere to go, ideally a breathable outer layer.

    Our base layer, worn close to the skin, should be a 'wicking' fabric; silk, polypropylene, or even wool, preferably a soft wool like merino. Cotton is a bad idea here. Fleece counts as polypro, although dedicated base layer stuff is best. This layer allows either vapor or liquid to pass through to the next layer, which is:

    Insulating layer(s). Same idea, but with more trapped airspace. Fleece and wool are excellent here, particularly in cold/wet conditions, but work beautifully in cold/dry as well. Down in a fantastic insulating layer, but not if it gets wet, so only for cold/dry, and probably not if you're going to be moving much. Down is good for sitting down. Again, cotton is a bad plan here.

    Outer layer, or shell. For cold/wet, you want something that will keep the water/slush out, but also allow vapor to escape. Gore-tex or an equivalent is good, so long as its DWR (durable water repellant) coating is working. Once the DWR fails, the shell fabric will wet-out and prevent the breathable membrane from breathing. Waxed cotton canvas is apparently the cat's ass for cold/wet, but it's very spendy. The original Burberry coats were waxed canvas.
    For cold dry, breathable is also desirable, but waterproof is unnecessary. This is an arctic cold, where liquid water is not present. This is where cotton shines. Apparently, cotton anoraks are like the most breathable shell you can get, when it's damn cold, like dogsled cold. Most of us will just wear our regular winter coat in these conditions.

    And of course, if you're just bopping from the house to a heated car, a plain old ski jacket is just fine.

    Further thought- a few years back, we got a very serious amount of snow in a very short time, and I-80 wound up as a parking lot. The military was out bringing gasoline to folks so they could keep their cars running and warm. When it gets cold out, I throw an old down sleeping bag in the car, as well as an old ski jacket. A paperback and a few packs of peanut butter crackers don't take up much space, and could make a real difference in a similar situation. A couple bottles of water under the seat are not a terrible idea. They'll freeze at night, but should be easy enough to thaw if you're stuck in the car. Think ahead- being cold sucks.

  • When I was a grad student at the U of Michigan, I lived in a dorm whose sole source of heat was a warm pipe that ran from end to end of the dorm along the outside wall. To give you an idea how effective it was, I used to keep food on the windowsill 18 inches above it, with the curtains closed, and it was as good as putting the food in a refrigerator — cold and drafty on one side and the warm breath of an asthmatic convecting up on the other.

  • For women forced to wear skirts occasionally, though thank goodness that's getting more rare, there are woolen underwear shorts to pull on. Some of the opaque tights are a bit fuzzy too.

    I think wool or silk undies / longjohns beats all synthetics as long as I'm not going out for continuous strenuous exercise. The instant you stop, wool stays warm and the synthetics don't.

    Wear two pairs of socks, as well. One thin one and one thicker one on top.

  • It is warming up here in Minneapolis- 16F this AM. After the past week of -10 an 0, I took the trash out in my T-shirt.

    I love these midwestern winters- dry and sunny. Coastal winters, with the clouds, humid-near-freezing weather? No thanks. I swear I feel warmer at 0F here than I did at 30F in Boston.

    Tips for newcomers- machines do not work the same below -10F. Many rubbers and lubricants stop behaving like they do at 50F. Metal contracts so much that sub-millimeter tolerances are out the window. At -40F (or C), gasoline does not burn, no vapor to ignite. It might look weird, but a tarp over your car saves a lot of frustration when you know cold is coming. Electronics are neat- displays freeze and look pretty, batteries last no time at all.

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