Weather Update No. 4

I know!  You weren’t expecting another weather update so quickly, right?  After all, the last update was only two weeks ago and I’ve been giving them to you every month or six weeks.  What could have possibly changed that I need to give you another update so soon?

Apparently, the worst of the winter is over.

Wait, wait, wait…calm down.  I didn’t say that winter is over.  I said the worst of it is over.  This means that we’ve already had the lowest temperatures that we’re going to have for this winter.  We still have below -30⁰C days, and there are a few below -40⁰C days thrown in too but that one day we got down to -49⁰C was as low as we’ll go for this season.  We still have a couple of months before spring is upon us but it will be no-ski-pants-necessary weather before we know it.

How do I know that the worst of the winter is over?  It’s not because I checked the forecast on my weather app for the next few months.  Local tradition has it that January 19 is the turning point in the temperatures for winter.  That’s the day the frost bull of Yakutia drops his first horn.  I know, I lost you again, right?  OK, let me try to explain.

In local lore, there’s a bull of frost.  He’s not a real bull and nobody – except me in the first few minutes we were talking about him – thinks he’s real.  Don’t judge me; I thought it was an ice sculpted bull set up some place in Yakutia that people use as a temperature gauge, much like the Americans use the groundhog to determine when spring will arrive.  Uh huh, you stopped laughing at the Yakutians and their bull of frost when I mentioned the Americans and their groundhog, didn’t you?

Anyway, the frost bull is pure lore.  The idea of this bull is related to the deep freeze of winter.  On January 19, his first horn falls off, which means that the temperature is getting warmer.  A few weeks later, he loses his second horn, and by the end of February he loses his head and neck.  That’s all I know about it.

Bull of frost aside, it’s not hard to see with my own two eyes that the weather is changing again.  In fact, it happened quite suddenly last Monday morning.  I always leave my place just before 8:30 am to walk the three minutes to work.  In the months since the autumn came, 8:30 am has been as pitch black as midnight.  But last Monday morning on my walk to school, I noticed that the sky seemed a little light at 8:30 am.  I thought it was a trick of the fog, dismissed it, refocused on the very long day I had ahead of me, and went about my business.

On Tuesday morning, I couldn’t dismiss it.  The sky was definitely lightening at 8:30 am.  Immediately, I felt sad because I knew that could only mean one thing: winter is already coming to an end.  Now my walk to school feels like early morning instead of midnight because today at 8:15 am when I looked out of my window, the sky was already light.  That’s how drastic weather changes can be here; in just a week, we’ve added another fifteen minutes of daylight to our mornings.  Sunset has also changed; it’s pushed back from 3:30 pm to after 4 pm.  So overall, in just over a week we’ve gained about two hours of daylight.

All of this just when I’ve finally figured out how to get my headphones to work for the entirety of a thirty minute walk in the cold instead of giving out on me after fifteen minutes.  I had meant to mention that in my last weather update, the fact that the cold was making my headphones stop working after fifteen minutes of walking.  I thought it was just an electronics thing, much the way my phone would die if I kept it exposed to the cold for more than five minutes (literally five minutes, guys) when the winter was at its deepest, but would power right back up without charging as soon as I got it warmed up.  The thing is, my earbuds have a control mechanism that I can press to pause or re-start what I’m listening to, and manage the volume.  I was unwittingly keeping this mechanism exposed to the cold and I didn’t realise that the frost was causing the mechanism to freeze and depress itself, thereby stopping whatever I was listening to.  I only realised this about a week ago, when I saw someone wrap her scarf around her neck with her headphones inside the scarf (I was wearing mine outside) and it hit me like a sledgehammer what my problem was all along.  I tested my theory with my headphones wrapped inside my scarf for a twenty-five minute walk and was proved right.  But now that the deep freeze is practically over, I won’t get to use that knowledge much more for this season.

To be honest, the worst of winter is over and I’m still trying to understand what all the fuss is about.  When I was moving here, the horror on people’s faces when I said I was going to live in Siberia was indescribable.  You would have thought I had said I was going north of The Wall to find White Walkers and sing kumbaya with them (that’s a Game of Thrones reference.  Come to think of it, I guess I did move to north of The Wall but it’s the Free Folk I’m singing kumbaya with.).  I imagined that there must come a day during the winter when it would be so cold outside that I wouldn’t want to do anything but stay wrapped up in a blanket in my bed sipping a hot drink and thanking God that I didn’t have to go outside.  That day has not arrived and I’m thinking that it won’t.

Still, as a colleague at school pointed out, I practically live inside the school, in that my daily commute is a mere few steps.  If I had to stand at a bus stop for twenty minutes in the cold I might be singing a different tune.  She’s right, but my feelings on the matter aside, this winter has taught me that it’s not impossible to survive what other people think of as extreme or impossible conditions.  It’s a matter of preparation, attitude, flexibility and not being an idiot.  Life lesson from the weather, in the bag.

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