The January 1998 Ice Storm Montreal, Quebec, Canada

All text and images copyrighted by Stephen McDonnell

The Concept of Coldness

As someone who has lived in a wide range of climates, from sub-tropical, desert, temperate to Canadian, I have experienced a wide variety of temperatures and humidity. The coldest I have been, barring the ice storm, was in Gare St. Lazarre train station in Paris where the cold stones seemed to suck the warmth out of my body. Chemical reactions are either endothermic or exothermic, which leads me to believe that that Train station produced an endothermic type of cold; A "humid" cold. In Canada, the cold weather is a "dry" cold. Or a "warm" cold. Despite the dichotomy this is obvious to any Canadian who leaves a minus 30 degree Celsius Canadian winter, with very low humidity, to travel to Europe where the temperatures hover around freezing, but where the humidity is 80 %.

This leads me to the conclusion that coldness is a relatively subjective condition; governed by external and internal factors. The body would appear to posses an internal thermostat which allows people adjust to different climes; as I have moved back and forth between various climates I have noticed that it takes about a year for my body to adjust, reset the internal thermostat. Extreme temperatures are difficult to adjust to, be it high or low. Yet, I personally feel that a warm climate is easier to take than a cold climate. True, too much heat can kill as well as too little heat; from my own experience, I would prefer being too warm. My mother, God rest her soul, could not stand air conditioning. So I grew up living in a house in the South where when it hit a hundred degrees (38 degrees Celsius) and a hundred percent humidity, she might put a fan on to "cool things down a bit". Now that I live in the Great North, Canada, I would be dead by the time the temperature fell down to minus 38 degrees Celsius, much less below freezing. Most people feel cold if ambient outside temperatures fall below half their internal body temperature; this can be aggravated if their core body temperature is lowered by shock or other factors, such as age and injury.

Needless to say, you can drown as easily in a foot of water as well as in the deep blue sea, so the debate about cold is a relative one.