She’s Not From Around Here: Cold is Relative

Written by: Amy Allender

When you find out you’re moving to Minot, the first thing you wonder about is the cold. When you move to Minot the first thing you’ll think about is the cold. When you tell someone you live in Minot, the first thing they ask about is the cold.
Yes, there’s more to North Dakota than cold winters – but we’re kidding ourselves if we claim our winters aren’t exceptional. Subzero temperatures and arctic wind chills are easy small talk topics. And if conversation ever stalls, you can always rely on that trusty saying, “It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t windy.” On second thought, if conversation stalls, just say something about “the wind” and you’ll be back on track shortly.


All this to say, folks have a lot of presuppositions about the cold before they experience a Minot winter. Before my first winter I was sure I’d wear my heaviest coat every day. I was sure I’d need to stock up on hats, gloves and a warmer indoor wardrobe. I, like many other transplants, have spent copious time in Facebook groups asking about the best winter gear and reading boot reviews online.


But then something magical happens. Winter comes – and while no one ever really gets used to a -30˚ windchill, most people don’t think about it nearly as much as they expected. Cold temperatures are a funny and fluctuating thing in hot dish territory. When summer finally gives way to fall, allowing temperatures to dip into the 30s for the first time, the whole town grumbles.


Heavy parkas come out. Wool socks and hats appear. Chatter shifts from noting the humidity (which doesn’t actually exist) to bemoaning the frost and discussions of Almanac predictions for the months to come. Then after a few weeks, those 30˚ days feel balmy, the perfect temperature to break out your ankle cropped jeans. Coats are reserved for really cold days – with highs in the teens. But winter is long in Minot. Soon even those temperatures don’t feel so bad. So you save your heavy coat for the really, really cold days. This cycle continues until you find yourself wearing a sweatshirt to preschool drop off on a morning with a -35˚ windchill.


I know this is true, because it happens to me every year. I know this is true, because it’s not just me. I see other moms shuffling well-bundled kids across parking lots and scuttling from car to door – I see them wearing their fleece pullovers. I see them all winter long.


Is it laziness? Is it that the novelty of a heavy coat wears off as the cold months drag on? Is it the discomfort of driving in a parka? Or that if you wear a coat to Target, you’ll just want to take it off as soon as you’re inside? My reason is that I’m usually sweaty, cranky and running late by the time I’ve got my kids bundled up. I’m so eager to get going I don’t bother with anything heavier than a small puffer jacket. Then I justify my decision by thinking, “I’m only going from the house to the car, anyway.”


Whatever the reason, it happens. Even to those who swear it never will.
Then, one happy day, the thermometer will read 45˚. We all – locals and transplants alike – go out and bask in the sun, declaring it “T-shirt weather.” A few weeks later, when the high is 60˚, you can find me upending my drawers to find a tank top – summer has arrived!


Up here, cold is relative. The definition of “cold” is constantly shifting. We all acclimate. Even the transplants.
So here’s some friendly advice. Buy the good winter gear, but know it may hang in your closet unused, acting as a security blanket. It’ll be nice to know you could wear it – if you wanted. It’ll be nice to have it for playing in the snow or skiing. But your favorite winter coat will be the one that is light and comfortable. It’ll be the one you zip up on that first frosty morning in October. It’ll be the one you wear through all the cold days until the grass starts to grow again in the spring. If you have that jacket, glove liners, and a couple good sweatshirts, you’ll be fine.


Just give it a little time. Give it a chance. No matter where you come from, in time you too, will justify wearing only a sherpa sweatshirt to preschool drop off with the logic, “I’ll only be out of the car for a second or two.”


Do you have an observation that is uniquely Dakotan or Minot? I’d love to hear from you. Reach me on Instagram @amy_allender or by email at amyallender@gmail.com.

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