Acclimating to Chicago Winters Ain’t Easy | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Acclimating to Chicago Winters Ain't Easy

Many people in Chicago might have felt like high-tailing it out of the city late last week. Friday brought us bitter cold, but this week will bring us surprise! A warm-up-a warm-up because it's going to be above freezing. A thirty-three degree winter day in Chicago just recently became tolerable to writer and transplant Clifton Truman Daniel. Here are his memories of his first days in our wintry city.

When my wife, Polly, and I moved here from Wilmington, NC, eleven years ago, people didn't congratulate us. They said we were crazy. Chicago was cold, possibly as cold as Alaska, and might even lie within the Arctic Circle. I didn't believe it. I had spent the fall of 1998 here and the weather had been in the 50s, even in early December. Polly, who grew up in Harvey, recalled winters when her nose hairs snapped off.

We arrived on New Year's Eve. I pulled into a gas station off Lake Shore Drive, stepped out of the car, and couldn't move. It was five degrees with a wind chill of minus 10. The next day, it snowed, nearly three feet in 48 hours. Our moving van got stuck at a truck stop in Gary. It was also minus a mover. One of the men back in North Carolina had heard the weather report and went home before the truck left town.

We spent the New Year with my wife's sister and brother-in-law in LaGrange. When we woke up, they handed us shovels. So far, it had snowed two inches. I thought maybe we should wait until it stopped. My sister in law, Phoebe said it wouldn't stop soon and that the shovel would be lighter if I used it immediately.

So we all spent the better part of the next two days shoveling. Occasionally, I drove with brother-in-law Bill while he used the plow on his truck to clear driveways and side streets.

After one run, he parked the truck, disappeared upstairs, and reappeared wearing a suit. Phoebe came down in a party dress and heels. They had been invited to a wedding. When we asked if they might want to skip it, considering at that point we couldn't see the neighbor's house – they replied that they had to go because the caterer had already made all the food.

My children began to cry because if people were still willing to go to a wedding during a blizzard, schools would be open.

Following the storm, we endured two more weeks of arctic weather. I went to work in a coat and two layers of Polar Fleece with a scarf around my face and a wool hat on my head. I also bought hunting socks and long underwear. And I never ventured outside without my new heavy gloves. You could lose a finger.

Then one evening, I noticed that a colleague and I had, in fact, walked to the parking lot without our hats or gloves and I wondered if we were acclimated. My friend didn't think so. She is from Southern California where the snow is made of plastic and kept indoors.

She started her car and read the thermometer. It was 17 degrees, a heat wave. So I guess I am acclimated. When it hit 40 the other day, I considered dressing like the Fed Ex man I saw during my first winter: Hat, gloves, scarf, heavy coat…and shorts.

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