When cold really isn’t THAT cold

The news anchor was so … serious.

Gravely serious.

“With the dangerously cold temperatures outside, area officials are making the difficult, and unfortunate decision, to cancel several outdoor events this New Years.”

I was in Missouri watching this newscast at my parents’ house, which is pretty much the only place I ever watch broadcast TV news. My parents, making sure they live up to the retiree’s stereotype, have their late afternoon routine centered around the TV. It includes visits from old friends like Alex Trebek, Pat Sajak, and the NBC weather guy they love named Dave who strangely has more hair today than when he first came to town in the 1980s.

As the news reporter explained, the temperatures outside were cold. Bitterly cold. Dangerously cold.

A forlorn looking mayor came on camera. They had to cancel the annual fireworks show, scheduled for midnight.

“I know folks usually just sit in their cars and watch the fireworks, but what they have to remember is we have to establish a secure perimeter 12 hours in advance,” the mayor explained. “And I just don’t feel comfortable forcing a city employee to sit outside and secure that perimeter in this cold of weather.”

Typically, when my parents turn on TV news, I tune it out and read a book, or play a game of solitaire on my phone. But now, I was paying attention. Cold enough to cancel events? Wonder how cold it’s going to be?

The answer came in the forecast, which immediately followed the lead newscast because you know, its dangerously cold.

Cue big-haired Dave. In the most dire of tones, he teases just exactly how cold its going to get, couching it with warnings about being outside too long without proper attire, and even taking care of your pet friends.

Then the big reveal, the actual forecasted low temperature was going to be: 5 DEGREES!

OH MY GOSH!

5 DEGREES! WITH WINDCHILLS BELOW ZERO!

I don’t laugh out loud that often, and rarely by surprise. But in that moment, with my attention slightly split between a 60-year-old meteorologist who looks like a backup singer for the Beach Boys and a riveting game of spider solitaire, I literally laughed out loud.

Loudly.

My parents, who have grown accustomed to Missouri weather, looked at me with equal amounts of surprise and astonishment that I would so (pardon the expression) coolly dismiss such a serious warning.

I explained to my parents my amusement stemmed from a note my 5-year-old daughter brought home school, which basically stated if the temperature is above zero, the children will be outside.

And then I explained city workers in Minnesota don’t stop working because its too cold to be outside in single- digit temperatures. They miss work when it’s single-digit temperatures because they grabbed a 12-pack and are sitting around a hole in the ice fishing.

Of course, the flip side is no event in the state of Missouri has ever been canceled because temperatures climbed into the 90s. I remember reading a story about a local county fair in Minnesota that officials explained low attendance to because of extreme heat, with average high temps in the upper 80s.

When the temperature in Missouri hits 90 in July, its average. It takes at least another 10 degrees before a canceling conversation even starts.

That’s where perspective comes into play.

After coming to work for a new company about 10 years ago, I became frustrated with some employees who had recently had benefits cut. It was 2009, and the nation’s economy was in the tank, and layoffs, job losses and cuts were common in many industries, and newspapers were no exception.

Employees lost a company funded pension, cell phone allowance, uniform allowance, and were paying more for health insurance. They were still getting annual pay increases, but everything else was cut.

The company I had come from though had never had any of those benefits in the 15-plus years I worked for them, or anything even close. In fact, I even had to pay for my own pens and notebooks. Free cell phones? Are you kidding? Flying unicorns seemed more likely.

So when these employees started complaining about the amount of the annual pay raise, I was incredulous. How ungrateful could they be? I would have loved to have received any kind of raise at my old job. Heck, I would have settled for free pens.

That’s when a wise Human Resource Director explained to me I had to look at the situation from their perspective. Their normal was not only free pens and notebooks, but free cell phones, pensions, and bigger pay raises.

Clearly, perspective can cloud not only your expectations, but also your sensitivity to the weather.

So when your southern friends and family complain about single digit temperatures, try not to snicker. Maybe they’ll extend the same courtesy when a 90-degree heat wave hits the area.

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