Gearing Up For a Cold Week in Pittsburgh

According the meteorology folks, we are heading into the coldest ‘snap’ in twenty years.

temperatures Tuesday will drop from a high in the lower 30s to a low of zero at night, with wind chills forecast to be 10 below zero.

Wednesday and Thursday will be more of the same, with highs forecast to be 10 degrees or below and wind chills as low as 20 below zero during the night.

The last time it was this damn cold was 1994. I lived in Louisiana that winter so I was blissfully unaware of the havoc. Ledcat lived on Mt. Washington and her pipes burst, so she and her brother and friends slogged through that horrid mess to relocate her belongings and her two cats to his home on the Northside. And she’s remained a Northsider since then.

Prior to that, the coldest snap was January 1985 when it hit 18 below zero, breaking a record set in 1899.

“The Arctic air mass started moving into the United States on the evening of January 19 and the morning of January 20. In Chicago, a record low of −27 °F (−33 °C), combined with 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) winds to produce a wind chill of −60 °F (−51 °C).[3] St. Louis saw a low of −18 °F (−28 °C), and Pittsburgh had a low of −18 °F (−28 °C), the coldest morning since 1899.[4] In Cincinnati, the morning temperature of −21 °F (−29 °C) tied for the fourth-lowest minimum temperature in the city’s history, outdone by a cold mass the year before and a blizzard in 1977.[5] Cleveland fell to −18 °F (−28 °C), which was at the time a record.[6] Memphis recorded a low of −4 °F (−20 °C), setting a record low for that day. The coldest temperature in the contiguous states on January 21 was −24 °F (−31 °C), in the unlikely locations of Akron, Ohio,[7] and Knoxville, Tennessee.”

If you want to learn more about that 1899 freeze, check out the Weather Channel article.

In January 1985, I was 14 years old and a 9th grader. I don’t really remember this episode, but my general memory of winters in my teen years was that it was pretty cold and snowy a lot. It *seems* like it was worse than now, but I haven’t done the research to confirm or reject that hypothesis.

I imagine that we simply stayed home from school and kept warm. My father often had to use my hair dryer and lanterns to get his battery started, but I don’t know if that was this time frame or earlier.

Fast forward to now, we are preparing the house. Our furnace was recently serviced and is only five years old so it should be fine, it busy. We share a wall with another rowhouse which helps insulate things, especially pipes. Even so, we have the basement utility sink dripping into a bucket that I’ll use to flush out the drains when full. We’ve put draft stopper rugs and towels on all the window ledges and the near the doorways.

The worst part will be having to take Ledcat to work on the bitter weekday mornings. But we can endure a bit of discomfort while warming up the car and I can drop her right at the door, pick her up there later to minimize her exposure to the wind. I have no commitments or plans to leave the house otherwise. Our grocery supply has been replenished and I’m going to make a pot of soup on Monday.

Ana will have to endure the cold to potty, but she has a coat and she’s permitted to pee on the deck right outside the door. She has a tendency to wander a bit which makes us crazy, but I suspect the cold temperatures will nip that in the bud. Not wander like down the block, just wander around her fenced in yard sniffing and exploring while we watch from the kitchen. She comes barreling in when her leg gets too cold. Sigh. Fortunately, by the time she zooms to the sofa, she’s fine and exuberant again. I’ll be putting dry cat food outside for our wildlife visitors of all stripes.

I’m on the tail end of this horrible cold and very glad it hit me last week instead of this one. I can tell I’m still unwell because I crave hot tea rather than my usual coffee. I made coffee today and found it unpleasant so I’ll be back to tea for a few more days. I like it really strong with lots of sugar. At night, I switch to herbal tea like chamomile with no sugar at all.

Every year, we discuss putting plastic on the windows especially in our bedroom. The windows are pretty new, but the sills and the basic house itself is old and uninsulated. My side of our bed is closest to the street and I can feel the chill when I get up to totter to the bathroom. My solution is to pile my laundry along the bins near the walls to act as a ‘draft dodger’ barrier, but Ledcat does not abide with that solution. She probably won’t complain this week!

I find a lot of contentment reflecting on simple things like knowing we have a sturdy, warm house and clothing, that we have enough food and hot beverages, and that we can care for our pets and our wildlife neighbors. There’s a lot to be grateful for in those basic things and it is something I never consistently experienced until this past decade of so.

The peace of mind of having your basic needs consistently met and being able to refocus some energy on things like self care, mental health, physical health, and community mindedness is a new awareness of mine. Some might call it gratitude, but I prefer to simply think of it as appreciation because that word feels less churchy or New Agey.

Please by mindful of yourself and others this week. Everyone will be stressed expending energy for their routine activities. And some people will suffer mightily in our rich society that does not ensure everyone has adequate housing, sources of heat, food, etc.