I grew up not caring too much about the temperature.  If it was cold, you knew it was cold, because you could feel it, and then you’d just put on a jumper (sweater).

Living in Norway, I find myself dependent on thermometers.  I can’t judge how cold it is inside, or outside, without looking at some mercury first.  If it is cold inside the house it is natural to think that it’s because it is really cold outside but that isn’t necessarily the case.  It might just be that you and the family haven’t been in the house all day, which makes the air colder because there is no human activity.  It could just be that the neighbours next door haven’t used their fireplace in a while or have gone on holidays, (a lot of modern Norwegian homes are built close together with adjoining fireplaces or roofs to maximize heat conservation), and quite often, when you have small children, the heaters magically turn down.

In winter, basically, the wall heaters are on all the time in the house – 24/7.  We do have a fireplace but you can’t keep that going when you leave the house.  Fireplace heat is also inconsistent.  The amount of heat depends on the type of wood, amount of wood, wind outside, amount of ashes and if the neighbours have their fireplace going as well.  So to keep the house at a livable temperature, the wall heaters need to be on all the time. In the north, without heaters, it would be better to live in a lavvu as it takes a good effort to heat up a whole house with just fire (chopping trees, splitting the wood, packing it, lugging it back home, stacking it outside, and re-stacking inside  – enough every day for at least 9 months of the year is a lot of work).

I find that fireplaces in the house are better used to keep the edge off the cold.  We keep the heaters at a constant temperature throughout the season and when it is really cold, each day is different, we use fire heat to add that extra when needed.  The best way to tell if we need fire heat is by looking at the thermometer.  That means you can be sure it really is cold (and not just a fake coldness such as your metabolism drawing energy to your tummy after a big meal and therefore making you just feel cold).  Heating your home in Norway costs a lot of money so you want to make sure every hour is not wasted by over heating.

Outside, I just feel cold (all the time) so I can never really tell how cold it really is until I look at a thermometer.  After living here for eight years, I can, with no complaint, go to the shops in just jeans and a jumper in minus two celsius.  However, from about minus five to 10, it feels like minus two to me and so I always go out under dressed and pay for it later.  When it reaches minus 12 I feel the cold change but not until I get a whiff of outside first and then rug up a little more.  (Yes, I literally smell the air to judge if it is cold.)  One day, when I was on an ice stage theatre job, I spent a whole 8 hours with the lighting designer sitting in a scaffolding tower outside.  I was really cold in my double coated thermal underwear, balaclava and heat packs in my gloves and shoes.  I thought I was feeling extra cold because I was just sitting there all day in an open tower exposed to the wind.  It turned out the temperature for most of the day was minus 25 degrees celsius.  (No wonder my salad lunch froze a minute after I opened it.)  But seriously, I couldn’t tell it was that cold.  When you get to that point of being cold, everything else under is just cold too.  It is really hard to know that the temperature is going down (or up) when it is gradual.  I guess it is the same effect as cooking lobster.

I’ve found that the best thermometer to use is the one inside the car, it is true to its word.  However, by the time you get in the car, brushing off all the snow and scrapping off all the ice, it is a little too late to make the best decision on what to wear.  I often find myself misjudging how cold it is and end up having to go back into the house to rethink my clothing choices.  It’s not pretty when you leave the house in just a jumper and jeans to discover it’s really minus 10.

You’d think it would be better to look on www.yr.no, the Norwegian national meteorology service, to get the correct temperature outside.  That seems logical but it is never reliable.  The service judges temperatures from the airports, which are usually positioned down by the water.  Places by the water are a lot warmer than inland.  Valleys are much colder than hills and built up areas with high buildings and no trees are always colder.  Even when walking along the same street I have felt a dramatic drop or increase in temperature just by passing by a hedge fence.  There have been times I’ve looked on www.yr.no and it says bright sunny skies when there is actually a snow blizzard outside.

You can get thermometers for outside the house to stick in a window to see the temperature but they are at least a couple of degrees off.  This is because they are affected by the warmth of the house.  I have never found them reliable.

I wonder if there is such a thing as a keychain thermometers – they would certainly come in handy!

If I don’t have a thermometer, the only other way I can judge coldness is by the type of icy coating on the car.  If there is a dry layer of ice frozen on my windscreen, the weather was once warm but then suddenly it got cold.  If the ice chips off easily then the temperature hasn’t changed or has became a little warmer.  If the ice is hard to chip off then the temperature has become even colder.  If there is a nice layer of fluffy snow on the car then the weather has been warm (meaning between -2 to 2 degrees celsius).  If the snow is dry, the temperature has been consistently lower; if it is slushy, the weather has become warmer.  Of course, there are many different combinations of these symptoms.  I sometimes even get ice on the inside of my windscreen because the air inside the car was warmer than the air outside, and so the moisture inside freezes to the glass.

Most of the time, I just look out to the car to help decide what I’m going to wear.  If I see white snow I wear jeans and a jumper; for ice I get a little more rugged.  I have never had to look so much into the habits of nature to help me with basic living.  Reading the signs of the weather through snow and ice has proven to be effective for me.  Once you know what to look for, winter life becomes a little less cold. 

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