It’s that time of year when the snow boots come out, the Canada Goose jackets go on and the out-of-staters get ridiculed for thinking they knew what cold was before they came to Michigan.
As a Californian, I took and still take the brunt of this mockery. During my freshman year, “in-staters” asked me if I had ever seen snow before. They asked how cold it gets in my hometown, Palo Alto, during the winter. They made sure I knew that I had no idea what I was getting into for the upcoming months.
I held onto the one piece of information that I hoped would give me a bit of weather street cred: I was from Northern California. My winters were not 60 degrees and sunny like in Los Angeles, they were 40 degrees and rainy. Unlike my SoCal dorm mates, I had seen snow, though only when I drove four hours to Tahoe for a family skiing trip. I also knew of and already owned a North Face jacket. I was sure I wouldn’t be as shocked by winter as the surfer dudes down the hall.
But was I really prepared for my first Michigan winter? Of course not. The boots I had bought in California were suede, and my feet were soaked and freezing the first time it snowed. I walked home from a party in two-degree weather, only to spend the night curled in a ball in my dorm, unable to get warm. The next day I went out and bought Hunters and a Patagonia winter jacket.
Michigan cold was like nothing I had ever experienced: The stinging cold on your face and the way your ears hurt when you are walking home at night without a hat. The instantaneous cough that rises from your throat when you step out into the cold air for the first time that day. The panic you feel when your phone shuts off because the air is too cold for the electronics to work. I had never known that type of cold. The one benefit is that I found the one thing that will sober me up faster than anything — cold air without a jacket.
Michigan cold and California cold are unique in ways beyond the difference in numerical temperature. Winter is the rainy season in California. When I came to Michigan and learned it was colder when the sun was shining than when it was raining, I was very disconcerted, and honestly, it still pisses me off.
I don’t think anyone gets used to Michigan winters. “In-staters” complain about the cold just as much as “out-of-staters”. While I got taunted with “Why the hell would you move here?” questions, they get just as much scorn with “Shouldn’t you be used to this by now?” inquiries. We all feel the cold the same and the seasonal depression hits all of us when February comes around.
My answer to the “Why the hell would you move here?” question has always been the same. I wanted to prove I could live somewhere other than California, and better to do it when I’m young, drunk and surrounded by people my age to “cuddle” for warmth with than at any other time in my life.
However, I will always feel like I didn’t get the full Michigan winter experience. I missed the only snow day in 75 years. I skipped the entire polar vortex because I was studying abroad in sunny Australia. I will never know what minus-40 degrees with a minus-10 wind chill feels like. But I’m not sorry in the slightest. I picked a really good winter to not be in Michigan.
I like to humblebrag to my friends back in California that they shouldn’t be complaining about a 30-degree New Year’s Eve, because if it breaks 25 in the middle of January in Michigan, that is considered a heat wave. The few sunny 36-degree days we get in the middle of winter — thanks to Ann Arbor’s senseless weather changes — give me just enough hope to make it through the rest of winter, which usually lasts until finals week.
I got lured into a false sense of security my freshman year when it was 60 and sunny on St. Patrick’s Day. I thought “two months of horrible weather and then it’s fine by March 17, I can do that.” But those snow flurries in April break your heart just when you think you are home free for spring.
I really think that some of my friends deal with worse weather than we do. Many of my friends ventured up north to Oregon and Washington for their college experiences. I would take cold and snow over 300 days of rain any day. Rain is dark. Rain is depressing. Rain is wet and inconvenient.
But this is my first Michigan winter since sophomore year, and I’m a little worried that I have forgotten just how miserable they really can be.
Jesse Klein can be reached at email@example.com.