David Dudley is the executive editor of CityLab. He is the former editor in chief of Urbanite magazine and a former features editor for AARP: The Magazine.
Don’t get frozen in action when the cold snap hits, East Coast.
Winter is tightening its icy talons on the U.S. east coast this week, with one of the most rapidly intensifying storms on record— memorably described as a “bomb cyclone”—that is bringing snow to Florida, possible blizzard conditions from the coastal Mid-Atlantic up to New England, and misery to humanity in general. “In the storm’s wake,” the Washington Post warns, “the mother lode of numbing cold will crash south.”
A monster storm is headed for the East Coast, but don't worry, it's only expected to become a [squints at notes] "bomb cyclone" https://t.co/tLjbbRCQiD— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 2, 2018
This is not a prospect to be welcomed. Extreme frigidity is a joyless and lethal kind of weather emergency. It is cruel to the un-housed and elderly, dangerous to first-responders, and hard on civic infrastructure. (On the other hand: Ice fishermen are happy.)
It’s easy to feel paralyzed—nay, frozen!—from action in such challenging circumstances, especially if you live somewhere that’s unfamiliar with unseasonable cold. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the most basic survival tips to keep you a) warm, b) decently conscientious of your environmental impact, and c) imaginatively stimulated for the next several days.
Don’t: Go outside if you can humanly avoid it
Remain under the covers for the next 24 hours, if at all possible. This is an excellent time to consume some Cold Snap Culture, such as contemporary Russian fiction, the poetry of Robert W. Service (“The Bard of the Yukon”), and those viral videos of Canadians throwing boiling water into the air to make snow.
Do: Act like a microclimate
Planet-savers: Try to warm yourself before you warm the room or the house. Sweaters, jackets, blankets, tea. (See above.) Science has debunked the famous claim about losing much of our body heat through the head, but you should still put a freaking hat on.
Do: Check your transit agency’s Twitter account for service updates if you have to leave the house
Don’t: Be a slave to your office’s locked thermostat
If you get trapped working late, you’re already swathed à la Michelin, and the office thermostat is locked, try tricking it—with ice!
Do: heat-tech your pipes
Nope, it’s not just for fashionable Uniqlo shoppers. Pipes need warmth layers, too! For homeowners who can hack it, pick up a bundle of polyethylene tubes from Home Depot on the way home and wrap those babies. (Bonus: Cup a few under doorway gaps to keep out chilly drafts.) If you need directions, watch and learn from the insulation masters at the Philadelphia Water Department, below. The Red Cross has more tips for preventing frozen pipes and their evil companions: burst pipes.
Don’t: Dump too many chemicals on the sidewalk
Remember, de-icers are supposed to loosen the ice shellacked onto your sidewalk and driveway, not melt a blanket of snow. So go easy. Sprinkle a modest layer on the sidewalk before precipitation starts, to prevent ice from forming and make snow easier to shovel later. NB: some de-icers are more toxic for pets, lawns, and local water bodies than others. Choose wisely. (Two words: pickle brine.) If it’s really cold, skip the salty stuff entirely. It won’t work in temps below zero.
Don’t: Forget those who don’t have homes
Many city dwellers lack the luxury of futzing with their thermostats in order to stay warm. New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston are doubling down on efforts to get people living in homelessness off the streets and into shelters now, but it’s an all-hands-on-deck effort. Here’s Bustle on how to help people you might encounter in the cold.
Do: Keep Fido warm
Most pet parents don’t need reminding, but for those who do: A coat of fur does not always cut it in the cold, especially for shorter-hair breeds! Keep pups and kitties indoors, wearing adorable accessories, and away from those potentially toxic de-iced sidewalks unless properly shod in dog booties.
Don’t: Leave space heaters on and unattended
It wastes energy and it’s one of the big reasons why residential fires spike this time of year: Space heaters are involved in one in five home fire deaths, according to a 2015 report from the National Fire Protection Association. Don’t plug them into power strips or extension cords, either—only directly into three-prong outlets.
Do: Construct elaborate fantasy schemes to stay warm
Although cold is no mere state of mind, you can try pretending it is! There’s some science to support this strategy: In one famous study, researchers at the University of Southampton found that evoking feelings of nostalgia helped participants endure extreme cold.
We put a call out on Twitter for other weird psychological tips for tricking your body. Our favorite piece of wisdom came from one Amanda Savitt, who plows through snow in Fargo, North Dakota (current temp: -4), by imagining she’s an action star in the otherwise terrible 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, which featured climate-disruption survivors evading wolf attacks in the icebound New York Public Library.
Basically I'm Dennis Quaid and I have to save my son Jake Gyllenhaal from the NYPL. Lots of mumbling "I've walked that far in the snow before."— Amanda Savitt (@amsavitt) January 3, 2018
Yeah, sounds pretty hot.