February 2, 2004

Cold Weather Blues

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Another Ithaca winter is half over, and here we are still trudging through the snow. The temperature is dropping, and we can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever see the sun again. As we put on our thermal underwear and rush out the door to make our 9:05’s, there’s one thing going through every Cornell student’s mind, and that is: “Will they ever cancel class?” The answer, unfortunately, is no, but there is good news! You’re halfway done. The coldest and shortest days of winter are behind us, but we do have two months left. Here’s to figuring out a way to ease our Ithaca weather woes.

Those of us who went home to warmer climates for winter break should consider ourselves lucky. According to Prof. Art DeGaetano, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Jan. 2004 was the eighth coldest January since 1926. “Of yesterday, the average temperature during this January was 16.0 degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest Jan. was in 1977 when the average temperature was 13.1 degrees,” DeGaetano said.

Yoshiko Ono ’06 certainly felt the effects of the severe January weather. “Snow is one of the worst parts about Cornell,” said Ono. “Some of my best friends go to schools like Emory and Maryland and their classes are canceled with one-quarter inch of snow. Yet, us Cornellians trudge through the snow in negative temperatures, bundled in scarves and hats, and still make it to our 9:05’s!”

The severe winters that we in Ithaca know all too well comes with some risks to our physical and mental health. There are plenty of ways to reduce these risks, according to Sharon Dittman, Gannett’s associate director for community relations, but it is important to recognize them nonetheless.

Dittman admits that catching a cold from the cold weather is an old wives tale. But, she said, “The cold weather does take a toll on the body’s immune system. As a result, we’ve seen plenty of upper respiratory infections at Gannett this month.” So, your mother is not completely out of line when she insists that you bundle up.

Other risks that we tend not to think about are skin irritations such as frostnip and frostbite. According to Dittman, frostnip is more common than frostbite and occurs on the surface layers of the skin. Frostnip can occur if too much skin is exposed during a 15 minute walk to class; frostbite, which affects the tissue under the skin, only occurs in more extreme situations.

What can you do? Dittman said, “Layering your clothing is key. It keeps you warmer when you’re outside than one heavy layer. Plus, you can peel layers to prevent overheating once you’re inside.”

On the weekends, layering one’s clothing can pose a slight problem. Crowded bars and fraternity parties are surely conducive to skimpy attire; once inside, it is easy to forget that you’re in Ithaca. But when you set foot outside, reality sets in and you suddenly realize that you’re about three layers underdressed. Think you can warm up your insides by consuming a couple of beverages? Think again. According to Dittman, alcohol actually compounds the issue by giving people a false sense of body warmth. “With alcohol, blood flows away from the body’s core toward the skin, so our limbs feel warm when our body heat is really dropping,” Dittman said.

Laziness is another problem that tends to set in during these cold winter months. Being inside means less physical activity, and gray skies often bring on a sluggish mood that prevents us from even going to the gym.

“When I choose classes, they have to be close to Collegetown or near a parking lot so I can drive. I’ve learned to cope with the cold by buying video games and DVDs and getting food delivered,” said Geoff Gordon ’04. “So I guess the moral of the story is that I’ve coped with the cold winters by becoming extra lazy.”

According to Dittman, it is important to keep active for your physical as well as mental health. On the less severe days, try to walk to where you are going. Get some light exposure by sitting near a window if you must. Short days and cold weather can be tough on the psyche, so do what you can to lift the mood. Winter sports like hiking, skiing and sledding are good ways to make the best of the snow. If anyone feels they are having trouble coping with the cold, an on-call nurse at Gannett can talk to you anytime.

As bad as the weather may be, you’re not alone. “It is part of the Cornell experience to deal with the Ithaca winters,” said Evan Hellman ’07. “Good or bad, it’s one of the defining characteristics of this school. We get through it together.”

Archived article by Missy Kurzweil