This morning it was -8F in Boston. I realized, walking to yoga class, in the sun, in the wind, that it was cold; but figuring out exactly how cold was not something my body or brain was equipped to do.
Each square of my skin can sense cold, and it can sense pain, so in terms of raw input, I get only not-cold, cold, or painfully cold. Can I really tell the difference between 8F and -8F? For better resolution I have to use other available data. How much am I wearing? How long have I been outside? Outside in -8F, probably the coldest temperatures I’ve walked around in, I put this notion to the test.
The only exposed bit of my skin, below my hat and above the scarf I had pulled over my face, went from not-cold to cold to painfully cold in about 3 minutes. My eyes watered and the corners of my eyes started to sting. Other than that, I felt fine. I felt probably the same amount of cold over my body as I did on a 30F day wearing jeans, a coat, and no scarf. Except this morning I was wearing my full mountain gear for snowboarding: snow pants, thermal layer underneath, windproof insulation under my jacket, ear-warmers, mittens… And despite walking quickly, I didn’t warm up. All the gear felt light and airy, as if the top layers were simply not there.
A few nights ago, sitting in Fenway Park watching the Big Air competition, I wore the same outfit, down to the boots and mittens and ear-warmers. It was 10F and not as breezy. It took me about 30 minutes of not moving to start feeling uncomfortably cold, about 40 minutes to lose feeling in my toes through my winter boots. My eyes did not start to sting or water, and I did not notice my exposed skin becoming painfully cold (probably because I went inside to take care of my toes). But simply from being outside from 6-10pm that night, I was cold, and hungry, and exhausted.
The data seems to indicate that today is colder. But Thursday’s experience was much more grueling.