How does it feel below minus 20C?

I can't even imagine what -20C feels like, is something a lot of my friends in England say to me. So I thought I'd have a go at describing life below freezing. I'm sure our relatives in the Yukon will be sniggering at this (it's really cold there) but here goes.

I've described the contents of your nose freezing before here but recently I noticed another weird bodily function affected by the cold. (not what you're thinking). As soon as I set foot out of the house these days I cry. Not because I'd rather be in Florida but simply as a reaction to the temperature.
A night at -5C anyone? Quebec Ice Hotel.

My eyes water the whole time I am out and as I arrived at the Metro station recently, just a 10 minute walk away, I was aware of something stuck on my eyelashes. I picked it off and looked at it - my tears had frozen. Another Canadian winter first for me. I'm wearing it like a badge.
Smiling through the pain
I am becoming adept at guessing the temperature (with windchill or realfeel as they call it here). It was -38C with windchill the other day. When it is this cold I cannot go outside without donning that fashion must-have - the balaclava. Never sexy, this thing saves your face from pain.
It's tough out here.

In fact I probably wear it as soon as it's below -15C (the temperature below which my teacher friend was not allowed to send the kids outside). A colleague at French class is a year-round cyclist (only in Montreal) but draws the line at -10C. He got frostbite the other day. Another friend tells me specifically that his nose hairs freeze at -15C. Always good to know.

Our car, like many others, has given up the ghost in these conditions. The garage reckons something freezes in the starter. All I know is the procedure for going out in the car (when it works) is slightly ridiculous. It goes like this: Clear car of snow, clear snow off roof (you can get a ticket if you don't), then sit inside car and scrape ice off inside of windscreen, clear coats of snow which has just been created by clearing window, start car.
Frozen blossom
I prefer the Metro in Montreal any way but even that can be difficult. You are so wrapped up in balaclava, hat, hood, scarf, long padded coat, etc that you have to strip off in the station which is unnaturally overheated.Don't ever leave your lunch in the car. Bottles of water and sandwiches freeze solid quite quickly. (have you ever tried eating a frozen sandwich?)

Rolling in snow to...keep warm?
It's -25C with windchill outside now and it's time for a confession. I have become a real Canadian. I have started to fantasise about going to Florida for the winter.


  1. Hahaha! I was just thinking of my neighbour today, as I trudged home from school with the kids, the youngest crying with cold. It was minus eighteen with the windchill, a blizzard was blowing in our faces, stinging our eyes whenever we glanced up to see where we were going and my eyelashes were frozen together at the corners. My neighbour is in Meh-hico, biking, scuba-ing, sun-bathing... oh how I tortured myself, imagining the feel of warm sand between toes while it was all my feet could do to keep me upright on the jagged frozen ground.
    I gotta say, the idea of being a snowbird appealed like nothing else at that exact minute...

  2. Hi there,
    Just found your blog after I heard an interview on CBC radio here in Canada. I love it!! What a good description of the Canadian experience, only a newcomer can really capture it. I've lived in lots of places in Canada, the US and also in Europe (although I am Canadian) and finally ditched the cold weather (ie: Alaska, Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario) for the much warmer west coast. I live on one of the Gulf Islands, we just moved here full time 6 months ago and I'm really enjoying it. Trying to do what you do and describe all the little things that I'm going through as I become a full time resident. It's so much fun.
    Thanks for sharing you're everyday life. I'll be a visitor regularly now!!

  3. Even the Southern Interior of BC doesn't get to -20C. So although I've lived in Canada all my life I've never experienced -20C. Canada is has a very diverse climate so each "Canadian experience" is really only valid to one area of this large country. I think many other countries actually believe all of Canada is one cold frozen land, so not true.

  4. Right now I am envying your BC climate. You are so right - the size of and diversity of Canada is difficult for many to comprehend. Maybe I should forget Florida and come to BC instead.

  5. Love this! I do have to let you know that you haven't really experienced Canada until you get your tongue stuck on a metal fence. My 5 year old did this the other day. It was very, very hard not to laugh.

  6. Haha, everything about this post rings so true! This is my second year living in Montreal - I was in Toronto for about 10 years before that, and in comparison, it seems like a tropical paradise now! I know it sounds ridiculous, but I really do feel aware of the climate difference between there and here.

  7. "Even the Southern Interior of BC doesn't get to -20C."

    Then you haven't been alive or lived in the Interior very long. Sure it can and has gotten down to -20C. I recall experiencing somewhere between -20 to -25 C in the '70's and '80's in Kamloops. And I recall my late mother telling me she'd experienced -40 C/F in her life time there, sometime from the '40's to the (then) present (which would have been the '70's or '80's). It may not get that cold every winter or stay around for too long, but it can definitely get that cold there,usually in January.

    Changing topics slightly, -20 C is normally what in Edmonton is a warm winter's day, although this winter (and last) have been a bit unusual in that we haven't seen extremely cold temperatures so far this winter (only down to -27 or maybe -29 in city overnight, -23/-24 by day). It's been above freezing the past week or so (above seasonal normals for this time of year here). Three to five years ago, I was walking 2.5 km to/from work in -30C - -35C (without wind chill, Praise God). Three years ago we had a sudden cold snap that set record lows - down to -40C at the International Airport - in April! Only lasted a day or two or three, but that was enough.

    I supposed its a question of adaptation. Wear proper clothing for the cold; have block heater and battery warmer for the vehicle (and maybe an oil-pan pad heater for the oil pan and one for the gear box); good battery kept fully charged. Even with all this, I can't claim to "like" the cold winters; I think I more less tolerate them, to a point.


  8. We are entering a warm spell now in mid February in Montreal. 3C today - I plan to celebrate with a run before the snow comes. Tina - I know what you mean by tropical paradise. It feels like summer suddenly.
    Kathleen - I will be looking for fences when it get cold again - I love it.
    Anonymous (above) - I hope you were wearing a balaclava in -30C. Makes me cold to read your post. Good advice about the car - we may be following that next year after a disasterous winter with our poor old Subaru.

  9. Anne, my boyfriend and I just spent Sat night outdoors with no tent, just a sleeping bag and mattress pad. It was chilly, even at -5C! That was my first time under the stars in winter since junior high. We went on a snowhoe backpacking trip near Hinton, AB. if you want to read, I've written about it on my blog:
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the cold. It's really satisfying to hear someone talk about all the little things I notice, like eyelashes freezing together! For me, the condensation from my breath usually is channeled straight up to my eyelashes out of my scarf and if it's really cold, like -20C or colder, my lashes sometimes freeze together. Take care, I'm enjoying reading!

  10. Chère Anne,

    C'est un réel plaisir de lire votre blog!
    Clap, clap, clap! J'adore!

    A lundi prochain "et que le subjonctif soit avec vous".
    Amicalement votre,


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