When we arrived at Grand Forks AFB, ND, in July 1977, the base chaplain started the welcome-aboard briefing with a joke:
quote:Despite what you may have heard, there are four seasons in North Dakota: June, July, August, and Winter.
We were still young and naïve enough to have thought that was a joke. It wasn't. Grand Forks is in the north-eastern corner of North Dakota, so it's in the same region as International Falls, MN, which is traditionally the coldest place in the lower 48 states. The reason for that is that there's nothing to block those arctic air masses coming down from Canada -- it's actually much warmer in south-western North Dakota because of the hilly terrain.
We also received a welcome-aboard package with booklets, brochures, maps, and a floppy record (remember those things?). We started playing it and the first thing we heard was the howling of the winter wind. The second sound was us turning the stereo off. We never did hear any of the rest of that thing.
TRIVIA: The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales meet at -40°. I personally saw them wave at each other as they met there.
More moderate temperatures, but I bet you get a lot more precipitation, like lots of snow throughout the winter.
Before our first winter, locals told us that it would get too cold to snow. We didn't believe them, but it's true. We'd get most of our snow in the early winter when it was still warm enough and then some more at the end of winter when it had started warming up again, but inbetween the wind would just redistribute what had already fallen, mixing it with dirt to make "snirt".
Relative humidity depends on a number of factors (see Psychrometrics) including pressure, temperature, and amount of water vapor in the air. Warm air can hold more water vapor, but cold air much less. Since the really cold weather came down from Canada over a lot of land, that cold air didn't bring in much snow if any. Most of our storms was warmer air coming from the west, but in that case a lot of the snow had already fallen over the mountains. Sometimes we'd get a storm from the south, but the monster snowfalls would be the storms from the east bring water from the Great Lakes. In our five years there, we never saw a storm from the east, but there was such a storm a couple years before we arrived in which the entire side of a house would be buried in snow.
Another aspect of our winters was the extremely low humidity. To begin with, the air would be too cold to hold much water vapor. So then you bring that dry air indoors and heat it up with your furnace. Heating air lowers relative humidity, so that would drive the humidity indoors far lower. The furnaces would have a humidifier attached to them to bring the indoor humidity up to comfortable levels; that was the first that I had ever heard of such a thing.
A few years ago I saw a video on YouTube of a field of ice advancing into a back yard by a large northern lake. You could visibly see it move in real time and it was forming large ice crystals.
I just now did a YouTube search on lake effect ice and found that same video again:
In an unfair comparison, winter in Southern California is just cold (albeit above freezing most of the time) and wet. That's our rainy season, when it happens.
My mother's family was from Illinois near Peoria. When her mother would come out to visit around Xmas time, she would always complain about how cold it was here even though temperature-wise it was much colder in Illinois. I think it was like I observed about how much dryer it is in the northern winters, so it was more the cold dampness that she was feeling.
Also, cold is relative and you get acclimatized. I was born and raised in Orange County here, so North Dakota was my first experience living in the really cold. I wore thermal underwear under my jeans, double-socks (wool & black cotton for when I was in uniform) in my combat boots. Flannel shirt and t-shirt under my Air Force parka, plus ski gloves; usually the hood was enough to keep my head warm, but sometimes I would wear a watch cap or my "Russian hat" (old USAAF-issue flight helmet). That kept me comfortably warm enough. I once saw a parka with a tear in it and was amazed to see that its lining was an Army blanket.
Anyway, it's amazing how much difference certain temperatures can make, such as when you hit freezing, then 10°F, then 0°F (isopropyl alcohol will no longer serve as gas-line anti-freeze so you need something stronger), then -10°F, then -20°F (you might need some ether to get your car started because the engine is below the flash point for the gasoline-air mixture). At the end of the first winter when the temperature soared to a blistering 33°F, I had to take off my gloves and keep my parka open, because it was just too damned hot! On the roofs on Fraternity Row across from the university, students were sprawled out in their bathing suits sunbathing. At 33°F.
Edited by dwise1, : Made correction: "into a back yard by one of the Great Lakes." to "into a back yard by a large northern lake."