“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” It’s a common saying here in Michigan, and in winter, it needs a small edit: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’ll probably be worse.” We might not have the icy wind of Chicago or the full lake-effect snow of Kalamazoo, but in Ann Arbor, winter weather has a uniquely annoying quality: capriciousness. Damp? Dry? Icy? Windy? Unseasonably warm? All are equally plausible, you’ll have to go to class in all of them, and by the way - we got snow in April last year.
The variations on winter weather in Michigan are numerous and annoying. Most days are just cold and grey with a light dusting of snow. These are actually the most pleasant days, but after months of them, you long for a ray of sun. Of course, the days with high, bright sun are even worse; if those grey clouds aren’t there, the air is frigid, even too cold for snow. The snowstorms are bad, causing poor visibility, worse traction on the roads, and piles of shoveling to do. The ice storms are even worse– last year my boyfriend’s Subaru was literally encased in sheets of ice. The least pleasant winter weather, though, is wintry mix. Wintry mix is what happens when it’s just around the freezing point, and slush, hail, sleet, and snow all come down in waves. In essence, Michigan winters do their level best to smack you in the face with something cold and wet every day.
The University of Michigan hasn’t had a snow day in my lifetime, so knowing how to safely commute in winter weather is a key skill. The safest way of commuting in inclement weather is, of course, telecommuting. If you don’t have classes or meetings, bring work home with you the day before a snowstorm is expected!
If you have to be physically present on campus, consider walking or taking a bus. Although you will likely be outside longer, preventing frostbite is easier than finding a parking spot after a snowstorm. Buying the best outerwear you can afford is essential. I survive the winter by hiding inside of the wool output of a small flock of sheep. You’ll see me around campus in a wool hat, a wool scarf, wool mittens, an ankle-length wool coat with high collar, wool socks... I’m still cold, but I don’t succumb to shivers within fifteen minutes. Also, walk with small steps and wear shoes with good treads. Otherwise, you might fall on your butt. Multiple times over the course of a block. This advice is derived from my boyfriend’s particularly hilarious attempt to wear vintage wingtips on poorly cleared sidewalks.
If you really must drive, I have one important experience to share: although going at low speeds is important on slippery roads, going at low accelerations is just as important. I hit “black ice” once. This phenomenon, barely visible ice on the road, is the unholy union of awful Michigan roads and awful Michigan weather. Although I was going well below the speed limit, I skidded off the road and into a ditch while changing lanes. Don’t be like me. Accelerate slowly.
If your car is older, don’t leave it sitting in the winter with less than a quarter of a gas tank. No one told me that in driver’s ed, and apparently it’s mildly important. Also, non-clumping cat litter is a great thing to keep in your trunk. If your car gets stuck, you can pour some under your wheels to get extra traction.
My view of Michigan winter may seem negative, and well, it largely is. I don’t like the cold, and have never really been able to adapt to it. However, don’t go running to transfer to University of Florida... there are some good things about Michigan winter! There’s snow on tree branches after a calm snowfall, hot chocolate, ice skating, hockey, snowball fights, and of course, the best part of winter - seeing the first crocus of spring!
About the Author
Jax Sanders, Ph.D. Student, Physics
Published in: Student Voices