Cold Comfort: A Non-Native’s Guide To New England Winters

It may have occurred to some of you in the past few days that living in New England during winter is a relatively miserable experience. This is especially true if you, like me, were raised in a relatively warm locale such as California, where “sub-zero” is a term associated with high-tech freezers, not the air outside your home.

For those non-natives who are new to our fair city — and by “fair city” here I mean basically “frozen wasteland” — here’s a helpful guide to some basic seasonal terms.


A huge storm system, usually deriving from the North Atlantic Ocean, and generally involving snow, sleet, frozen rain, high winds, dangerous roads, car crashes, frostbite, and death.

Natives love Nor’easters (native pronunciation: Nor’eastah!), which not only make them swell with regional pride, but allow them to demonstrate how much better prepared for bad weather they are than you, you pathetic, thin-skinned wimp.


A person who loves snow. More broadly, a person who welcomes the cold, wet, bitter weather as a natural, and even sublime, expression of seasonal variation.

Snowholes love nothing more than pulling on their water-proof boots and gloves and tromping outside to fire up ye olde snowblowah.

They cannot understand why you’re not absolutely thrilled by the chance to suffer from windburn and hypothermia.

Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD):

A medical term used to describe what happens when human beings are trapped indoors for up to five months, deprived of sun and subjected to freezing temperatures.

Common symptoms include despair, impotent rage, significant weight gain, a chalky complexion, and facial skin that feels like onion paper.

Mud Room:

The special heated berth that native New Englanders have attached to their homes, which allows them to shed and stow all their gear before entering the house proper.

If you do not have a Mud Room, you will be tracking slushy muck into your home for many weeks on end.

Black Ice:

Not (as non-New Englanders tend to assume) the rap/pop super group formed by Vanilla Ice and Black Eyed Peas. No, to a hearty native, “black ice” means a transparent sheet of frozen water that covers any exterior surface you, or your vehicle, might wish to traverse.

Examples: your front steps, your sidewalk, the streets you drive to work.

Black Ice has one purpose: to kill you.

Wind Chill Factor:

This is a specialized term used to describe how cold the air temperature feels on actual exposed skin. Because, as a non-native, you do not have the proper winter gear, you will inevitably be experiencing the joys of the wind chill factor the moment you step outside.

When the friendly New England snowhole weatherman suggests that it will be 40 degrees this Saturday, you are best to bear in mind that the actual air temperature on your skin will be closer to, say, 15 degrees.

Super Bug:

In the sunny climes you came from, winter colds were pretty much just regulation sniffles. Here in New England, we have Super Bugs, which are sinus and bronchial infections that are impervious to antibiotics. Why? Because the bacteria in question are New England bacteria: stubborn, hardy, and not willing to leave your body until they’re good and ready. This means four to six weeks.

Spring Thaw:

A mythical geothermal event marking the formal end of winter. It is said to take place in mid-March.

The actual thaw occurs in early to late April, right around the time you shake your final super bug of the season, and finish renovations on your Mud Room.


This program aired on January 25, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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