A warm place getting oddly cold—as with the current situation in the southern and central United States, and especially in Texas—is always the cue for some cold-weather people to performatively refuse their pity. “Growing up in Minnesota we were without power for a straight week … Suck it up Texans,” one tweet went. “Welcome to every winter in the northeast,” offered another. “Texas needs to pull up their wool socks, suck it up, and skate it off,” went a third.
This meteorological ribbing, in case it’s unclear, is not a great look. The dramatic cold snap has already left millions without power, and some houses are under boil orders as well, as their water treatment plants have gone offline. As I write, 23 people have died, and while temperatures will rise at the end of the week, as of Tuesday, officials couldn’t say when power would be restored. In light of such misery, Twitter user @zzzsartorialist put it best: “Texas is literally a humid subtropical climate most of the time please keep your weird cold takes to yourself.”
Mocking other places for being “soft” in the face of bad weather that seems normal to us is a time-honored form of American humor. We are a big country with a lot of different regions, and each of these enjoys its own kinds of bad weather; in the past, it’s felt good to gently laugh at one another—to consolidate a regional identity, in what feels like an apolitical way. As a person raised in New Hampshire, I know all too well the fun of being a cold-weather gloat. I had a couple of years where I delighted in annoying friends with our irritating cold-person tribal maxims, like “Cotton kills!” and “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!”
But I think it’s time for the “weird cold takes” to stop. Indeed, I’m glad to see them outnumbered, in volume, by people who recognize this situation for what it is: a deeply unsettling and dangerous one, and certainly not a crisis that a person can survive with a hardier attitude. As climate change—which, some think, is behind the very cold air pouring into the South right now—proceeds, weird and extreme weather is going to happen to a whole lot of people who aren’t prepared. Lack of said preparedness isn’t really funny anymore, if it ever was.
Also, it’s worth noting that preparedness—as the people who decided not to spring for insulation on Texas’ wind turbines know very well—isn’t just some kind of moral choice. It has a cost. I now live in a much more borderline climate, where some winters (like this one) merit extensive outfitting, while you could get through others with a down vest and a bit of good luck. A snowy pandemic winter with a 4-year-old means that we’ve had to invest in a better winter kit for every member of the family this year. When you add up the cost of performance long underwear, jackets, snow pants, weather-ready gloves, Yaktrax, boots, hats, scarves, and wool socks, and multiply times three, it’s not small. Then you have to store the gear in spring, and make sure in fall that the child (or anyone else whose body has changed size!) has not grown out of it over the summer.
These are the things my parents in New Hampshire do as a matter of course, just as they insulate their house, pay somebody (who, in turn, keeps a plow) to clear the driveway, and maintain a supply of wood for their extremely warm stove. But they chose to live in New Hampshire; people in Texas … did not.
For what it’s worth, there’s also something historically creepy about cold-climate people indulging themselves in superior feelings around weather. The idea that cold makes for better, smarter, more industrious humans was widespread among 19th and early 20th century social Darwinists. Eugenicist and racist Madison Grant wrote in 1922 that he suspected the personal qualities he admired among “Nordic” people—“vigor and power”—had come about because they lived in the cold: “The climatic conditions much have been such as to impose a rigid elimination of defectives through the agency of hard winters and the necessity of industry and foresight in providing the year’s food, clothing and shelter during the short summer.” Talk about a weird cold take!
There is undoubtedly a good feeling of self-reliance in being totally ready for the cold. I personally find walking outside in head-to-toe tech-y outdoor gear, insulated from the elements like an astronaut on the moon, to be extremely satisfying. But, my fellow cold people: For a situation like the one in Texas, let’s not let memories of our own snowy, difficult times swamp our sympathy for all the folks living in uninsulated houses without heat. With climate change on the rise, Mother Nature is coming for us all, soon enough.