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Hummel column: Is it cold enough for ya? Don't ask

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

Just a few days ago when we were in the pit of our January cold wave, it was 38 below zero overnight with enough wind to send a message to your bare nose that it would never forget.

Nearby, the windchill was 66 below. Weather like that freezes your mind so that you can't think about anything else. Everybody I talked to asked me the same question: "Is it cold enough for ya?" Being in a grumpy mood (because of the 38 below, with wind) I couldn't give a straight answer.

But then, what is a straight answer to a dumb question like that? (Confession: We all ask that same dumb question when our brain is frozen and our feet are soon to follow). We haven't had a worse cold spell here for a generation.

My favorite answer is "This is just perfect." But, in an effort to break the monotony of that smart-aleck answer, I've developed a list of other replies that are just as smart-aleck and irritating as the "just perfect" approach.

I pass them along because I don't have any good cold weather recipes for chili, beef stew or chicken noodle soup to send. So here is my list of sure-to-irritate smart-aleck answers to that dumb question:

- " the pelicans are wearing down vests. But that doesn't make sense because the geese that provided that wonderful insulating down are spending the winter sunning themselves in Florida, where the chicken-liver snowbirds, also in Texas and Arizona, are golfing, playing shuffleboard and bridge, and are lining up at 4 p.m. to be first in line at the bargain buffet line.

- This is nothing, the low reading in Oymyakon, Siberia (sometimes called "the coldest village on Earth") was 89.9 below on Feb. 6, 1933.

As a result, classes at school that day started two hours late. Just kidding. Ordinarily, children are permitted to go to school in Oymyakon if the temperature is over 67 below.

- But amazingly, the summers there are mild to warm, sometimes hot. The July average is 58.5 degrees. On July 28, 1910, they recorded a high of 94 degrees, but the ground was still frozen solid (permafrost). Efforts to organize a picnic that day were abandoned when nobody could find a tree to provide a shady spot. The population of Oymyakon is 900 people. It has two main valleys beside it. The valleys trap wind inside the town and create a colder climate.

- But it gets colder than that. In Vostok Station in Antarctica, the recorded low on July 21 (yes, July), 1983, was 128.6 below zero. Beer sales that day were at an all-time low.

- Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686 — 1736), a German inventor and instrument maker, invented the first mercury-in-glass thermometer. The temperature scale he developed was named after him. The records show that Fahrenheit never traveled to Siberia or Antarctica, or at what temperature he considered too cold, if ever, to drink beer. Besides, there would be no accordion playing in Siberia or Antarctica during the coldest days.

As you can imagine, when you start giving smart-aleck answers to an innocent conversation-starter comment about the weather, people consider you a smart-aleck or worse yet, a jerk.

When you start talking about the penguins in vests, Siberia, Antarctica or Gabriel Fahrenheit folks get disgusted and walk away. Just as well — a guy could get icicles in his whiskers standing out there talking about the weather when it's 38 below.