The “Big Chill Of 1994” (In Central Michigan) – And Other Cold Moments In MI History…

About ten years ago, I visited the town of Paradise in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where my husband and I rented a cabin on Whitefish Bay. We took a drive out to Whitefish Point, where the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located (and is open – in season). It’s also a lovely place to hunt for rocks and to check out freighters – when the weather is good. Even in the summer months, weather can get a bit “brisk” by the shores of Lake Superior, as evidenced in the photo below, taken in July, 2015:

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I INSISTED on posing for a photo because there was a freighter in the background! Whitefish Point, north of Paradise, MI.

Well, the weather was NOT good on that late December or January day in 2009 when we visited Whitefish Point! The winds had to have been at least 30 miles per hour, and the windchill was…menacing. It was as though someone left the freezer open – and put a high-velocity fan behind it to blow all of the iciness right into your face.  I was layered up quite nicely underneath my new quilted down coat, so I wasn’t really feeling the winds. We basically got out of the car, walked far enough to get a glimpse of Lake Superior, and said “F— it’s cold. Let’s get out of here.”

Fast forward to 2019, and I was walking from my car to the entrance of my workplace this morning, across quite an expanse of parking lot. Same warm, puffy down coat – only with short sleeves underneath (no fleecy layers, fleece jacket, thermal undershirts, etc). I could really feel that wind trying to have its way with me. Whipped right through my coat. That goose down and nylon had NOTHING on old “Ithaqua Breath.”

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Ithaqua is a fictional character in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. It controls snow, ice and cold, and can walk through the sky as easily as it walks on earth.

This morning, I could especially feel the Arctic blast on my lower extremities, where I was just wearing dress pants (no layers underneath). Brrrr! When I got ready to go this morning,  I wasn’t fooling around with the cold! I put on a hat, gloves and scarf just for the car ride to work! I also brought out a small throw blanket to put on my legs, to keep me warm until the car’s heater kicked on.

Let’s see…classes at the University of Michigan are canceled today and Thursday. This is only the third time in 40 years that this has occurred – with the last time being Feb. 2, 2015. Michigan State University also canceled classes for the seventh time in its history.

One of the dates listed for MSU canceling classes was January 19, 1994. This struck a chord with me, because at that time, I would have been a student at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, MI, which is not very much farther north than MSU’s East Lansing campus. The reason classes were canceled on this date was because of excessive wind chills of -51. A friend  who said he was a MSU student  at that time said he had decided not to attend his AM classes that day. He also said he was awoken by someone pounding  on his dorm room door a little after  7 am telling him classes were canceled and he was pissed!

I…remember making some very, very cold walks to classes at Central Michigan University around this time!  I do not think classes were canceled on the day MSU classes were called off, and there was some griping about it. I recall brutal, brutal walks across unshielded expanses of fields. I tried to use every building I could to stay out of the elements – walking through Larzelere Hall, Robinson Hall, the Wightman art building…the Anspach language arts building – but when I had to make the walk to Moore Hall for my theater class – and my Algebra for Idiots class (which I took with the pass/fail option and passed)? That was my farthest walk of all of my classes. And on a stabblingly cold day? I felt every gust of icy wind trying to knock me over.

 

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Satellite view in Google maps of the recommended “pedestrian” route. Immediately west of Washington St. were the buildings I “hopped” through to avoid some of the cold. When I brought a bike to use the following year, I cut WAY down on the time it took to get to classes – I could make it to class within 5-10 minutes on my bike!

For those Moore Hall classes, I had no choice but to hunker down and brace myself for the longest walk I had for any of my classes (about a mile on foot, per Google maps reckoning, which does not account for all the myriad “shortcuts” I had, cutting through buildings, etc). I had a little ritual when I got back home from my cold walks – and would make myself a hot bowl of oatmeal with raisins or sliced apples in it (real quick-cooking oatmeal, not the instant stuff in packets). That warmed me right to the bones! Not that being warm was a problem when I was living with three other women! The thermostat was always pretty much set high enough so that we could wear shorts and T-shirts inside if we wanted to. I think that must’ve been because heat was included with our rent!

Now that I have Google maps to see the “lay of the land” where I attended college, I’ve made some observations! For one, our “favorite” bar, The Bird – in downtown Mt. Pleasant – was only a half a mile away – yet we NEVER walked to the bar! What I would give to have a bar I could walk to that’s only .6 miles away now! Weird student mentality! It was OK to walk to class – because you “had” to – but you would have been the most un-cool person on the face of the earth if you (gasp) WALKED to the bar as a college student! The guy I was dating at the time had a car, so he would take me to the bar (and to buy groceries). Two of my roommates also had cars, so sometimes I would go with them to the bar (or to buy groceries), too.

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The “Blizzard of 1978,” which occurred the week of January 24, 1978. More than 16 inches of snow fell over much of Michigan, which closed schools for days. I would have been in kindergarten, so barely remember this.

Another weather event that a lot of Michigan folks are talking about lately is the “blizzard of 1978.” I was only six years old when this would have occurred, and have no real memories of this. I imagine I played in the snow a lot – and maybe Uncle Ernie brought over his snowmobiles. What I do remember is my mom’s 1971 Delta ’88 car having the most sluggish heater on the planet. Seriously, there was a Sluggish Car Heater Contest – and it WON (JK)!  Back in 1977, my mom and brother would huddle into the front seat of that car on Saturday mornings when mom drove us to our swimming lessons at the YMCA in downtown Flint, which was about a half hour drive. While our teeth chattered and we waited for the heater to come on, we stuffed our hands into our pockets. My brother always “borrowed” one of my coat pockets – because I had a blue faux fur coat with faux fur lined pockets (I’d let him use one of mine to warm up his hands, because that’s how “swell” of a little sister I was, LOL)!

Isn’t it funny how the brutal cold is so vividly tied in with our memories – yet those really, really hot spells we’ve also endured are not quite as memorable?  Not so much. Maybe it’s because the brutal cold tests our mettle – and shows us what we’re made of – in ways that extreme heat will never, ever be able to do. But who knows what memories I’ll conjure once July rolls around? Hmmmm!

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