“Too cold for snow”

Has there ever been a more stupid expression than that?

I spent my formative years hearing this from the lips of every adult I ever encountered. Knowing no better, I believed it to be true, and repeated it myself, without a vestige of embarrassment.

As winter arrived every year, pipes froze, and we huddled around insufficient heating in draughty rooms, we would look across at each other, nodding sagely. Before long, someone would say “Well, at least it’s too cold to snow”, and we would grin in agreement.

What was this fallacy based on? I cannot imagine the ancient Celts staring at the sky, shivering in woolen cloaks, and stating that at least there would be no snow. Perhaps an over-enthusiastic weather forecaster once said it, intending his remark to be humourous? Always ready to believe anything they are told by some authority figure, the people of this country kept repeating this meteorological mantra, until it became accepted as fact.

Right up until the age of 25, I said it more times than I care to mention. Even staring out of my window looking at two feet of snow covering the street, I would pronounce, “It must have warmed up. It’s been snowing”.

Then I went on holiday to Russia, in February.

I had never experienced cold like it. We arrived in a temperature of minus twenty (F), and it dropped down to minus twenty five within two days. Being outside for too long could freeze your cheeks, and people removed the windscreen wipers from their cars when they parked, so they would not freeze and crumble. The sea was frozen, in the Gulf of Finland. That was a sight to see, I can tell you. At the airport in Leningrad, as we queued to depart for Moscow, we had the unsettling vision of men with hammers and iron bars, pounding the ice off the wings of our waiting aircraft, so it wouldn’t be too heavy to take off.

But wait. It was snowing. Not a little snow, but snow deep enough to cover a person, were it not for the fact that a veritable army of people and machines laboured around the clock to shift it. I was very confused. It was colder than I had ever known it to be back in England, but still snowing. And it didn’t stop snowing.

I stood in that airport feeling like I had been duped for twenty-five years.

And I never let anyone get away with saying “It’s too cold for snow” again.

58 thoughts on ““Too cold for snow”

  1. Ha ha! You are absolutely right, Pete. It is a bit of a daft expression. We’ve had plenty of snow in Romania at temperatures often deemed ‘too cold for snow’ in the UK.

    ‘What is this fallacy based on?’ Interesting question. As Susanne has already said, some websites suggest scientific explanations for the saying, along the lines that colder air cannot carry as much moisture and hence (at lower than -15 F) heavy snowfalls are less likely. However, I don’t think the average Celt (ancient or modern) is going to be thinking at all scientifically if and when he comes out with such a phrase. Rather, I think the expression probably originated from the fact that the coldest temperatures in any individual location are always going to be when the sky is clear (something your average Celt *is* likely to notice). By this reckoning, ‘too cold for snow’ in Norfolk will always be warmer than ‘too cold for snow’ in Romania which, in turn, will be warmer than ‘too cold for snow’ in Moscow or Antarctica. It’s worth noting, for example, that the coldest ground-level temperature ever recorded (of -128 F brrrr!) was made on a clear night rather than a snowy one: https://wmo.asu.edu/content/world-lowest-temperature. Too cold for snow?! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link, Ros. We got snow overnight, and I didn’t notice it was very warm, even in bed. Perhaps the next time snow is forecast, I should iron some shorts to wear? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. πŸ™‚ Rather you than me πŸ™‚

        To be honest, I think ‘cold’ often felt colder in SW England than it does in Romania because there was a lot more wind. And a Russian student friend of ours claimed years ago that Northumberland felt colder than Moscow on account of the damp (sea fog). Which suggests that even ‘too warm for snow’ need not be exactly what we’d call warm!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I went three times, but twice during better weather, in summer and autumn.
      The first trip in that February was a revelation. We traveled down to Kiev, into even colder weather, and I had to buy a fur hat. I still have it, to this day. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I visited Finland in September and I had to wear my warmest jacket, Pete. I hate to imagine winter there. It reminds me of my mom’s saying that eating carrots helps you see in the dark. I always believed that. When I was doing research for our book, While the Bombs Fell, I learned that this was a fallacy encouraged by the UK government in an attempt to keep radar a secret. They told the public the British pilots were so successful because they ate carrots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good example, Robbie. The carrot propaganda endured right into my teens! πŸ™‚
      Finland is more or less ‘opposite’ Leningrad, so would have the same weather in winter. I have never been so cold. (But it was still a fantastic trip!)
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you sent us all googling this one to see what the ‘experts’ say and the consensus seems to be strictly speaking, no, it can’t be too cold to snow. Of course there were lots of qualifiers and explanations and why heavy snowfall is less likely when temperatures fall beneath 0 degrees F, etc. etc. But the bottom line is Pete, you are right! And you can’t argue with experience. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete, you know I posted about a book on Siberia, and Werner Herzog’s documentary’s documentary as well – I love seeing this sort of extreme living, but won’t be doing it myself – it dipped under 50 one day in LA and we had to turn the heat on high!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Snow is beautiful. But then comes the slush…
    I have to admit that I miss seeing snowfall, but I don’t miss the cold.
    What’s even more beautiful than snow is the aftermath of an ice storm, where trees (and everything else) become crystalline. Also, it’s fun to crunch the grass. I miss that, too. (Although ice storms can also cause a lot of damage.)
    It’s rare to see the snow fall in desert valleys, but I’ve witnessed it. If I really want to play in the snow, I can do so in less than an hour by driving up to Mt. Charleston, whose snow-capped peak peers over the lower Spring Mountains at the valley.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And I thought the cold and I snow in New England was bad. There is a law of physics that supports the β€œtoo cold for snow” saying. When air is extremely cold, it cannot hold moisture, therefore no snow in bitter cold weather. Best to you, Pete, and stay warm!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s the moisture in the air that defines whether it snows in cold temperatures, from the weather centre– “The ingredients for snow are: (1) a temperature profile that allows snow to reach the surface, (2) saturated air, and (3) enough lifting of that saturated air to allow snow to develop aloft and fall to reach the surface. In a situation when it is said “it is too cold to snow” there is in reality not enough lifting of air that causes snow to reach the surface.”
    So there ya go!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I remember my driving instructor going off on a rant when I said it was too cold to snow, demanding if I thought it was warm at the North Pole! Still, I think there is some truth in the saying here as snow often comes after there’s been rain which must be milder than if it was a frosty day. My mother insisted you could hear a silence before snow fell! I don’t think that particular saying caught on as I never heard anyone else saying it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. THe cold in Russia….the two most valuable generals in the Russian army….General January and General February……since we do not get much snow down here I have little knowledge of these sayings…..about the one I use to hear was if it rained with the sun out it would rain the same time the next day……dumb huh? chuq

    Liked by 1 person

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