In the face of an impending cold snap sweeping across the United States, the stark contrast in perspectives on “extreme cold” becomes evident, particularly when comparing regions like Duluth and Dallas. Meteorologists and public health officials acknowledge the divergence in perceptions of cold, emphasizing the absence of a universal definition for extreme cold. This article delves into the intricacies of how different regions gauge and respond to plummeting temperatures, shedding light on the unique considerations, adaptations, and challenges faced by communities in diverse climates.


As frigid Arctic air descends upon the nation, the National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasize the regional calibration of extreme cold warnings. Ketzel Levens, a meteorologist in Duluth, Minnesota, articulates the regional nuances, noting that what might be considered merely freezing in one region could be dangerously cold in another. The article underscores the importance of tailoring warnings to each region’s prevailing climate, taking into account factors such as infrastructure, acclimatization, and historical weather patterns.

Regional Disparities in Extreme Cold Perception:

Levens illustrates how residents in Duluth, accustomed to subzero conditions, have a higher tolerance for cold and possess better protection through layers of clothing and well-constructed homes. The article emphasizes that issuing warnings too frequently might desensitize residents, making it challenging to capture their attention during genuinely perilous conditions. For instance, Duluth issues a wind chill advisory at minus 25 and a warning at minus 40, reflecting their threshold for what constitutes dangerous cold.

Contrastingly, 1,000 miles south in Dallas-Fort Worth, the expected low temperature of 14 degrees may seem mild compared to Duluth, but it carries a different impact due to the region’s milder climate. Tom Bradshaw, a meteorologist in Fort Worth, notes that even though the temperatures won’t be historically low, the prolonged duration of freezing conditions (up to 85 hours) is considered significant for a region more accustomed to milder winters.

Infrastructure and Population Adaptation:

The article highlights the disparity in infrastructure and population adaptation between regions. In the South, where extreme cold is less frequent, both the physical infrastructure and the population may struggle more. Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, an expert on cold weather physiology, explains that people in colder regions, like Minnesota, develop adaptations over time, such as less-cold skin due to continued exposure.

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Dr. Giesbrecht further explains the physiological response to cold, emphasizing that individuals not acclimated to severe winter weather are more prone to frostbite. The constriction of blood vessels to protect vital organs increases the risk of frostbite, necessitating precautions like covering the head, fingers, and toes. The article also references the tragic events in Texas in February 2021, where infrastructure and an unprepared population faced severe consequences during a cold snap, resulting in numerous fatalities and widespread hardship.

Regional Temperature Thresholds:

The piece introduces the idea that even within the United States, regions have different temperature thresholds for issuing advisories. In Duluth, the threshold for a wind chill advisory is at minus 25, while in Dallas, it is zero. This reflects the need for a nuanced approach to defining extreme cold, considering not just the absolute temperature but the regional context.

As an intriguing comparison, the article includes the perspective of Natalie Hasell, a meteorologist for the Canadian government, who mentions that on the shores of the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba, the threshold for a wind chill advisory is an astonishing minus 50 degrees Celsius. This showcases the diversity in extreme cold definitions, demonstrating how it is shaped by the frequency of such conditions in a particular region.

Example: The Varied Impact of Cold in Duluth and Dallas:

To illustrate the regional differences in perceiving extreme cold, the article presents the contrasting experiences in Duluth and Dallas during the impending cold snap. While Duluth, despite not experiencing historically low temperatures, anticipates residents feeling the bite due to its recent warm December, Dallas-Fort Worth, with a milder expected low, prepares for a more prolonged period of freezing conditions.

Tom Bradshaw, the meteorologist in Fort Worth, describes the potential impact of 80 to 85 hours of below-freezing temperatures, emphasizing that it is considered colder than their usual experience. This example vividly captures how the same temperature can have distinct consequences based on the region’s climatic norms and the population’s acclimatization.


In conclusion, the article navigates the intricate landscape of defining extreme cold, emphasizing the regional variations in perception, adaptation, and response. The diverse experiences in Duluth and Dallas underscore the need for a nuanced approach to extreme cold warnings, considering factors such as infrastructure, population acclimatization, and historical climate norms. As frigid temperatures approach, understanding these regional disparities becomes crucial for effective communication, preparedness, and safeguarding the well-being of communities across the United States.


the newyork times

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