Hamiltonians chorused a collective “Brrrrrr…” this week as temperatures fell as low as -15 C in the city. Intense cold, like any extreme weather, comes with a host of negative consequences — frostbite, dry skin, high heating bills, perpetually runny noses.
But the deep freeze has come with at least a few silver linings for the Hamilton area — tangible things, not just added excuses to drink hot chocolate in profuse qualities.
Skeptical? After reading this list, maybe you’ll warm to the cold.
The cold snap has been a major boon to southern Ontario vineyards, which make about 75 per cent of Canada’s ice wine. Winemakers need to pick and press their grapes when the mercury falls below -8 degrees Celsius for the resulting elixir to legally qualify as ice wine.
Richie Roberts, winemaker at Fielding Estates winery, says this year has been particularly good weather because the temperatures have dropped during the day as well as at night, giving them more time to pick. Still, the cold is a double-edged sword.
"We're excited, but we do feel the cold too," he says. "It's bittersweet."
Bruce Nicholson, winemaker at Inniskillin, says the current conditions are ideal for creating the tasty tipple.
“You want a bit of an extended cold spell, just like we’ve had,” he says. “I get better concentration and better flavours.”
Hamilton in the winter may not smell like a bed of roses, but the cold, in general, improves air quality in the city.
When cooled, air loses its moisture and, in turn, has less capacity to carry particulate matter — meaning smells from your neighbour's Green Bin or Fido's front yard business are less likely to make their way to your nostrils. There's something to be said for the fresh, winter air.
There are many negatives to the icy temperature for people with respiratory problems, though, according to Gerald Cox, a respirologist with Hamilton’s Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health.
“Cold air is irritating to the respiratory tract,” Cox says, adding he encourages people with asthma to breathe slowly through the nose when the weather gets chilly.
A drawn-out visit from Jack Frost spells jackpot, at least for the city’s travel agents.
“I have noticed more people are looking for last minute deal because of this weather,” says Dolly Aurora, a consultant with Steel City Travel.
She estimates the cold weather has resulted in a 15 to 20 per cent jump in sales, with many of her clients looking to book a jaunt to balmy locales such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“Obviously, when the cold hits, people are thinking about the tropical weather, the beach and the sun.”
Pam Harwood is a branch manager at Senior Tours Canada, a downtown travel agency that caters to adults over 50. She put the phenomenon this way: “When it’s really cold, a lot of people are going to be walking in. When it’s a nice day, it’s not going to be so busy.”
One no-brainer benefit to the cold is stronger, longer-lasting ice rinks. Backyard rinks will be given a boost, but many communities have also created volunteer ice rinks this year, according to Kelly Anderson of the city's public works department.
A more surprising benefit: the cold can actually create better conditions for local baseball fields, which will pay off when the warm weather returns, Anderson said.
"The cold temperatures have allowed frost into the ground, which allows us to top-up baseball diamonds with stone dust," she said, meaning the fields will be in better shape come springtime.
While wearing layers is important to avoid the negative health effects of the cold — as in frost bite and hypothermia — the chilly temperatures can bring some health benefits, as well.
One study last year found that colder temperatures can help the body burn more calories, as our metabolisms speed up to generate more body heat.
And when the temperatures drop, certain disease-carrying bugs — like West Nile infectious mosquitos — can't stand the temperatures and start to drop too.
Cold temperatures even help to reduce inflammation in tissues and joints, and the pain that goes with it. Some spas offer cold therapy as a special treatment for sports injuries. Why shell out for a spa when we've got cold therapy for free in Hamilton?