‘You’re gonna need long underwear today’

Farm Forum

This January was full of nationwide polar vortex news, including ice formations at Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, to me, our local weather doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary—it seems about as awful as any other winter. Yes, I’m bitter. It happens after a lifetime of South Dakota winters.

A vicious vortex descending upon places that don’t usually experience a hard winter is certainly newsworthy, though, and the photos and stories on the news are interesting to watch.

I think Dakotans are pretty good at making the most of a polar vortex. But perhaps those who aren’t used to this type of winter might appreciate these thoughts:

1. Layers.

On winter mornings dad would read the thermometer while he was still in his pajamas and shout “you’re gonna need long underwear today!” Other days he’d come in from outdoors, his thick brown coveralls wide open at the collar and sweat on his temples under his plaid cap, “I didn’t need any long underwear today!”

Dad’s grain farm diversification included cattle. We, however, have the equipment store to give us ‘something to do in the winter.’ That means my outside exposure is limited to running to a vehicle to go home from work. Yet even indoors, in a polar vortex, can be rough—the guys don’t like it when I sneak the thermostat above seventy. A pair of leggings under blue jeans works well to keep the shakes away. Leggings or tights as a base layer are less bulky and more comfortable. As an added bonus they can be found at most department stores, come in many colors, and are usually less expensive than traditional long underwear.

It can be tempting to skip over the layering ritual if you won’t be outdoors long. But, again, whenever the mercury disappeared, Dad announced it like this, “You’re gonna need long underwear today!”

2. Stay active and drink plenty of fluids.

You rarely hear the latter in the wintertime, but extra fluids help with dry skin issues and dehydration causes ailments that are often misdiagnosed as something worse. Both of these suggestions can be challenging in a polar vortex. For one, if you leave a bottle of water in your vehicle outside it quickly freezes. Meanwhile if you move around too much with half your closet on your back you can become hot and sweaty—which is truly annoying when it’s below zero outside. Plus, de-layering to use the bathroom is just not fun. So while it’s tempting to avoid all unnecessary liquids and to move as little as possible, there are still some basic things the body requires. Dance around the living room, vacuum the floor while slurping ice water, you get the idea.

3. Freeze something (other than yourself) outside.

There’s a reason photos of frozen waterfalls make the news. When the kids were little we froze water in balloons, scooped out the inside and made an ice-bowl. Then I’d light a candle inside the bowl and set it on the porch as a winter decoration. We would monitor the longevity of that frozen water. It often lasted for weeks (on the north porch railing) before a thawing day would melt a hole in the bowl.

On the local news in early January they were doing an experiment to see how many minutes it would take a wet t-shirt to freeze solid outdoors (not very many). I thought that looked like great fun. So I relayed the t-shirt-experiment to the two teenagers at supper time. I suggested we could try it too. Turns out they are already displaying signs of their own embitterment. Their response was a flat, “Why would we want to do that.” Silly children. Because we can.

Living in a frozen wonderland where wet things freeze solid in minutes can be scary, annoying, trying, but it’s also very beautiful. In severe cold the snow doesn’t turn into dirty (ugly) slush. The entire landscape is painted clean white. In the sunshine it looks like there are blue tinted diamonds glittering on the roads, rooftops, trees, and fields. Not everyone gets to live amongst such richness.

Growing hardened to the cold is complicated. You need just enough bitterness to handle it, but not too much that you turn into a crank. Take it too far and you may be in need of a thawing yourself.

Speaking of scary winter, today the car drifted unexpectedly through the sparkly-like-diamonds-snow on the driveway. It corrected itself just as the garage door neared. My adept (not really) driving skills brought forth a giggle from the teenager in the passenger seat. He may not want to freeze things outside anymore, but I’m confident he can still be thawed.

Andrea Beyers lives in Roscoe. Contact her at