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October 2004 felt so much colder but it could’ve just been me

October 6, 2016
That's not ice, just a really big blob of rainwater in a leaf yesterday morning.

That’s not ice, just a really big blob of rainwater on a leaf earlier this week.

We all know that the summer months in Vancouver are now warmer and drier than they were, say 12 years ago. My personal experience tells me that October has likewise gotten much milder over the same period.

But darned if I can find much statistical evidence of the dramatic warming trend that I believe has taken place.

That oh-so-cold feeling when you become homeless

A heartwarming photo of a sunny Fairview back alley, October 5, 2016.

A heartwarming photo of a sunny Fairview back alley from October 5, 2016.

Casting my mind back to that late evening in early October of 2004, when I suddenly found myself evicted and out on the street in East Vancouver without a roof over my head, I can vividly remember the cold.

In my mind’s eye I can see the thick frost on the car windows and on the green-painted steel surfaces of utility poles. I can remember lightly running my fingertips over the icy-cold frosted handrail of the overpass on East Broadway Avenue, just east of Commercial Drive, where I stood dazed, trying to absorb my novel situation.

And I vividly recall the sharp chill that penetrated through my long pants and T-shirt and hoody.

Now here I am, 12 years later in the early October of 2016, happily gamboling around in the late evenings, wearing nothing but cargo shorts and a T-shirt (rain permitting).

What’s different? Is my comfort outdoors just evidence of personal acclimatization or has there also been some actual climate change at work?

Emotional recollections vs. statistical “reality”

The October 3rd low temperature for 12 years suggests that I'm talking through my hat.

The last 12 years of October 3rd low temperatures do not exactly make my point.

A person looking on the Web for 12 years of comprehensive day-by-day weather data is lucky to find one consistent source. I found two. But if the data I found didn’t entirely contradict me, it didn’t back up my dramatic recollections either.

The first source that I turned to was the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which provides searchable historical weather data going back to 1945. With this data I charted 12 years of Vancouver low temperatures for October 3. The result showed no particular temperature increase in 12 years. The low on October 3, 2016, was 8.5°C—this was actually 0.4°C lower than the low of 8.9°C. on October 3, 2004.

There is a warming trend in the 12 years of average October temperature.

There is a warming trend in the 12 years of average October temperatures.

I also used the Weather Channel’s historical weather data to chart 12 years of Vancouver October temperature averages. This does show a gradual increase in low temperatures but it also shows a slight decrease in high temperatures, with the overall trend being a flattening of the difference between daily highs and lows.

Anticipation cuts both ways

Another heartwarming picture of a wet leaf from October 5, 2016.

Another calming picture of a wet leaf from the week gone by.

Apparently much of the climate change that I’ve experienced has all been in my head but that’s natural and evidence of  healthy adaptation on my part, I think.

Twelve years ago, as a newly homeless person, the cold scared me, as the water would scare me if I were suddenly flung into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Then it would actually be the inescapable immensity of the water that would terrify me.

On that first evening in October of 2014, the frost was real but what I was feeling in my bones was the imaginary never-ending cold that I feared was to be my future as a homeless person.

But Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right, there really is nothing to fear but fear itself and not all warmth is found inside buildings. At least some of the warmth and cold we experience is in our minds, with our perceptions of external stimuli being strongly influenced by our experiences and circumstances.

The person who can look forward to changing out of their wet things, for example, and having a hot bath when they get home, doesn’t feel nearly so bad about getting drenched in a late October downpour as the person who has nothing to look forward to but being wet and cold.

For more than my first year as a homeless person I was one of the miserable people in the second category and then I learned how to dry out and then how not to get so soaked in the first place and finally how not to be so bothered if I did get wet.

I simply cannot remember being miserably cold (or wet) for nearly a decade now.

So if October feels warmer to me it’s at least partly because I’ve just willed it to be. You night say that I’ve met global warming halfway. Click the images to enlarge them

  1. Our personal body heaters just needed to be turned on! I remember always being cold when I used to live inside and now I can sit in my car in a tank top when it’s below freezing. Nice reflection on your part!


    • Exactly! I like the feeling of the chill on my skin, just like the witches on their cloud pine branches in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (fabulous audio books by the way) and I prefer to be a little cold when I sleep, rather that overly warm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Slowcrow permalink

        The flaw in logic is, housed folks turn up the thermostat when it’s cold out. Then when they go outside, it seems even colder.


      • Yes. That has to be true. So you’re saying that I overcame my lifelong addiction to thermostats?


  2. Nicely written Sqwabb, as always.

    Having been evicted a couple of times in the past, I still remember the feeling you described in that “first night”. I think that part of that “chill” is the feeling of total helplessness and absolutely no idea of what will happen next.

    I have been fortunate since then, but, the memory is still there.


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