As a Californian Junior at Cornell, I only truly experienced winter for the first time in the fall of 2014 (according to the denizens of the East Coast, California doesn't have winters). There was snow on the ground almost everyday. The snow gave way to slush, which was ten times worse than the cold. I slipped on many patches of black ice and learned the hard way to wear boots whenever there was snow on the ground. Fortunately (or unfortunately), last winter failed to arrive. There was so little snow that Ithaca fell into a drought. But this year, winter is ramping up again, and I am reminded of how I, as a naive Californian, didn't know or immediately realize some very obvious things about snow and winter in general. Here are some of the highlights.
1. Don't step in the salt.
One of the first things my East Coast friends said to me when I was happily walking around with my new snow boots was not to step in the salt. I always wondered why. My (faulty) thinking was that if I stepped in the salt, wherever I stepped would melt faster and greatly improve my commuting experience. Instead, I just got salt all over my shoes, which was very annoying to clean. Whenever, I bring up my salt logic with my friends from the East Coast, they look at me in disbelief and wonder why I thought that stepping in salt is a good thing to do. And whenever I talk to my West Coast friends, they immediately understand what I mean and are amazed how East Coast people all think we're dumb for not knowing how to navigate salted pathways on snowy days.
2. Snow is not the only cold thing to fall out of the sky.
There is freezing rain, hail, a wonderful solid material that melts as soon as it hits you (aka Ithacation), and gradations of any of the above. Freezing rain will make everything slippery so walk carefully and don't take the steep Baker staircase. If it hails, I'm sorry. Get cover as soon as possible or it will be painful. My first cold weather experience was with Ithacation. I ended up using an umbrella to stop from getting soaked. (The same New York friend also had no qualms about pulling out an umbrella against the wet snow like substance falling out of the sky.) Additionally, whatever precipitation falls out of the sky eventually ends up as dirty, half-liquid slush that is as depressing as the lack of sun, to be honest.
3. Most of the landscaping dies (but not the grass).
This might just be a me thing but I think it's absurd that so many nice plants have to replanted in the spring (or after the spring for that matter. I really liked the Hosta plants next to the Big Red Barn). Also, does anybody remember the daffodils they planted (that one week in the spring where it got warm) that were buried by the snow? RIP daffodils. The frost took them too soon. And yet magically, the grass is resilient and survives the winter and snow cover. So as a Cornell student, be like the grass-- endure the semester and come back to life during the summer after exams.
4. Wear gloves before you need to wear gloves.
Once your hands are cold they take a long time to reheat. You can prevent frostbite by wearing your gloves before going outside. The same applies for wearing scarves, hats, and thick socks. Additionally, always have some gloves, a hat, and a scarf in your backpack in case you get caught unaware by the weather or are out at night. It can go below freezing, even in the spring so really make sure you're stocked with cold weather gear. At some point I just wore winter boots everyday, because if it wasn't snowing that day there would be slush everywhere (which is almost as bad). Also, always look at the windchill for the day when checking the weather.
5. It can snow in April.
Spring is a lie. January and February are the worst months of the year in terms of snow fall and windchill. Do not assume that spring break will be warm. You will be sad like I was when hit by reality, but don;t worry, it will get warmer in May. Thirty degrees Fahrenheit will seem like shorts weather after a true Ithaca winter.