The Benefits of a Cold Winter

Dog smelling tulips

Recently, evening walks around the block with my dog have been nothing short of heavenly.

The warm golden rays of the late-day sun kiss my face and shoulders, a fresh breeze somehow always at my back. Fragrant flowers spill from pots and over retaining walls. More of the neighbors are walking their dogs, their numbers quadrupling in the past month (I always wonder where these dogs hide over the winter). Frisky squirrels, skittish rabbits, and a multitude of colorful birds dart away as we approach, then turn to stare as if to say “How happy you look, man and beast!” Surely this is how Bambi felt frolicking with his woodland friends.

Spring awakening

As many of you will have guessed, I do not live in Southern California, and the reason the last few weeks have been so sweet is because the previous 5 months were gray, cold, dark and snowy. Yes, I live in a part of the country with a 4-season climate and the associated dread and anticipation that comes with a weather roller coaster. Allow me to briefly summarize the typical weather cycle in my region:

  • Mid-April through mid-November: NICE
  • Mid-November through end of year: CRAPPY (DISTRACTED BY HOLIDAY CHEER)
  • January through mid-April: CRAPPY (NO DISTRACTIONS)

Winter is coming

icicles on a log cabin
I’m getting flashbacks to a few months ago.

Those of you reading from warmer climes may wonder why, in their right minds, would people tolerate living in such godforsaken places? I propose several reasons why many sane people do.

1. They actually like it. I can hear some gasps from the audience, but I assure you this is true. My mother loves the snowy winters of my home town (but hates the humid summers). Some individuals participate in outdoor winter sports and don’t mind partially frozen body parts.

2. Change of seasons. Even if 15 degrees with flurries doesn’t make you smile, you might be one of those folks who can tolerate winter for a while (hehe, that rhymes). I count myself in this camp. My deep love for the first few weeks of spring also extends to my “more than friends” relationships with the start of summer and fall, or my brief, passionate fling with early winter. After a few months, however, even a beautiful snowfall or colorful sunrise cannot stop winter’s transformation into my cold, bitter adversary.

3. Hygge. My wife introduced me to the concept of hygge almost 20 years ago, following her study abroad stint in Denmark. Famously without a direct English translation*, the nearest non-Danes can muster is something like “cosiness.”

Hygge really comes in handy during the chilly, dark Danish winter, when the sun sets as early as 3:30pm. Picture sitting near a warm fire on a snowy day, nestled under a warm blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. It’s almost Christmas and the lights twinkle on the tree. You and a few close friends laugh and talk while the smell of mulled wine wafts through the house. Those feelings you feel are hygge, and can turn an otherwise dreary winter day into a cosy party with friends and family.

*My other favorite words without a direct English translation: Saudade (Portuguese) – profound melancholic or nostalgic longing for something or someone that is far away, perhaps unattainable; and Kummerspeck (German) – excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, it means “grief bacon.”

4. Snowbirding. For retired individuals or those not physically tied to a geographic location (via work, children’s school, etc.), one can enjoy the best of both worlds: live in a cold winter climate without the cold winter!

Many parts of the country with particularly brutal winters enjoy particularly wonderful springs, summers, and falls. A quick flight or long drive from those areas could put you in Florida, Arizona, or the Caribbean until the crocuses pop up back home. Sure, you could live in one of those warm places all year round, but have you ever sweated through the summer soupiness of Orlando, or received third degree burns from your steering wheel in Phoenix in July?

5. Family and friends. It’s not all about the weather. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 57% of respondents have never left their home state, and 37% have never left their home town. A majority of those who stay put claim family ties and child-rearing environment as major factors in their decisions to remain. I don’t think it’s too presumptive to imagine that some of these individuals might consider leaving the cold behind if not for family connections.

6. Geographic arbitrage. I have been aware of this concept longer than I knew it had a name. Arbitrage is an investing term related to exploiting a difference in price of an investment product (a stock, for example) as it is bought and sold in different markets. Geographic arbitrage means you are exploiting a difference in geography for financial gain.

Check out this salary map for my specialty and see if you notice a pattern:

radiology salary map
Salary map for radiologists. Red=higher salary. Blue=peanuts. (Source: Doximity.com)

For doctors, rural areas with less desirable climates tend to offer the highest salaries, presumably due to the difficulty of attracting doctors and keeping them there. These better-compensated locations often have a lower cost of living as well. Big, hip cities, on the other hand, make doctors work for (figurative) peanuts because everyone and their mother wants to live there, resulting in no shortage of doctors willing to accept a lower salary.

Importantly, geographic arbitrage does not work for most professions. It may, in fact, be a quirk unique to the physician job market. But if you are a physician willing to work in one of the red zones (and suck it up for what in many cases will be a cold winter), you can enjoy a higher salary, lower cost of living, and more money in your pocket or retirement account. This is the essence of geographic arbitrage.

[If you are interested in more detail, Physician on Fire (an early retirement blogger) wrote a great article exploring geographic arbitrage.]

Seeing the bright side

Next January—as you face frosty nose hair, frozen pipes, and dead car batteries—I hope you reflect on the potential silver linings of those gray winter clouds. Whether it be proximity to family, extra cash in your bank account, or merely the joy of winter’s end, there are quite a few solid reasons to bundle up and embrace the tundra.

Do I like living in a 4-season climate? Sure, but I am writing this in the month of May. If you had asked me in February, I might have told you a different story. Happy spring!

What other advantages of a cold winter did I miss? Please comment below!

4 Replies to “The Benefits of a Cold Winter”

  1. I live in Minnesota and I’m never leaving. I’m fine with the winter days when it is -10 and I can’t really go outside. It’s part of the territory – during the summer, it’s very nice, and the people are great as well.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Erik,

      Thanks for visiting! I’m not quite that far north (western PA), but I am no stranger to single digits. I don’t mind the cold as much as the dark most winters; we have a microclimate here that results in lots of overcast days.

      Hope you are enjoying the nice weather now as much as I am! Take care and happy BBQing!

  2. As a student, I tried to explain to a resident that I appreciated the change in seasons. If it weren’t for the harsh winter, I wouldn’t appreciate the spring and summer nearly as much. He thought that sounded like wanting to get beat up certain days so you can better appreciate the days you don’t suffer a black eye. We clearly didn’t see eye to black eye on that, but he never did leave Minnesota.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    1. (Sorry for the delayed reply. Your comment was in my “spam” queue!)

      Most children seem to instinctively love the first days of winter and the anticipation of snowfall (I suspect school closings have something to do with that). Since my son was born, I have rediscovered the joy of winter, especially those first magical snowflakes.

      I have friends who live on the central coast of California, and their weather has been essentially the same when I visited in February, June, and October. There is even an outdoor restaurant in town that doesn’t have walls! (It does have heaters for the winter). I think that type of climate, while nice for a while, would spoil me and thin my blood.

Comments please!