WASHINGTON — Jim Brinkhoff is a northeastern Wisconsin guy.
Hardy. Wears shorts long after summer is gone. Listens to others complain about low temperatures and says, What cold?
On Tuesday morning, at home in Rockville, Md., he went outside in shorts and a sweatshirt to get the newspaper before daybreak. The freezing air startled him.
"I guess I'm not used to it anymore," he lamented to his wife, Robbin.
The admission was a first, she said. "When Jim says it's cold, I know it's cold. He's pretty tough."
How people cope with extreme weather usually depends on their experiences in general and their recent exposure to cold and heat, according to researchers.
"We react to weather in relative rather than absolute fashion," said Laurence Kalkstein, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami. "The uncommon is what bothers us."
The Montgomery County, Md. temperature reading on Brinkhoff's iPhone: minus-1. In the District of Columbia, it was the coldest day since 1996, with a low of 6 degrees. Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia broke its record low for the date, dipping to 1 degree.
Brinkhoff bundled up in proper winter wear (coat, hat, etc.) before setting off for his investment newsletter job in Gaithersburg, Md.
Wind chills were as low as minus-15 across the region.
It was so cold that the two Secret Service cars idling in front of the White House had icicles hanging off their exhaust-spewing tailpipes. It was so cold that the ink in a reporter's pen froze. It was so cold that it reminded Julie Wolf of winter in Minnesota.
"In Minneapolis, these temperatures would be regular," said Wolf, a climate researcher in College Park, Md. She once lived in Minneapolis, where the high Tuesday was lower than Washington's low. But she's been here now for more than a decade. She doesn't do bitter cold anymore.