Oberlin Blogs

The Weather in Oberlin: A Mainer's Perspective

May 29, 2008

Will Mason ’10

The weather in Oberlin seems to be a perennial concern among prospective students. Horror stories of lake-effect snow, merciless wind chill, and perpetual cloud cover pervade most discussions of life in the northern Midwest. These are all real phenomena that can make life exceedingly difficult. I should know: I come from a coastal town in Maine, where first snowfall can come as early as Halloween and snow banks don't fully wither away until May.

Winters in Maine can be profoundly beautiful, but after about six weeks the continuous march of snowstorms becomes less and less of a novelty, slowly morphing into a relentless onslaught until the specter of endless winter looms so large that it becomes difficult to summon the courage to get out of bed in the morning. By mid-March I felt like I was trapped in a gelid, Kafkaesque nightmare. I have vivid memories of leaving my piano lessons at 11:00 at night in February and running full tilt to my car because of the cold, only to then worry that my car--a 1991 Subaru station wagon, now deceased--might not start. (It also did not have a functional heater, which made driving it in the winter a special delight.)

Below are some pictures I took of my house after a snowstorm. Compare them to some pictures a friend of mine took of Oberlin during winter, which are at the end of this post.

This is Maine:

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(My car, rest in peace, is under the drooping lilac bush.)

This is a pretty winter landscape, except for one problem: these pictures were taken on April 15th. To cite another anecdote, when I came home for winter vacation this year some parts of Maine had already received 90 inches of snow.

Such is the personal history I bring to a discussion of the weather at Oberlin. It is not my intention in discussing my home to cast myself as some sort of tough-guy arctic warrior (though, between us friends...I totally am), nor do I intend to claim that "Imagine how much colder it could be!" is an adequate response to very real concerns about the weather at school. I don't like cold weather, and I don't like snow, and I hate it when it's cloudy, and yet I still think that the weather at Oberlin is great. This past year I was wearing jeans, t-shirts, and sandals into late October; I don't recall it snowing until the second week of December, and even when it did finally snow the ground was too warm for any of it to accumulate.

I intend to write a defense of winter in Oberlin, but I must come clean: from November until April it is more often overcast than it is sunny. Sun shine wields heavy influence on my mood; when the sun is out, I'm likely to only be mildly grumpy, and keep my cursing at a respectable two oaths per sentence. Perhaps I'll even make eye contact with a few passers-by. On dreary days I can reach near-Bill O'Reilly levels of awful, often isolating myself in a practice room or my dorm, emerging periodically to steal Christmas presents from orphans and vote Libertarian. It was a big day for me when I discovered the causal relationship between the weather and my mood; after all, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Of course, there are sunny days intermittently throughout winter, and even cloudy days will give way to some sunshine for a couple of hours. College students spend most of their time indoors, anyway, and I've found that if I exercise often and keep myself busy I can stave off the malaise that a gray day can bring.

As far as snow fall is concerned, most of the damage happens during Winter Term in January, but the majority of Obies flee campus during this month to work on projects elsewhere, so this is essentially a non-issue. This year we didn't receive any significant snow fall after spring break ended (around March 30th), though there was a fair share of rain and the temperature hovered in the upper 50s. The only time when Oberlin students really need to contend with winter is the first six weeks of spring semester. Temperatures during this time average between 16° F and 33°F according to the Oberlin almanac; of course, they can go higher (there was one day in February where the temperature hit 60° F) and lower (the coldest day all semester was the last Sunday in February, when it was 0° F outside with wind chill).

I don't find these temperatures to be intolerable, but let's assume that you do. Commence reassurances:

First, six weeks is not a very long time to have to deal with cold weather. All the buildings are heated, sometimes to excess, and it will not take you any longer than 10 minutes to walk to class--and if you live in Dascomb, an all-freshman dorm next to the King building and very near the Conservatory, it could take you about 20 seconds.

Second, the temperature fluctuates considerably during these months, sometimes by as much as 20° F from one day to the next. It's a lot easier to make it through winter when the weather periodically reminds you there will, in fact, be a spring.

Finally, though, as evidenced above, my outlook on winter is somewhat pessimistic, yours needn't be. A snowy winter can be a wellspring of beautiful imagery, provided you relax and take the time to enjoy your surroundings. Many friends of mine who are from warmer climes have never seen snow, and consequently find winter fascinating and full of wonder. Perspective is key: are you trapped in John Carpenter's "The Thing," or are you strolling through a Robert Frost poem?

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