Fighting against the wind

A young woman is fighting against the storm with her umbrella

March winds are legendary.

But February (or January) winds have never gotten equal attention. Those, in my humble opinion, are worse than the bluster of March, especially because there’s lower temperatures to contend with.

That, of course, leaves weather forecasters talking extensively through the coldest months about the “wind chill factor,” or how much colder than the actual thermometer readings our cold weather feels when the winds come relentlessly barreling in, generally from the northwest.

Wind messes with the outdoors, scattering things around like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum. After last week’s 40-mile-per-hour assault for back-to-back days, you could count on trash cans scattered across the roadways in the nearby town, pieces of garbage bags flapping among the cornstalks up on the hill where they’d snagged, and at least one empty birdseed bag tumbled into the first pond.

An accompaniment to midwinter’s “wind chill factor” days is almost invariably an assortment of scattered trash, along with miscellaneous bits of limbs and branches ripped from our old trees and in need of cleanup. They make handy kindling to get the wood furnace cranked up after it’s burned low overnight.

While they can’t avoid outside trash scattered by the relentless battering of arctic air, most of the newer, modern homes are insulated quite adequately to avoid the inside “wind chill factor” felt by some of us living in houses of much earlier vintage. While our old farmhouse may have “character,” that character is reflected in somewhat crooked doors, slightly out-of-plumb walls, and windows not quite aligned with aged frames.

You know it’s a high-level, “wind chill factor” day when you can feel a draft off our windows from a foot away, despite the supposedly insulating addition of storm windows installed years ago.

During more settled, less blustery wintry days, the quirks and cracks of an old farmhouse can be mostly overlooked or ignored. High “wind chill factor” days, though, find me poking an old hand towel along a windowsill or two on the north side of the house. At night, the throw rug inside the front door will get pushed against it to fend off the whistling wind sneaking in under the door’s bottom edge.

And, inside the window right next to The Farmer’s recliner, a couple of throw pillows sometimes serve as temporary barriers to the inevitable drafts not stopped by two layers of glass, wood and metal.

Although we no longer need to try to close up every crack and cranny around the dairy barn to fend off freezing water fountains, pipes in the milk house are still in use and subject to freezing on the very coldest, most windy nights. Despite some extra Styrofoam insulation put over the milkhouse windows a few weeks ago, I still found an icicle poking from the faucet one morning late last week. That was courtesy of the “wind chill factor” brightened by its occasional partner on extra-cold nights, a brilliant, clear, full moon.

After years of battling “wind chill factor” to keep the water flowing at the sink in the calf barn (now the home of two dozen assorted chickens), a stainless-steel heat lamp with an ordinary light bulb proved over the years to be a mostly reliable anti-freeze. But, again, when wind chill becomes a critical factor, the faucet area on the sink’s top, located in the coldest, northwest corner of the building, can freeze.

Sturdy, plastic feed bags, stuffed with some insulating straw or crumpled newspaper, have over the years offered a solution to freezing around the exposed faucet area. And, over the bags of insulation go another couple of layers of flat feed bags. Only rarely has this make-shift, easily moved insulation failed to do the job.

So, it was with amusement that I pried open the calf barn door one recent, cold morning to be greeted at the insulation-protected sink top by a big, old tomcat sleeping sprawled on the feed bags filled with soft stuffing. In fact, I had to almost pry him off the insulating bags to get the furry friend moved so I could run fresh water.

This scenario has been repeated several times since, and I must admit that it may have helped in preventing “wind chill factor” freezing in the calf-barn sink during the recent, wind-chilled mornings. It hasn’t hurt, anyway.

So, what do you suppose is the insulation factor of a large, furry tomcat?

Just wondering.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.