Preparing for Canadian Winters: A Guide for International Students
Snowflakes have started to fall in Toronto, and we’ll soon be facing another Canadian winter. If you’re an international student who’s come here from some place warmer, the drop in temperature may be taking you by surprise. Maybe you’ve heard stories about Canada’s cold winters, and thought they were exaggerated. Everyone knows Canadians don’t live in igloos, but our winters are still cold. When winter in Canada arrives, it hits hard, and if you’re new to the country, it can be a bit of a shock if you’re not prepared. Right now, things are pretty temperate, but it’s going to get much, much colder, so now’s when you’ll want to prepare. As a seasoned veteran of this weather, here’s what you’ll need to know:
1. Take winter seriously, and check the weather
The most important bit of advice I can give is not to treat it like it isn’t a big deal. It will get cold, you will need to bundle up, and frostbite is no joke. The good news is that Canadian winters are completely manageable, as long as you’re prepared.
Every other season of the year, you don’t need to pay attention to the next day’s weather. The worst that can happen is you’re caught in the rain without an umbrella. But in a Canadian winter, you’ll need to be aware of the weather well in advance, as Environment Canada warns.
How cold is it going to be? Will there be a wind chill? Is there going to be a blizzard, freezing rain, or ice? You’ll need to know, because it will affect what you can wear, where you can go, and what you’ll be doing. Check on television, radio, or the internet (here’s the Weather Network's website), be aware and be ready to change your plans. And check back regularly, as Canadian winters can be unpredictable, too. On that note…
2. Prepare to be late, and take your time. Or stay home.
If there’s a bad blizzard or freezing rain, you really ought to stay home. Sometimes, that isn’t possible, though. If you absolutely have to travel in snowy weather or after freezing rain, be ready to take it slow. There will be traffic, transportation delays, and cancellations, something else you should check for. If you’re driving, invest in some winter tires, and take it slow on icy roads.
Getting anywhere will take time, and you’ll need to be ready for that, because rushing could be dangerous. Assume it’s going to take twice as long as usual to get somewhere. And if you are, Centennial College professors are typically understanding when it comes to winter storms, so won’t be too upset if half a metre of snow makes you late for class. We’ve all been there.
3. A jacket isn’t enough.
Even if you specifically go out and purchase a winter jacket, there’s more that you should wear. Invest in a good pair of winter boots, rather than just trying to cut it with your runners. They’ll keep snow out of your feet, and stop you from taking any spills when it gets icy.
Strange as it sounds, you’ll also want sunglasses, especially if you drive. If there’s a layer of solid ice and snow on the ground, it will reflect the sun back at your eyes. You’ll also want to wear layers under your jacket, rather than just a t-shirt, and have multiple pairs of socks, so your feet don’t get numb. Here's a guide from Settlement.org that can tell you a little bit more.
Finally, watch out for wind chill, when a cold breeze makes the temperature feel lower than it really is (and here's a Wind Chill explanation if you haven't heard of it). You’ll want to keep as much of your face and head covered as possible, meaning a hat that covers your ears and a scarf that can cover your face. When it’s windy, nothing but your eyes should be exposed.
4. December isn’t the worst month. You’re really preparing for January
I went to school with a large number of international students who thought that December was the coldest Canadian month, and that making it through Christmas meant that the worst of the weather was over. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Statistically, the last week of January is the coldest time of year, and the ice, cold and snow can linger into February, too, so don’t assume it’s over when the new semester begins. That’s what you really need to prepare for.
It does end, though. Canada has a harsh winter, but it doesn’t last forever, and leads into a nice, warm summer. If you’re an international student, you need to be ready, but remember that it eventually ends, and sunny days will follow.
By Anthony Geremia