27 January 2015

Has Your Body Gotten Used to the Cold Season Yet?

Image credit:  http://www.farmersalmanac.com/.
The past few nights, it has become something of a habit for me to glance at the digital thermometer atop my fridge to see what the temperature would be before I retired to my bed. Because the tail end of a cold front has hovered near the central Philippines for the last few days, the thermometer has consistently read 23°C or 73.4°F just before bedtime.

There ought to be nothing remarkable about this to those who live in the temperate zone; but hey, I live in the tropics. Here, 23°C is considered cold. But this is the point of this article; I have not felt cold at all these past few nights.

During the parched months of March to May, the typical temperature range here in Lipa will be something between 30° to 38°C during the day. When the rains start in late May or June all the way to late October or early November, the temperature consistently hovers between 29° to 34°C.

This current cold season not only started earlier but has also been colder than it has been since the supposed effects of global warming became more evident. In Lipa, where we are roughly a thousand feet above sea level, it has been almost – but not quite – what the cold used to be in the old days when the place was so much more rural.

Still, because we who live here are used to the climate, our definition of cold is different from those who live in the lowlands and closer to the sea. Somebody who has just come from Manila, for instance, will complain about Lipa being cold when the temperature is at 27°C. At that temperature, I still have my shirt off.

When the temperature first drops to 26°C in late November or early December, depending on the onset of the northeasterlies and the cold fronts, that is when I feel obligated to put on a tank-top already. I start to feel the cold; but for me it is still bearable. In fact, I find it more pleasant than cold.

But when the temperature first drops to 23°C, that is when I need to put on my thick cotton jogging pants and wear a jacket over my shirt. Used to the climate as we are, 23°C is still cold by normal definition.

However, as I said this has been a pretty cold season by recent standards. In fact, in the morning of the day when Pope Francis was about to celebrate Mass at the Quirino Grandstand, the temperature at dawn must have plummeted to as low as 18°C or 64.4°F. I slept fitfully in the early morning because the cold bothered me.

That my body has adjusted enough so that I can now go to sleep wearing shorts and a tank-top when the night-time temperature is at a steady 23°C these past few nights has stirred my curiosity enough to want to know how.

The cold, apparently, is a shock to the body, which has to protect organs vital to life. That said, the body is also remarkably self-adjusting. When the temperature drops quickly enough to take the body by surprise, its initial reaction is to shiver. The act of shivering is actually a way by which the body keeps itself warm.

Most severely affected by sudden and rapid drops in temperature are the hands and feet. This is so because the body constricts blood vessels leading to these so that blood flow towards vital organs is prioritised. This way, blood keeps the organs at the temperature that they need to be to be able to function; even as the limbs and extremities are left to feel cold.

I wore layers of clothing even during the day when I was in the Bay Area in 2000.
When I was in the Bay Area in the United States in 2000, I soon became known around the community as the guy who was always cold. One of my American hosts told me that they could always tell the New Yorkers in San Francisco because these almost invariably came with light clothing; only to find to their discomfort that the city was colder than New York.

Now, there I was straight from the tropics; and although it was still only October, I shivered all the time I was there. I wore two pairs of pants and a thick jacket over my shirt but still could not stop shivering. It pained me to look at locals jogging at night wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts; while there I was ready to drop dead from the cold.

Finally, one Filipino-American took pity on me and gave me a leather jacket; and this finally put an end to the shivering. The Americans laughed sympathetically at me and told me that my blood would thicken over time to allow me to adjust to the climate. Since I was there for no more than two weeks, I felt cold up until the time I had to fly back to Manila.

In fact, the blood thickening theory was not true at all. Over a period of weeks in consistent cold, the body ultimately masters how to balance the sending of blood to not only the vital organs but also the feet and hands. This allows the entire body – including the limbs, hands and feet – to stay warm despite the cold; and explains why the shivering stops after a while.

The opposite, I suppose, happens once the hot season arrives; and the body initially feels the heat cumbersome until it eventually learns to deal with it. Then, it forgets all about what it has learned about dealing with the cold until the latter months of the year when it has to learn the entire process all over again.

Just a while back, in the evening news. Noli de Castro reported that this morning was supposed to have been the coldest of the season, with temperature in the capital having dropped to as low as 18.1ºC at dawn. In that case, here in Lipa it must have been as cold as 17ºC or lower. That will be 62.6ºF.

I slept like a log which meant that my body was not even bothered by it. I guess my body has already adjusted to the cold as is probably the case with anyone who reads this article.

By the way, 17ºC is still nothing compared to what it used to be in the old days. When I was still a boy growing up inside the air base, my Dad used to keep an English system thermometer that he monitored on a daily basis pretty much like I do these days.

Back in the day, the temperature could drop to as low as 52ºF or 11.1ºC. Now that was really cold!

On the other hand, if you are living in the East Coast of the United States waiting for the blizzard to arrive, you must be dreaming of the pleasant weather that we have been having here in Lipa.

Resource: Cold Weather's Coming: Is Your Body Ready?





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