12 Things Clevelanders Don’t Miss in an El Niño Winter (and 7 We Do)
The meteorological event known as El Niño is basically a gift to winter-wary Clevelanders. Mild temperatures mean shorts into December, and a lack of snow results in less mess, fewer delays, and a general dearth of seasonal heartbreak on the shores of Lake Erie. There's plenty we don't miss from a typical third-coast winter, but there’re a few things we'd really, really like to have back.
What the hell do you do with all those layers when you walk into a restaurant on East 4th? Hope the nice hostess will find a place for them. Or inevitably pick them off the floor a billion times as they constantly fall off the back of the chair, collecting the dirt from every grimy footprint that walked those floors before you.
Parking lot snow mountains
In normal winters, parking lots tend to be dominated by ever-growing mini-mountains of dirty snow. They take up the space of two school buses, crowd cars into tight bunches, and never fully melt until sometime in mid-July. All the while getting browner, denser, and more disgusting.
Surfing Lake Erie with ice on your wetsuit
Catching a Lake Erie wave towards the Cleveland skyline is so much more pleasant in mild temperatures. No snot-sickles. No ice-brows. Just the unadulterated Lake Erie scum-waves, the slate-gray sky, and a small fire to warm the fingers back on shore. It's almost warm enough for board shorts! Almost.
The windshield wiper fluid bill
Salt, plus slush, plus dirt, plus Cleveland's position as a regional trucking hub, equals the necessity of a near-constant flow of windshield washer fluid. Woe to the driver who does not have a stockpile in the trunk. Driving with your head out the window in a sleet storm? It happens. And it makes you feel alive. And it's better than dying.
The lotion bill
Unless you have some kind of industrial multi-room humidifier, Northeast Ohio winters will suck every drop of moisture from your body. You will be a cracked and bleeding monster, hulking through dirty streets and frightening Tinder dates, unless you invest in vats of lotion and bathe in them at least once a day.
Extra shame layers at the Browns' game
A mild El Niño winter means that hitting the stadium with a single brown paper bag over your head is adequate for most of the Browns’ season. No need to double bag it, or wear a stocking cap underneath. Shame has never been more comfortable!
Going gray below the waist
The constant winter salt means that dark boots or pants will turn gray within a couple of blocks. It's like someone applied an awful MS Paint gradient to everything below your knees. Wait, was that not what you were thinking when you read the heading? Huh.
Knowing the city doesn’t care about you
Most of the year, Clevelanders can live in a blissful fantasyland, believing the city generally gives a crap about their daily comfort. But that fantasy is flushed, along with all those craps we yearned for, when the first major snow hits. Oh, you wanted to be able to leave your block and get to work? Sorry. Nobody is coming to plow your street. Not now. Probably not ever. Hope you’re stocked up on Christmas ale and beef jerky. You’re not going anywhere.
The conversation happens every year: where the hell is the snowbelt boundary? You might claim you're in it, and therefore bear the brunt of lake-effect inches, but you’re probably not. And you’ll figure that out when you get a dusting of white, while literally a block away, there’s a foot of snow on the ground. And if you’re in the snowbelt, good luck on the snowed-in excuses when your workplace is snow-free.
The constant soreness in your shoulders is a mystery for the first couple weeks of a typical Cleveland winter, until you realize you spend every moment of your time outside trying to hide your earlobes behind your shoulders in the bitter wind off Lake Erie.
You have two choices: crop it super short, or look like you just rolled out of bed for most of the day. Sure, you could go without a hat, but life without ears seems a high price to pay for vanity.
Six months of cold agony
There’s no telling how long winter will be when it finally arrives in an El Niño year, but it's guaranteed to be shorter than the typical six months of ugliness. Does that mean the inevitable late-April snowstorm will be easier to accept? Let’s hope so, because normally, it’s a recipe for insanity.
Please come back:
A typical Cleveland winter will turn the Metroparks into a land of fun and adventure. Consider the Millstream Run toboggan chutes: channels of ice can get you moving up to 50mph for 1,000ft. Now, that's how you kill the winter blues. And possibly yourself! Fun!
24 hours of beauty
The problem with the lack of snow is how ugly Cleveland gets when the leaves... uh... leave. It's a fairly dreary place on its best days, but add bare branches, constant cloudiness and city grime, and things get downright Dickensian. A good snowstorm has the power to make the place look magical. For about a day. But it’s so worth it!
You don't have to travel far in a typical Cleveland winter to find a place to lace up your skates. When you have freezing temperatures for months on end, even the smallest pond can become the perfect setting for a reenactment of the Miracle and other hockey goodness, like losing teeth.
Anyone who lives in a prime mountainous location would scoff at our propensity to ski into shallow valleys, but after a good snow, even Alpine Valley and Boston Mills can offer a few damn fun turns. Emphasis on "a few," but we'll take it.
A reason to drink
Johnny Football doesn't seem to need a reason to drink, but many Clevelanders rely on winter as a seasonal excuse to huddle close on bar stools with a stiff drink in hand and complain about the weather. In an El Niño year, we have to get creative and drink because... the lack of snow causes... anxiety. Yeah. That's it.
Basketball watching weather
When it's cold as balls outside, it's easier to head to the Q to watch the Cavs handle theirs as they fight for a championship. Or, barring that, to stay inside and watch them play on TV. But when the weather is mild, it feels like you should take advantage of every second outside. Talk about being conflicted.
A reason we're better than everyone else
A mild winter strips us of a very real pride we have as Clevelanders: we’re tough enough to deal with a cold, ugly, nearly unbearable season. And we'll do it without losing a single iota of our "Midwestern nice." So hurry up and snow already. Our egos are on the line!
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Patrick Alan Coleman is a seasonally affected writer who lives on the East side. He writes to stay sane during Cleveland winters. Follow him @PatrickAColeman