Winter officially began yesterday. It’s OK to feel sorry for us, northern hemisphere dwellers. The impatient weather gods got the date wrong again this year. Icy cold, clear mornings heralding cool sunshine, or cold, cloudy, bleak mornings that persist until nightfall have characterised our days for close to a fortnight already.
Icy cold gives a misleading impression. The fact is that Australian winters are mild, no matter how far south you live. In any case, if you want to be pedantic, cold as ice means the temperature is at zero degrees Celsius. In Chicago or Vienna or Toronto winter temperatures plunge way below that. And it’s only on a handful of mornings during the winter months that Melbourne hits zero or low single digits. And what about the rest of Australia? The southern parts of South and Western Australia experience Melbourne-like winter days, especially when the weather is riding on southerlies direct from Antarctica. Sydney’s winters are milder than Melbourne’s, and it’s questionable whether Queensland’s so-called winter even warrants the term. Not much happens temperature-wise in the northern part of Queensland and the Northern Territory from June to August. It might drop a fraction the same way it drops in Singapore during northern hemisphere winters. Still hot, maybe a little less humid, a little less intolerable when one leaves the reaches of an air conditioner.
Surviving a Melbourne winter is a breeze. Snow never banks up against our front doors or threatens to collapse our roofs. Driveways never ice up, nor do our water pipes. Our cars start more or less the same way they do in summer. There is no black ice to turn our roads into invisible, slippery death traps. Deciduous trees might clog our gutters in Autumn, but a few hours effort usually takes care of it. We have icy rain and winds that drop the temperature a few degrees, and certain streets in the central business district are notorious for becoming wind tunnels on blowy days. But most of us have no problem venturing out in the weather. I might opt for long pants instead of shorts, and maybe wear a thicker jumper. Indoors, I manage with a fleece jacket and the heater off apart from an hour in the morning to do my piano practice with warm hands and maybe two in the evening before bedtime. There are enough sunny days to hang out my washing. Usually, it takes two such days back-to-back to completely dry everything. When I don’t get them, which is quite rare, I use the clothes dryer to finish the job. I like a reasonably wet winter. Melbourne and Victoria need winter rains to keep the bush moist and supply the water catchments. Dry winters lead to damaging summer bushfires and possible water restrictions.
Right now, winter is reflecting the collective mood of Melbourne, in the throes of yet another lockdown that is destined to last a fortnight. For me it is nothing more than an inconvenience. The lockdown will end, and my house repairs will resume, and after a few days of sweat and toil our damaged home will be brand spanking new again.