Freezing cold v sizzling heat: Which is worse?

A man walks along the frozen shore of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Matthew Yglesias may disagree, but there's a reason why the Mamas and the Papas were California Dreamin'

There has been a lot of interesting news coming out of the great polar vortex of 2014. A Michigan lighthouse encased in ice. People throwing pots of boiling water into the sub-freezing air. People scalding themselves by throwing pots of boiling water into the air.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the cold weather has set off a regional boasting match not seen since the great East Coast-West Coast hip-hop showdown of the 1990s.

On Tuesday, Slate's Matthew Yglesias wrote that he greatly preferred extreme cold weather to high heat:

The crucial issue is clothing and adaptability. I went out today wearing a warm hat and warm gloves and a scarf. I had four layers on my torso. I wore some corduroy pants, a warm pair of socks and some boots. All things considered, I was pretty comfortable. Don't get me wrong, not as comfortable as I am on a nice 72 degree day. I am very glad that DC winters don't normally get this cold. Still, I survived.

Contrast that with a very hot and humid day of the sort that we regularly experience in the summertime here and elsewhere in much of the country.

You just can't take off enough clothes to be comfortable, the New York-raised Yglesias writes. And sometimes you have to dress up, and then you just swelter in your nice suit or gown.

That's bunk, replied the Washington Post's resident Heat Miser, Ezra Klein. In true Wonkblog fashion, the native Californian provided a list of five points supporting his assertion that cold-lovers are woefully misguided. Cold kills more people than heat. More people move from cold states to warm ones because of climate than vice versa. You're more likely to fall and hurt yourself in icy cold weather. Staying warm is more expensive, both in clothing and home heating costs. And as for the bundling-up-easier-than-taking-off issue?

The problem with cold is that you have to put on layers and layers of clothing to do anything at all. Weddings and fancy dinners are a lot rarer than walking the dog or getting groceries. But in real cold, any excursion into the outdoors, no matter how minor, requires you to layer on shirts, sweaters, jackets, gloves, scarves, hats. And then, if you have small kids, you have to suit them up in all that, too. It's a nightmare.

The New Republic's Isaac Chotiner (another product of temperate California) scoffed at Yglesias's suggestion that four layers of clothing were enough to survive the recent outbreak of sub-freezing temperatures.

"It is beyond my comprehension how people can be warm if the temperature is beneath 20 degrees and they only have, as Yglesias says, four layers on their torso," he writes. "I had seven on Tuesday."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait of New York magazine worries about the plight of the blue collar worker, as he speaks out in favor of the Northern climes in which his employer resides.

"Lots of jobs involve physical activity, which makes you hot," he writes. "If it's freezing, you can easily wear long underwear or a warm hat to make up the difference in body heat. But if it's too hot, you're going to hit the zero clothing bound, or whatever the professional dress standard is in your chosen field."

There's also the fact that New York City smells much more tolerable during the winter - a point that Chait somehow neglects to make in support of his argument.

But this California-born, Texas-raised product of the Sun Belt still tends to agree with his warm-weather compatriots. While walking to work Tuesday morning, the cold-induced pain in my face slowly turning to dull numbness, I couldn't help but think that there is a reason why the deepest level of Hell in Dante's Inferno is a frozen cave.