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I'm New To Iowa. Be My Winter Coach?

Ben Kieffer
Iowa Pubic Radio
This photo is from the first day I rode my bike to work with leftover snow on the ground.

Dear Experienced Iowans,

My name is Matt Alvarez. I’m the new talk show producer for Iowa Public Radio. I’m also new to Iowa, if you haven’t heard by now. As a Texas native I’ve dealt with my share of extreme weather situations – countless droughts, flash foods, tornadoes, heatwaves, and, yes, a few days of winter. But Texans have a very different definition of "cold." 

Texas winters, excluding the panhandle of Texas, are short. I grew up in El Paso, where the city sits at around 3,800 feet above sea level. We had a winter that is what I’m sure you would classify as your typical Iowa fall.

I saw snow as a child, but when we got snow in El Paso, it would fall over night, and then melt away by late afternoon with temperatures rapidly rising to a comfortable 45 degrees. Nothing stuck around and froze over. The snow never had a chance to turn grey. 

When I moved to Austin for college and a new life, I remember sweating in early December while I walked to class because the temperature was somewhere near the mid-80s.

I had no need for a heavy jackets, long coats, thick gloves, snow boots, scarfs or thermal underwear. From late October through early May, Texas winter was nothing more than a break from the heat.

Ya'll, I cherished those brief two to three months of “winter.” I've been told things are going to be different here. 

I’m writing this letter with the hopes of soliciting a little advice from you, loyal IPR fan. I need all the help I can get. I think I have good judgement when it comes to mobilizing and finding my way to work. But I tend to procrastinate, even in extreme weather conditions. You’re reading a letter from a guy who once stopped for breakfast tacos on the way to work in the middle of a tornado warning. Warning. Not watch. In my defense, there was no line for those tacos, and I was hungry. 

Now that I'm here in Iowa, I have questions. How long should I let my car warm up? Do I need to? I’ve heard of Yaktrax, please explain. I fear ice and getting to work when there is ice on the ground. By the way, ice can be black? Do I need snow tires for my bike? What about my car? When will I adjust to the cold winter air?   

Please write back. Any tips you have, email rivertoriver@iowapublicradio.org. We might use your comments or advice on-air, but more than anything, I'm looking for your help here. 

Sending warm thoughts,


Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River