If you’ve lived in Southern California your whole life, read on. I’m hoping that you can find something to relate to here. Heck, if you’re used to any semblance of a warm climate, this article is for you. For the rest of you, ye cold-hearted Northerners, I’m sure you can find use for this piece, too. Maybe to tease your perpetually freezing friends with?
Here, I want to reflect on my experience with the weather difference between Princeton and Southern California. Are the climates that different? How did the transition impact me? And before we dive in: yes, I was that person, constantly on the receiving end of comments like “suck it up, Miss California” or “it’s not that cold, it’s only negative five thousand degrees.” (Sometimes, it felt like as soon as I expressed my discomfort with the cold, my lovely friends would suddenly have spent their entire lives in the Arctic.)
In response to the first question—is the weather that different?—the answer is a yes. Well, sort of. There are two sides to this story: fall semester and spring semester. Because of the pandemic, I spent fall semester a few miles from the Princeton campus. In the spring, the university invited us all back, so I experienced on-campus spring.
Think of Princeton autumn as SoCal autumn, just ten to twenty degrees colder on average. And to the people who contend that SoCal “doesn’t have a fall, let alone seasons,” I stand by the statement that we do (note: line delivered passionately). From summer to autumn, the temperature drops from 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to 90, to 80, and so on until we cruise at around 60 to 70 degrees for the entirety of October and November, and even through December. (September, I have to agree with New Englanders, is merely an extension of summer.) Also, my hands don’t need as much lotion as we transition into October and November, and I find myself seeking lightweight jackets in the evening.
In the same vein, Princeton weather gradually tapered off in the autumn months, boasting chilly evenings and taking the foot off the humidity gas pedal. In fact, I felt like Princeton and SoCal reached a midpoint in terms of humidity, with SoCal becoming less dry and Princeton becoming more so—a perfect point! And at Princeton, although there was quite a bit more rain (I recall my extreme confusion at freak thunderstorms), I, a SoCal native, was able to put up with its autumn almost as easily as I do with SoCal autumn. I experienced no dramatic mood changes.
The only disappointing aspect was that while SoCal weather begins to truly chill (if at all) in November, in Princeton, the chilliness settled in much earlier—mid-October—and much more resolutely. Unable to sport tube tops in November, I had to settle for windbreakers and mini parkas.
Despite the chill, there were beautiful moments—moments, I daresay, the average SoCal resident might not be used to. I would say New Jersey definitely won in the color category of fall. While California is a lush green all year round (think: palm trees, cacti, evergreen forests), New Jersey was bathed in red, gold, and orange. When the sun struck the leaves at the right angle, the trees seemed to be on fire, tiny sparks of leaves fluttering down to coat the roads. Moments like these made me think all sorts of pretty thoughts, just until I realized that the entire path ahead of me was blocked by a pile of leaves. So. Many. Leaves.
Bottom line: Princeton fall was colder, but not too cold. Colors! Pretty leaves!
Spring semester was a different story, especially the winter portion of it. Having flown in mid-January—and from an unusually warm winter (it shot up to 80 degrees near Christmas!)—I was struck in the face by the cold. (Well, only my forehead. My mask kept the lower half of my face toasty…and humid.) While I went around my hometown in hoodies, at Princeton, I quickly found myself having to layer. And I mean layer. At one point, I was wearing a shirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a ginormous parka, and a scarf, and I still felt a draft sneak its way under my clothes. At times, I felt like a penguin—facing not the sea, but the arduous task of shedding the layers once inside.
On top of the cold? Snow. If you think that you are ready for the snow, rethink your entire life. I thought I was. I had gone skiing a few times, loved the idea of building a snowman, and could not wait to create some gnarly snow angels. And the first few snow days were ethereal. I pranced around like a golden retriever, pointing out each snowflake, taking in the muted ambience, ensuring my camera roll remembered the falling snow.
But then the snow kept falling. And would not leave. Weeks passed, and there were still piles of white, several feet high, lining each pathway. February came, then March, and still, the snow stubbornly held its ground, until, little by little, it trickled away in the form of murky water.
I grew tired of the snow long before its gradual disappearance. Back home, snow had been a novelty—an experience I had to seek, the backdrop of a holiday romantic comedy. At Princeton, I faced the grueling, persistent reality of it—stomping through wet slush, slipping on black ice. Campus life, burdened by the weight of snow, trudged along at a slower pace. I desired a glimpse of green or the freedom of skipping down the street. I missed ungloved hands that stayed warm and soft during excursions, missed opening windows to warm whispers of wind. Mostly, I was sick with longing for a SoCal winter, where the inexistence of snow was a given, where people would say things like “if it gets cold and rainy enough, it might even snow!” and later laugh over the ridiculousness of what they said in T-shirts and shorts on a bright, snowless February day.
Yet the snow wasn’t all of it. For me, the toughest adjustment was confronting the lack of sun. (And no, I’m not saying that New England residents are vampires. Well, most aren’t.) But you have to realize this: in Southern California, warm and sunny days are the norm. I stroll outside, and eight times out of ten, there are some cute clouds above, a cerulean sky, the sun smiling down on me like some patron saint. The best part is, I don’t even think about it! It’s just another day.
At Princeton, this was not the case. The sky was often shrouded in cloudy darkness, rendering the world in gray instead of in colors—a shocking contrast from golden autumn. The chilliness that settled in mid-October struck again and again, even in late April and early May. Rainy days were not contained within a week at a time, but rather interspersed themselves—many, many times—throughout the months. So when it was “nice” out, many of my friends gushed about this and that: “let’s go on a picnic!” or “we have to work outside today.” Initially, it was weird. Why would such a normal day warrant such impassioned reactions? I only realized later that these were responses to an anomaly of a Princeton day, and after some time, found myself initiating these conversations. After all, “you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain” (credits go to Batman).
A sort of epiphany came over me. I didn’t realize how much I relied on sunny weather until there was a dearth of it. I was like a starving sailor who spent every waking second reminiscing on food; consumed by thoughts of the weather, I rambled on about it to everyone I knew. At home, I had lived under the certainty that I would be warm for the rest of today, tomorrow, forever. Alongside this warmth came security of light, that the world must promise to maintain a dazzling white hue. By normalizing bleak or rainy days, Princeton stripped away a fundamental truth of my world. Not only did the advent of gloomier weather leave me far more melancholic and de-energized, but it rendered me reeling and dazed. I was lost. I would need Southern California’s constancy to make me right again.
Now, I’m back home, in the outskirts of Los Angeles. Although I didn’t enact any proper changes after I flew in after the fall semester, I’ve decided to make some lifestyle changes after returning from spring semester. For one, I’m outside a whole lot more. I’m even letting the outside in more, rolling the windows down in the car, delighting in that sliver of sunlight dappling my skin. I’m also soaking up the present reality of perfect warmth and refusing to believe that we’re going to have another scorching hot and arid summer. No, no. Right now, SoCal weather and I are in our honeymoon phase. Nothing can come in between our love for each other.