"Your jacket, sir," a young lady from Goodyear Tire says, handing me a nicely folded, bulky, triple-layer coat.
"Thanks, but are you serious?" I reply, bug-eyed. I've just touched down in sandy Fort Walton Beach, Florida, a palm-lined oasis known for clean beaches and tropical weather. The airport's exterior LED thermometer says it's 91 degrees.
"You'll be thanking me in a few hours," she says smiling. Maybe I should have packed those snow gloves back in L.A.
Goodyear Tire, is shuttling a herd of international journalists to the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, said to be the world's largest environmental testing chamber, at Eglin Air Force Base. Since 1947, the lab has served as the U.S. Armed Forces' premier extreme weather-testing facility. The six-chamber location tests the climatic durability of nearly everything heading into the world's warzones, from bunkers, grenades, and missiles, to clothing, vehicles and airplanes. It's also used as a private sector product proving ground. We'll spend the next hour in the McKinley laboratory's 65,000-plus square-foot main chamberm getting acquainted with Goodyear's new Ultra Grip Ice WRT tires in 15 degree Fahrenheit weather-that's minus 9 degrees Celsius for you non-Americans.
It looks as if Reynolds Wrap decorated the place: Giant bolted silver aluminum panels cover each wall for optimal temperature retention. Overhead are steel trusses with adjustable lighting and crane fixtures. One-and-a-half-foot thick concrete provides a surface for the fresh snow and ice. The building is so sturdy that when the toughest of hurricanes rolls into town, critical military equipment is stored inside.