Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 57/365 Sub-Zero Cold and Frozen Memories

You know how old people are always saying: "In my day, we walked 2 miles to school,in a blizzard" ?

Well, in my day, I walked 2 miles to school, in a blizzard. That was before they expanded the bus rules to include those of us who lived "close enough to walk". That was in Iowa, in high school. Then I got smart, moved further north to Minnesota for college, and ended up walking around in blizzards again, in sub-zero weather (also known as "normal" in Minnesota).

The photo above is to help you visualize the interstate driving experience during a Minnesota winter.

Or not. Because sometimes it's so bad, even the Minnesotans don't drive. And then the state police close these huge gates at the interstate entrance ramps. (And yes, there are always a few people these gates do not deter. They would be the ones found frozen in their cars, with only the car roof visible from the air).

One of the best winter experiences I ever had in Minnesota was in January 1975. Here's the official description of it:

Jan 10-12, 1975 one of the worst blizzards and strongest storms. Closed most roads in the state, some for 11 days, 20 ft drifts. One to two feet of snow, train stuck at Willmar, 15,000 head of livestock lost. Many low barometric pressure records set (28.55 at Duluth), winds to 80 mph, storm intensified over the state, 14 people died in blizzard, and 21 more from heart attacks.

Two months later, in March, a second round of storms hit:
100 mph winds, 20 ft waves on Lake Superior damaged shoreline properties, zero visibility near Duluth, which received 1 ft of snow from each storm.

But my all-time favorite was in March, 1985:

Blizzard with 6 to 24 inches of snowfall. Duluth reported winds to 90 mph, and huge multi-story drifts. Schools in International Falls closed.

At the time, I owned my first home, and this blizzard taught me to rake the snow off the roof as well as to avoid walking under 5' long icicles hanging from the eaves.

Eventually, you do get your garage dug out. The trick is to get both the garage and a path cleared out partially down the alley, so you can get a running start, but at the same time finishing quickly enough to make it to the end of the alley before the city plows come by clearing the side streets. If you do not beat the plow, you will have to stop your car to get out and dig through the 4' snow ridge the plow threw up across the alley exit. Or you can just lay in bed, listen for the plow, and then go out and do all your shoveling at one time -meaning you arrive to work sometime around 10-ish.

Work? Yes, people work in this weather. A blizzard is no excuse for not going to work. Nor are sub-zero temps. There are rarely school closings (note that official description above of the blizzard in March,1985 - they actually mentioned that International Falls schools were closed).

My kindergarten age daughter never missed a day of school until we moved south to Virginia.

So, this winter we all get sub-zero cold. Looking at the weather map Minnesota is at -29 below wind chill. Been there, done that. Dress for the weather and you'll be fine.

Interesting things that happen in sub-zero weather:

  • Cars and machinery and guns work much more slowly because the oils in them are gooey. (As in frozen gooey).

  • A human can dehydrate faster in sub-zero weather than in heat -so keep those water bottles with you, preferably inside your coat, where your body temp will keep them from freezing almost instantly. (If yours does freeze, don't knock it against your car's dashboard to break up the ice. This will literally crack your dashboard in half, since it is frozen too. Trust me on this.)

  • Blink a lot. It will keep the water in your eyes from freezing too much. You'll hear a crunchy sound as you blink, that'd be the ice crystals.

  • A ski mask would seem to be a good idea. However, if it covers your mouth and nose, your breathe will be funneled up across your eyelashes, where the moisture in it will immediatley freeze, and make your eyes stick shut.

  • Cover exposed skin in vaseline. It can freeze with less than a minute exposure.

  • Those mittens with flaps, and finger gloves inside don't work that well. Your fingers will get frost bit. Again, trust me on this.

  • At -30, contact lens will freeze right in their solution, even if you have them inside your insulated coat pockets, next to your sweater (and your turtleneck, and your silk long underwear, and your T-shirt).

  • The wind chill formula was re-vamped in 2001, meaning that what is now -50, was formerly more like -75. Dress accordingly.

If you are still wanting to brave the sub-zero, just to see what it feels like to inhale and freeze your lungs, here's a couple fun experiments:

  • Heat up a pan full of water to boiling. Carry it outside. Throw the water into the air. The water will disappear immediately, a la Harry Potter.

  • Spit. Yep, spit. Especially if it's -60. Spit freezes immediately at -60.

And finally, not to be attempted in a public place, and definitely much easier ifyou are a male, but works for women too: Pee. If it's -40, pee freezes. You could carve freaking ice sculptures from it.

How do I know this you wonder? Let's just say it was an ill-advised camping trip.


  1. Now I understand why you aren't crazy about cold weather and snow... WOW! What pictures! Were they from your own collection or were they from the web? Is that you on the roof? And the camping were one crazy gal!

  2. You're always entertaining - and educational. I'm so glad I've never experienced that much cold. Zero degrees on my deck in Alabama this morning - NOT good!

  3. The top one is mine - the gates are from MNDOT- and the bottom one is scanned from a newspaper article I kept on the snow. No, it's not me on the roof. Shingles are notoriously slick in sub-zero cold.

    Cold sucks.