"What do mean there's no ice? You mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?" - Customer, Clerks
Our thermometer, showing a happy rainbow, a sure sign that Noah’s dogsled came to rest on Denali after the Great Flood, where Noah had two of every dog pulling his sled.
It finally got cold up here.
Most of the winter, so far, has been a tease. Now it’s getting down to business. I heard a newscaster say that the weather has been impacted by winds coming from north of Siberia, rather than the balmy breezes headed up from the Caribbean, which Alaska normally sees in winter.
It’s a little-known fact that Alaska in winter is warmer than your Mom’s bread, fresh out of the oven. Well, at least it is inside my cozy house. Outside it’s just damn cold.
So, what’s real winter like? Real winter in Alaska is when it’s –50F out, like it was today. That’s when the rules change, and that’s the temperature that almost makes me zip up my jacket. Okay, I’ll admit I was a wimp. I zipped up my jacket today on the drive to work, and it was only –48F out.
Why do I say, “When the rules change”? Because I think, technically, -50F counts as cryogenic. For those of you who drive diesel cars, forget it. At –50F, diesel fuel becomes thicker than Smuckers Jam. Cars up here have to use kerosene. Houses heat with it, too. I heard tell that one year it got to –65F and the kerosene turned into jelly, too, so many a house began to get a bit frosty.
-50F isn’t exactly life threatening in an immediate sense. This morning, The Mrs. (as is her customary habit when her louse of a husband doesn’t stock the wood) went out to grab a few meager sticks to put on the fire. She went outside in her typical wood gathering attire, to wit: T-shirt and baggy workout shorts. No shoes. No socks. The Mrs. stood on the concrete step until she had an armful. She noticed it was a bit brisk, and looked at the thermometer when she got in with her life-giving heat supply. The thermometer read –50F. So, to recap, The Mrs. can stand on –50F concrete in her bare feet long enough to get enough wood to heat the house for an afternoon. Kinda makes me look down on all the New-Agers who pay good money to spend a tenth of a second hopping on hot coals.
The remarkable thing is that this isn’t remarkable at all. Yeah, -50F is as cold as Martha Stewart’s heart, but people deal with it. They go shopping, they go out to eat, they fill their tanks with gas. My power steering on the way home decided I needed some upper arm strength, so it decided to play dead all of the way home. I think it was taking a snow day off.
One thing that changes with the extreme cold is that the dreaded ice fog becomes part of our landscape. Ice fog is like fog, but forms because it’s cold as hell. If you follow a car down the road, that car (and yours!) will form a contrail like a jet. This trail of water is condensed by the pressure wave of the car moving, with the added bit of condensation from the moisture present in the car’s exhaust.
So, a fog drops over the lower areas. Most of the time you can still look up and see blue sky, but in driving, the density of the fog can vary drastically over short distances in your line of sight, sort of like you’re following James Bond and the fog machine in his Aston-Martin isn’t quite working in a reliable fashion. So, you turn ‘round the corner, and you’re looking at a thick blanket of fog, with no Odd-Job or Jaws or Plenty O’Toole around.
Even better, though, is that you can exploit this particular weather condition for fun and games.
When I moved up here, someone mentioned that you could take a quantity of water and toss it up in the air and it wouldn’t hit the ground. Not that it would freeze, but that it would turn to a frozen vapor.
My initial reaction was that I was skeptical. Until I saw it.
It’s true, it works. Here’s the setup:
- Take coffee-hot water (it does NOT need to be boiling)
- Walk outside
- Throw it up in the air
- Watch it turn into a cloud, with nary a drop hitting the snow
When you do this it makes a hissing/zipping sound.
So, if you’re skeptical, please feel free to try this link. This (LINK HERE)is a video of The Mrs. tossing some water up on a –30F day and only a bit of it hitting the ground. You can’t hear the hiss/zip, just my feet crunching the snow. It is probably one of the neatest natural phenomena that I’ve ever seen. You don’t even have to venture out in the cold. We did it for you. I would strongly suggest you download and give a look. I’ll even try to get a better version yet this winter.
Go, enjoy, but don’t try this at home, kids. It just won’t work in San Fran.