Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bottoming out at -44

While -20 or -30 are frigid by any standards, by the time you get to -40 the conditions turn into something surreal.

We've been at -44 all morning, the coldest of the season but the good news is that they are predicting a 30 to 40 degree warming by tomorrow. Based on previous observations of predicted weather patterns, we'll see.

At these temperatures just getting around poses challenges. First, you need an engine block heater, which heats your radiator, oil, and battery. If you don't have one not only will starting your car be difficult--batteries can run down after just a few tries--you might not have much of an engine before long. The gunky oil is too stiff to lube much of anything, so the pistons just run metal on metal for several minutes, leading to metal shavings in your oil and accelerated engine wear.

Beyond that, you can pretty much tell the temperature by getting into the car and driving. Below -30, a lot of little oddities occur. A frozen, rock-hard seat is the first thing you'll notice. Square tires are the next. Well not exactly square, but the bottoms of the tires freeze into shape after serveral hours. So you end up clunking along for a half mile or so until they warm up enough to regain their shape. Certain models of tires just fizz out and lose their air at -45 to -50.

And in low-lying areas, like Fairbanks, with a higher population density you must navigate through "ice fog," which is frozen water vapor created by exaust from vehicles, heaters, and power plants. The ice fog often hangs from ground level to only 20 or 30 feet up, so you can see blue sky, above but visiblity is quite limited on the horizontal plane. The colder it gets, the more dense the ice fog. A revving pick up truck can leave you blinded for hundreds of yards if you follow them too closely.

Those are just a few of the joys of the very cold. I now see why many people here plan on January vacations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I've read some about living up there, but your blog puts a reasonable/realistic face on it.
Impressive that you're still getting outside consistently, even when the temps are pretty low.
When I checked in last week, I had realized that there was a 100F difference between Fairbanks and New Hampshire!
Looks like you're in good shape for the upcoming races. Wax well, and ski fast!
-- Grambo

11:46 AM  
Blogger wilson said...

The difference has been cut in half, as we are well above zero now. The snow should be fast this weekend. Hope you get some of our snow and cold soon.

8:12 PM  

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