Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

Although I’m writing this in mid-December, it’s the lyrics, “beginning to look like spring,” that are far more appealing than the actual version of the holiday song.

And this is two weeks before the winter solstice.

The first week of December 2013 packed bitter cold, snowy, and icy extremes in many parts of the country. On the morning of Dec. 7, Jordan, Mont., recorded a beyond-shivering low temperature of -42 degrees Fahrenheit. On Dec. 8, Harve, Mont., was the coldest spot in the U.S. with a low temperature of -37 F. The forecast on Dec. 10 showed lows reaching in the -20s F in areas of the Dakotas.

That’s crazy cold stuff.

Temperatures at 32 F (and that’s above zero) can kill in as little as 20 minutes (if, for example, you are wet from falling through the ice).

Forty below is the point where Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same—where the two scales cross. Minus 40 F is also the point where it’s no longer safe to expose any skin to the cold.

At -40 F removing your mittens to unlock a door is dangerous. As your fingers and hand quickly react to the cold, your skin will still feel deceptively soft to the touch as it freezes. But wait a few seconds and frostbite could set in, freezing the tissues under your skin. The skin will become hard to the touch and lose sensation. Your hands, face, or other exposed body parts will go numb.

Cold temperatures typically raise the risk of house fires caused by electric space heaters kept running too close to flammable materials or insufficiently maintained wood stoves. On a Saturday night in December, a wind chill dipping into the single digits froze the water firefighters in Boone County, Mo., were spraying on a house fire, and the water promptly froze wherever it landed.

More people slip, have heart attacks, suffer breathing problems, catch the flu, and suffer road accidents when the temperature drops, putting the ambulance service under increasing pressure. And similar to other drivers navigating in bad weather, ambulances crews also struggle along icy roads, risking collision and injury.

Working in the extreme temperatures is much more difficult.

In 2010, a 10-member team on an Antarctic expedition wore sensing devices on their chests to wirelessly collect and process data on the physical effects of -40 F.

Feeling chilled is only the tip of the iceberg.

Team member Ray Thompson said a walk of one-third of a mile (500 meters) at the South Pole exerted the same amount of energy as taking 10 laps (1.5 miles, 2.4 km) around an Olympic cycle track at 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) per hour.

Quite honestly, I am looking forward to weeding the dandelions out from my front lawn come spring and looking at Christmas from the past.