This being the number one most asked question it is defiantly deserving of it’s own post.
To start off with it is only fair to mention the extremes which are what most people are interested in. Typically there is a week or two worth of days at or close to -50, not necessarily consecutively. The snow squeaks and your breath hangs in the air forever on a calm day. The kids that don’t walk to school come as drivers or passengers on a snowgo or 4 wheeler. They are all bundled up in big boots, ski pants, heavy coats often with a fur ruff not to mention a hat and face mask.
When it gets cold there is frost on exterior clothing can develop frost from your breath. Beards too. This is one reason that wolverine is highly prized for ruffs, it does not develop frost like other furs do.
Last year we had 4-5 days at -50. We had a few weeks at -30 and most of the time was near -10. This year we had about 4-5 days at -30. We had a few weeks at -20 and most of the time it has been near 0 degrees. Actually we are now near Valentines day and February, which is usually very cold, has been unusually warm. In the 20s so far every day.
Just like temperature, snow can vary also. Last year there were long stretches where it snowed everyday. This year the snow has been more sparring. In either case the snow tends to drift which makes it difficult to get an accurate snow depth. There are places where the snow has drifted 5 feet deep or more but there are also places on the tundra that the wind has blown clear. Most tundra trails have inches of snow but in the trees where the drifts are less and which is probably the most accurate indicator of snow depth there is about 1-2 feet.
This may surprise people since most people assume that there is lots of snow in cold areas. But it is also important to remember that this area is a desert getting less that a foot of precipitation per year. This surprised me a little because it seems like it rained quite often during the warmer months, but also because of the many lakes and marshy boggy summer tundra. It seems to have lots of water but it is only because the melted snow does not penetrate the permafrost so it just kind of sits there.
Not only does the ground freeze but so do the rivers and lakes. In November and December they become thick enough to drive snowgos on. The waterways become the highways of the arctic. Most routes between villages are more or less straight shots and due to the number of lakes and the twisting nature of the rivers they all include some amount of ice travel. The rivers are also much flatter and tend to have less drifts so once frozen they become the highways of the arctic, and yes many people do travel highway speeds on snowgos.
But there are other practical uses to cold wether aside from connecting otherwise isolated populations. During games at the school pop is sold at concessions. Often when it is cold out they are left out side for a short period to cool. It doesn’t take long in negative temperatures for the pop to reach that perfect temperature. But if they are forgotten then they pass that perfect temperature and reach that freezing temperature and then that exploding temperature. Not sellable but still a tasty treat for staff.
Any and all metal that leads to the outside develops a thick frost. It can make the door handle slippery and difficult to open.
When it gets really cold, and really any time, the important thing is to dress in layers. Thermals, regular cloths, light sweats and sweater(s), then snow pants and parka big boots, balaclava, warm hat (mine is beaver fur), face mask, glove liners, mittens and mitten shells. It takes a while to get everything on and if you are doing any walking or exercise it will be pretty warm even at -40 but on a snowgo it is a must.
I should point out that there have been less than half a dozen instances that I have gotten all dressed up. For anything over -20 a sweatshirt, ski pants and some heavy long johns suffice with proper hat gloves and shoes.
There are also fun snow winter and cold based activities for kids and adults. When it is above 0F we try to get the kids outside. The best snow man snow comes when it is 25-35 degrees. Much past that it is to dry and fluffy to make good snow balls and snow men. So instead at recess I bring spray bottles with food coloring for them to make art and play with. Just like breath, the steam from hot water is magnified in cold temperatures. If the boiling water is tossed in the air, please away from people, there is a greater surface area from the droplets and so a huge cloud of steam results and with small quantities (1-2 cups) can completely evaporate before hitting the ground. I have accidentally left water bottles in the mudroom leading to an impromptu demonstration of supercooled liquids when I knocked them over. I want to try blowing bubbles to see if we can get them to freeze in the air. And of course I have mentioned skiing and snowshoeing and snaring and snowgoes in my other posts.
Someone asked if it was cold enough to freeze Wild Turkey yet. Of course booze is illegal here so we cant test it but here are the theoretical freezing points of ethanol solutions and some common liquors with similar alcohol content. Right now it is about 10F but it has already gotten to -30F which would freeze Wild Turkey (101 proof) and last year there were a few days skirting -50F which would have come close to freezing Bacardi 151.
All in all I don’t know how exactly to describe how cold it gets. The temperature itself means very little until you have experienced it and really anything below -20 is kind of feels the same. It’s all just really cold. So how to describe it? In layers? By what freezes? In minutes until frost bite? By when the trees pop or the snow squeaks? By how long foggy breath hangs in the air or how much oil/wood it takes to heat a house? By the fact that the 10 degree mudroom feels warm after being outside? By the fact that the mudroom can double as a walk in freezer? (At least as long as the temp doesn’t rise which is how I lost 2 gallons of ice-cream.)
I guess it is up to you which way you like to answer the question, ‘does it really get that cold’. But no mater what you are thinking of as ‘that cold’ know that yes it does get that cold but also that it is not always that cold and after a short time 0 really isn’t that bad. The kids who grew up in it start wearing jeans and hoodie at 0. I still wear a coat but it is the same one I wear when it is 40.