Life in the deep freeze - 51° 05' 03" N 115° 22' 07" W

Canmore has plunged into the deep freeze this week, extreme and dangerous cold.  The temperature dropped below -40° ... the temperature at which Celsius and Fahrenheit converge.  So what happens in such extreme conditions?  Does life stop and everyone just huddles inside with a good book, sipping hot chocolate? Life does continue on, with a few measures to keep us safe.

Canmore dropped to -44°C on 11 Jan 2024

From a working thermometer in Edmonton.
... and check out the inner scale. Yikes!

Breathing can be painful.  It is better to breathe through your nose as it gives the air more time to warm up before it hits your lungs.  Nostrils can freeze closed so breathing through a scarf is helpful. Your mascara will freeze, and will run when it defrosts, so make sure it's waterproof!

This is -40°C - the ice crystals in the air make a haze

At these temperatures, our cars tend to freeze.  Fuel has a special additive to drop its freezing point, as does the windshield cleaning fluid.  But the oils and lubricants become very viscous and fail to do their job.  Batteries are particularly vulnerable to the cold and will go flat overnight.  And the tyre rubber freezes so there is a flat spot and you bumpity, bumpity on 'square' tyres until they warm up. Shock absorbers are not effective so expect an initial rough ride! Keeping your car in a snug, heated garage will prevent all these issues but not everyone has access to one - us included!

The plug for our engine block heater

Our cars have an engine block heater which keeps the engine and lubricants warm enough to allow them to be effective when you start your car.  Despite our car being plugged in all night, it took an additional ten minutes with it running for the car to warm up enough to drive.  The belts etc were frozen so there were some horrid noises for almost thirty seconds after starting the engine! It is worth remembering that anything inside your car will freeze - water bottles, that forgotten can of coke, even the charge cords will be stiff.  And having seat heaters and a heated steering wheel is not a luxury!

The wait time for roadside service blows out significantly in these cold conditions.  The current wait time is 84 hours.  Carrying warm clothes, a blanket and extra gloves and toques is essential.
A common sight on a cold morning, cars being jump started!

Outside activities are still possible with the right clothing.  Exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite so being bundled up with a face covering is the way to go.  At these temperatures, fashion goes out the window! Some non-essential outside work will be postponed but generally, the firefighters will still fight fires, the mail will be delivered and dogs get walked.  The ski hills tend to close when it gets below -30°C.  At these temperatures, the lubricants on the ski lifts do not work properly, nor does your ski wax so your skis will not glide. No-one wants to be skiing in these temperatures.  No, you don't.  Seriously, I don't care how tough you think you are!  Closing the ski resort is both a practical and a safety measure.  It protects the outdoor workers and the guests.  Imagine getting stuck on a chairlift in these temperatures.

Our homes are sealed and well insulated but even keeping your house at +20°C will mean you are heating it a whooping 60°C differential from the outdoor temperature.  The cold can seep in, through the peephole in the door, through the window with a broken seal, under the door...  Heating bills soar!

And giving a thought to those less fortunate without warm housing. Underground parking is made available for those living in their cars.  Still chilly but significantly warmer than outdoors.  Warming Centres are opened in places such as the library, senior centre and at train stations and are run by municipalities, The Salvation Army and other community partners. 

And then there is the fun!  Yes, the pot of boiling water does freeze before it hits the ground.  Soap bubbles freeze into rainbow coloured orbs and your beer will cool in five minutes (but freeze in 15 mins so be alert!).

Around here, the windows frost themselves!

Oh, and your deep freeze?  It is a mere -18°C ... twenty degrees warmer than outside!


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