I’m going to take a break from politics for a moment to complain about the weather here in Minnesota, where we’re having a cold snap. When I drove to work this morning, it was fourteen degrees below zero. By the time I came home tonight, it had warmed up to minus five. At these temperatures, you can’t really do much but sit in your car and shiver. Being outdoors is more or less out of the question.
This isn’t what we call epic cold here, of course. Ten years ago this weekend, we drove up to a resort in northern Minnesota on the occasion of my oldest daughter’s sixth birthday. It was 35 below zero, with a vicious wind blowing. We went ice fishing and Mrs. Rocket caught one of the all-time lunkers, only it turned out to be a long-lost fishing rod.
That wasn’t the coldest I’ve ever been. A few years ago, just about this time of year, I got off an airplane in Fairbanks when it was 45 below. Flying into Fairbanks in the winter is odd, because the town is covered by a fog bank, sort of like the island in the remake of King Kong. This is because people leave their cars running all winter; if they are turned off, they will never start again. The town looked like a lunar landscape, with everything covered in rime ice. Later that same week the temperature in Fairbanks dropped to 70 below, but I was gone by then.
Deacon, I see the temperature hit 49 degrees in Washington today. I think it’s time you invited your partners for a visit!
DEACON responds: Come on down; we’re having a big party here next week. I hope the weather holds. Or try Boston. Yesterday, it hit 60 degrees there. So instead of being snowed in at the airport, I was fogged in.
UPDATE: I won’t be able to make the “big party” in Washington next week, as I’ll be in Cambridge for a conference on journalism and blogging, about which more later. Back to the subject at hand: we have readers everywhere, including Fairbanks. I’m afraid that Al Sparks thinks I’m a bit of a wimp:
Regarding the cold in Fairbanks. The ice fog that accumulates is due to an air inversion that traps the air. Most of that fog is frozen moisture and not smog, though smog from vehicles does accumulate in the stagnant air over time (days/weeks).
Also, at -40F to -50F I can get away with turning my vehicle off for up to 2 hours w/o plugging in. Most people that leave their vehicles on do so by choice (they simply don’t want to step back into a cold vehicle after shopping at the store) and not because their vehicle won’t start if they turn it off. Complaints are made about people that leave their vehicles on when they don’t need to, but it’s also pointed out that most of the CO pollution from a vehicle occurs during the first five minutes after it’s started, especially if it’s a cold start. It’s for that reason that even at temperatures as high as +20F, they still recommend you plug-in an hour before starting.
I don’t know if this is common in Minnesota, but in Fairbanks it’s common to have an oil pan heater, a block heater (basically a pump/heater that keeps your radiator’s anti-freeze warm as it circulates it through the engine block), and a battery blanket.
If plugged in, I’m able to start my vehicle just fine after sitting overnight.
Our Southern readers can be grateful for the fact that they don’t need to know this stuff!
And one more–Bill Krause notes that the record low in Fairbanks is only 62 below zero, so my memory has obviously been enhanced by the passage of time–as so often happens.
FINAL UPDATE: A number of other readers have weighed on the cold weather front, but we’ll close the updates, for now, with this photo of an ice house on Medicine Lake, with a reflective exterior, which is in tomorrow’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. Click to enlarge:
What’s a little funky about this ice house is that it isn’t meant for fishing. There’s no hole inside it. It’s part of an art project. There are 30 “artistic” fish houses set up on the lake as a sort of Christo-like art exhibit, thoughtfully placed far from the good fishing spots. One of the artists responsible for the exhibit says:
We’re using the whole lake as a gallery. I’d drive by my parents’ house and see all these fish houses. I didn’t get it. Fishing doesn’t appeal to me, so I figured this was a way to partake of all of the cool aspects of this without having to fish.
It’s a little unclear what those “cool aspects” might be, but we’ll leave the subject for now.