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Call this cold? This is nothing! - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 12:00 am
Call this cold? This is nothing!

Today, Sunday, is an exceptional day here in Berlin: the temperature is forecast to go above zero -- the only time it'll do that this week. A maximum of plus one centigrade is anticipated (wth a "glow"). Here's the view from my kitchen window at the moment:



Think that's cold? Have a listen to Francine Stock's 90 minute radio documentary about the Frost Fairs held on the Thames when it froze over. The first was in 1608, the last in 1814. The Thames has frozen over completely about twenty-five times in the past thousand years. A half to two thirds of those freezes happened in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the "Little Ice Age", when ice from the Arctic crept as far south as the northern isles of Scotland, and polar bears jumped off ice floes and terrorized the crofters. In 1740 it was so cold in London that trees cracked apart "with the sound of artillery fire".

But don't let the soothing sounds played by Norwegian musician Terje Isungset on thousand-year-old glacier ice lull you into a false sense of security. Nothing that happens in Britain is really cold. For real cold we have to go to Siberia.



Britain's Little Ice Age would be considered a summer holiday in Yakutsk, the world's coldest city, where it's currently minus 38 centigrade, with light snow, 67% humidity, and overcast skies. A journalist from The Independent went to Yakutsk last winter. At first, the minus 40 cold didn't feel too bad. Then he stepped out of his hotel:

"The first place to suffer is the exposed skin on my face, which begins to sting, and then experience shooting pains, before going numb, which is apparently dangerous, because it means blood flow to the skin has stopped. Then the cold penetrates the double layer of gloves and sets to work on chilling my fingers. The woolly hat and padded hood are no match for minus 43C either, and my ears begin to sting. Next to succumb are the legs. Finally, I find myself with severe pain all across my body and have to return indoors. I look at my watch. I have been outside for 13 minutes."

Here's what happens to your hands at that kind of temperature:



In fact, if you're heading to Siberia, you might want to bear in mind this little chart:

Up to minus 40C it's absolutely fine (according to the Siberians).
At minus 50C diesel fuel freezes. (Bear in mind that if your car engine stops, you may well die.)
When it gets past minus 52C they close the schools.
At about minus 60C it becomes difficult to breathe.
At minus 65C birds die of cold in mid-flight.
Minus 71C is the minimum temperature recorded in Oymyakon.



Ah yes, Oymyakon. If you think Yakutsk is cold, do what this Sky News reporter did. Travel east from Yakutsk for three days (800 kilometers) and, a few hundred miles south of the Arctic circle, you'll reach Oymyakon:



People in Oymyakon eat only reindeer meat and horsemeat, no vegetables. They wear only fur -- artificial fabrics are no good at all.

I won't say I've been to Oymyakon, but every time I fly from Europe to Japan I see places in the vicinity from 30,000 feet up in the air. I always wonder how there can be a squeeze on space on the planet when there's all that empty territory down there in Siberia. I suppose the Oymyakons share my puzzlement. Minus 40? That's nothing.

42CommentReply

heartbeeps
heartbeeps
bitte gib mir nur ein Wort
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)

A great post, Nick. I would absolutely love to visit Oymyakon. The coldest temperatures I've ever experienced were in the mid -20s around this time three years ago in Gdansk. How about yourself?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)

I lived in Montreal in the mid-70s, and I suppose the average winter temperatures there might have been minus ten or so.

In 2004 I visited Izhevsk, near the Ural mountains that divide Russia from Siberia. It was March, so it wasn't terribly cold, but I'd guess it was minus 10 or so.

Actually, Berlin hit minus 20 or so in early 2005 -- ironically I was "protected" from this cold snap by being stationed in Hokkaido at the time, where I was working as a sound artist at the university. Hakodate was, again, about minus ten, so I missed the minus 20 stuff back home in Berlin.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:24 pm (UTC)

hello from Moscow ) and thanks for interesting report)) today is only -14)


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van_der_tanya
van_der_tanya
Потная пальма
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)

i forget to login)


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)

I like how they've got an eskimo to test it!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)

I feel similarly, and am surprised to see this viewpoint coming from a stick-figure like yourself - along with the usual deterministic flotilla (sensitivity, artistic passion, sexual prowess, etc) you people tend to faint in a stiff breeze


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)

I am a hardy Scot! My ancestors come from this place:



...which is 60 degrees north! For comparison, Oymyakon is 63 degrees north.


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brokenjunior
brokenjunior
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)

At minus 50C diesel fuel freezes. (Bear in mind that if your car engine stops, you may well die.)

I remember seeing a documentary about Siberian truck drivers: their solution was to make a bonfire under their trucks, each time they were forced to have a longer stop ... hmmm ...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC)

Well, they never go alone -- always two trucks together, in case one breaks down, which means certain death.


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Sat, Jan. 3rd, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)

When I moved to the UK, I was expecting it to be snowy all winter, with the sort of conditions in which children could make snowmen and have snowball fights, were they not all confined to playing XBox games indoors out of fear of paedophiles/gangs/&c. I was quite surprised that you only ever get a light dusting of snow, once or twice a year if you're lucky, in London, and it's always gone by midafternoon. But still, one sees old-fashioned Christmas cards and picture books with images of kids in woollen mittens and hats ice skating, making snowmen, tobogganing, and so on. I wonder where they're from. Did Britain really have white winters during Victorian/Edwardian times (to which most "timeless" images of childhood in the English-speaking world belong)? Are these images originally from America/Canada/Germany? After all, Christmas as we know it is a largely German idea, brought over with Queen Victoria, so why not "winter" (in all its snowiness) itself?

(In Australia, winter is like a British autumn, Christmas is in the midst of a summer heatwave, and snow may only be found on a few high mountains which constitute the country's ski resorts, so the whole idea of snow seems vaguely mythological. Hence Australians in Britain tend to get inordinately excited the first few times they see snow.)


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meadelante
meadelante
RayRay Is Forever
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)

Its been 25C here in Arizona. I wouldn't have it any other way;.


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evil_heat
evil_heat
Marcus
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)

fascinating stuff. i live in kiev but my girlfriend is from siberia; somewhere that seems very cold and also very cool


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 04:18 am (UTC)

Mr. Currie, you put me to shame. I was tramping around Potsdamer Platz today (it's 5AM. By today I mean yesterday) showing American friends-of-friends around Berlin, and I dared to do a little dance to warm myself up, all the whilst singing "it's cooooold, it's cooooold" in an off-tune key somewhat resembling E major. For this I duly apologise.

Me dad was in Siberia once. He tells me his breath was blown by the wind into his beard, formed beads of water, and froze. I can't even friggin muster enough hairs for beard. Haven't even flown to Japan. I want to be you two...

Yours admiringly,
David Leon


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 05:11 am (UTC)
Greetings from 55416

A whopping high of -5C here today: as I said to Nellie last night, BREAK OUT THE BEACHWEAR.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 05:48 am (UTC)
speak your brains

As i trugded up to the glorious Shakespeare's Head in Brighton earlier this eve some vox pop idiot said " and they think its global warming,!" I just said its a very mild winter.

maf


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)

how curious that diesel freezes at -50 but two degrees less than that and te authorities are concerned and close the schools!
DC


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)



This reminds me of a trip I once made on the Trans-Siberian railway in the winter many years ago. At each stop, where we would replenish our food and drink stocks, we would be met by locals wearing valenkis or felt boots. They were massive, but then again so were the locals. I have often wondered about these boots and whether they would be practical for our Canadian winters.


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)

I experienced temperatures of around minus 25 in Toronto, with the wind-chill making it seem about ten degrees colder
Wind-chill is an enormous factor in terms of the tolerability of cold, making a bearable ambient temperature lethal.


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)

I walk about 40 minutes to work everyday, and find temperatures in the minus 20 range aren't bad if you are dressed properly (perhaps with some fancy Russian felt boots). But it does depend on which way the wind is blowing. Getting those temperatures in the face makes things pretty uncomfortable.

Now as a point of comparison, school children in Toronto are kept indoors for recess only if it is below minus 28. I think they have only closed the schools once in my lifetime, and that was when they called in the army to deal with a blizzard.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 4th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)

Your article coincides nicely with the documentaries that German tv channel Phoenix aired today. They focused on Sibiria and Jakutsk, citing some of the facts that you also mentioned.

I loved the images of the frozen over lakes, and the surreal atmosphere of them. I don't think I'd like to visit, though. The upcoming -15° C the weather report prognosed are enough to keep my hidden under my blankets.


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