Wednesday, 17 December 2008

What does -48c feel like?

This week temperatures in southern Alberta have suddenly and prematurely plunged to winter extremes. On Monday the temperature was -37c, and a startling -48c with the wind chill. A lot of people ask, what does -48c feel like? And the surprising answer is nothing like the less extreme cold in Europe.

Cold dry weather doesn't penetrate the body like damp cold. It's not the kind of cold that gets under your skin to your bones and make you shiver. Primarily it feels sticky and painful.

Sticky because firstly it will make your eyes water and then the moisture on your eyelashes freezes, so when you blink its as though your lashes are coated in glue, with every brief contact they hesitate and take a second longer to pull apart.

Below -20c, nasal hair freezes too, so every breath you take has to negotiate a tangled maze of follicles. At these temperatures, you can forget breathing through your mouth. The body knows what's good for it and rejects a gulp of frozen air with more ferocity than a mouthful of smoke.

The second thing that marks out extreme cold, is pain. It creeps up on you and then suddenly burrows into your skin.

At -48c unexposed skin can develop frostbite in about a minute. When you go outside in this weather, nothing can be left uncovered and only densely woven fabric provides enough protection against the biting wind.

Any skin that isn't protected well enough screams out pretty quickly. Usually it's the face, where your goggles and face mask don't quite meet. One moment you're fine and the next it's as though someone is drilling into your face!

The most remarkable thing though is that despite all of this, our dog remains happy to run around unprotected. The video below was shot on Tuesday when it was "only" -25c...


  1. Love the last blog post! You make it sound so inviting in Canada. I cannot even begin to imagine how you are living in these temperatures.

  2. As a former Ralstonian I remember a Christmas Eve in the late 60s, where the temp was -50F.

    Paul Leahy
    former resident of 7 Larkhill Lane

  3. Wow Paul, thanks for commenting. Great to have a former Ralstonian reading the blog. Thankfully we are forecast -4c for Christmas Day (a bit colder for Christmas Eve) this year!