Weird Weather: When It’s Really Cold Outside

When it’s really cold outside, strange things start to happen. There aren’t too many eye-whiteness accounts of such conditions because it’s so cold it’s dangerous, and any exposed skin can instantly freeze resulting in frostbite. However, on one occasion at Snag airport in the Yukon of Canada, the temperature dropped to an official -81.4°F on February 3rd, 1947. There were 16 employees on duty at the time and two weather observers, Wilf Blezard and Gordon Toole, recorded the following observations:

We threw a dish of water high into the air, just to see what would happen. Before it hit the ground, it made a hissing noise, froze, and fell as tiny round pellets of ice the size of wheat kernels. Spit also froze before hitting the ground. Ice became so hard an ax rebounded from it. At such temperatures, metal snapped like ice; wood became petrified; and rubber was like cement. The dogs’ leather harness couldn’t bend or it would break … it was unique to see a vapor trail several yards long pursuing one as he moved about outside. Becoming lost was of no concern. As an observer walked along the runway, each breath remained as a tiny motionless mist behind him at head level. These patches of human breath fog remained in the still air for three or four minutes before fading away. One observer even found such a trail still marking his path when he returned along the same path 15 minutes later.

Some of the other strange things noted on that day were ice breaking sounds like shattering glass, the extremely cold air makes radio static the same way lightning does, and freezing breath makes a hissing and swishing sound as one exhales.

On a similar day in the 1970’s when the temperature plunged to -70°F at a different location, an eyewitness described how a jetliner at 30,000 feet sounded like it was roaring right overhead. Due to the increased density of cold air, sound travels much more efficiently and doesn’t fade away as quickly.

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