Strange things can happen when temperatures near all-time record cold temperatures in the twenties below zero. Today, we're looking at some of the weirder things to be on the lookout for, as well as some things you can do to prevent yourself from being left out in the cold.
1. DIESEL FUEL GELS: When temperatures get into the -20s, the fuel used in buses and trucks can turn to a gel consistency. Since the fuel isn't completely liquid, engines can stop working. Many stations will use additives to increase the effectiveness of diesel fuel to -40°F. If you're wondering, conventional, wintertime unleaded gas works to -70°F.
2. SQUARE TIRES: A quirk of extremely cold weather is "square tires." Cold air decreases the air pressure in your tires. For every drop of ten degrees, tires lose one pound of air pressure. That pressure causes tires to flatten slightly, leaving the side sitting on the asphalt...looking like a pancake.
Typically, the tire heats up when you start moving but when temperatures are around -25 degrees, it doesn't happen quickly. That means you may hear a "thump, thump, thump" as you start out. Mechanics recommend you check your tire pressure to make sure they are inflated properly. You may need to let some air out when we see temperatures above freezing again.
3. FREEZING FROG: No, not "freezing fog." We are actually talking about frogs. Specifically, wood frogs, which are native to North America, freeze almost completely solid during the coldest part of winter.
According to LiveScience.com, their body temperatures can't resist changes in ambient temperature. "The hoppers have evolved a mechanism to survive their frozen stupor, in which their liver breaks down a compound called glycogen into glucose, and releases that glucose into their bloodstream. The sugar behaves as a sort of antifreeze in the animal's blood, keeping it alive as it hibernates through the coldest months of the year.
The frogs can live this way for weeks at a time until temperatures rise above freezing. At this point, their hearts start to beat; they gulp for air, jiggle their legs, and hop away in search of a mate."
4. FROZEN BUBBLES: When soap bubbles freeze on contact with a surface, they usually pop. However, when temperatures are this cold, they will freeze in mid-air and form crystal patterns on the surface. When the bubbles hit a surface, it's possible to have them land and slowly deflate.
5. THE COLD WILL TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY: Our body uses different ways to protect itself from breathing the cold air. The nose, mucus system, and lungs all work in conjunction with one another. The nose and mucus membranes help by adding moisture to the inhaled air. The tissue inside the nose swells, allowing capillaries to open. This brings warm blood into the nose which results in nasal congestion when it's cold.
You'll also wheeze when it gets really cold. That's because the lungs release histamine. Histamine is a natural chemical often released during allergic reactions. Those with sensitive airways or asthma will experience more wheezing. Also, each breath requires humidification to keep the lungs from drying. When air this cold is inhaled, the body works to heat the air to 98 degrees and a humidity of 100%. This puts a lot of stress on the body, in addition to the energy used to shiver, and the heart working overtime to pump blood.
6. BATTERIES GO DEAD: Surprisingly, your car battery may go dead in the winter because of what happened this past summer! According to Consumer Reports, warm temperatures do the most damage to batteries. When it's hot, corrosion of internal plates occurs, vaporizing the electrolyte faster. But car batteries usually go dead in cold weather mostly because the damage done during the summer doesn’t show up until the battery is more taxed.
7. DON'T COUNT ON THE WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID: Drivers count on the windshield washer fluid during the winter when grime is sprayed up. When temperatures are this low, the fluid freezes in the lines which will prevent drivers from being able to see clearly. Popular Mechanics suggests pouring some methyl alcohol (found at most hardware stores) in the reservoir before the extreme cold weather hits. This will lower the freeze-point of the solution.
8. WATER MAINS BURST: The water mains fracture when groundwater freezes and expands, doubling the force on underground pipes from 400 to 800 pounds, exacerbating cracks and grinding at weak spots. a main can explode and gush thousands of gallons of water onto nearby streets. More often though, the pipes sustain holes 1 to 2 inches wide and slowly leak water through the pavement.
The more dramatic type happens when an existing crack bursts from the pressure, while the more common break is usually caused when the ground weighs too heavy on a corroded spot in the iron. The concept is known as "frost loading." At home, plumbers recommend letting faucets drip, especially if the pipes are on an outside wall.
9. NO WATER TO PUT OUT FIRES: Unless we need them, we can take our firefighters for granted. In times like these, not only is it more dangerous for firefighters because of dangerous cold and icy ground, they may not have the water needed to fight the fire. If there are too many water main breaks, the water in fire hydrants will have much less pressure. When it's -25, fire hoses can also ice up which makes fire-fighting a very tough task. Residents are encouraged to monitor space heaters and reduce the load of electricity in older homes.
Finally, it's essential you take care of yourself, neighbors, and any animals outside. With projected wind chills of -55° Wednesday morning, frostbite will occur in less than 5 minutes.
-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen