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Alaska: life at 40 below

por Eileen Montano

People may have read that Alaska is experiencing an extreme cold spell. Yes, it's true, and at the same time it's not. To those of us who have lived here thirty years or longer, extreme cold means 60 below or colder.

Life is pretty normal at 40 below. Most cars and trucks still run if they are kept in a heated garage, or have a circulating heater and are plugged in. Some people who don't have electricity dig a hole in the snow and start a small fire underneath their car to warm up the engine.

Voilá Refrigerware!   
     At 40 below people go to work, kids get ferried to extra-curricular activities, moms go to book club meetings, and dads shovel snow and go for short snowmobile rides. Of course, more clothes are needed. A popular outfit is called refrigerware. It is a one-piece suit of synthetic materials that keeps one very comfortable. It comes in one color, dark grey-green.

For the feet, if one is going to be outdoors for very long, bunny boots are a must. These were developed by the Army, and come in two attractive colors: black or white. They kind of look like you are wearing a big bubble on each foot. Then there is, for the head, a face mask, a warm hat with ear muffs, and then the hood of the refrigerware over all.

A scarf around the neck, perhaps, as an accent piece.



When my husband and I were here in the mid-70's we lived on the Army base. The temperature dropped to 70 below. Since none of the housing had garages, just about no car would start despite the fact that they were plugged in. Some of the inhabitants were able to borrow (from Uncle Sam, of course ) a large unit heater, called a Herman-Nelson, which was used to warm up helicopters in the cold. Often these were successful in thawing out the car.

If one could get their car to start, there is the problem of the tires. Tires become frozen to the ground, and take on somewhat of a square shape. There is quite a lot of thumping as the car moves along - a sensation one has to experience to appreciate.

Another area of concern is the fan belt. Fan belts often break at very low temperatures. During a very cold spell, the roads become littered with broken fan belts. Mine once broke as I was driving home from a meeting. It was pitch black, noone around, and only 2 miles from home. I decided, The heck with this old car. I kept going, and the car made it home. There was something wrong - the head gasket was warped, whatever that means, but it lasted several more years.

When we lived on the Army base, during this 70 degree weather, only one car on our block worked. Tommy Eisen, the lucky owner, was given the job of taking all of the neighborhood ladies to the commissary (military supermarket) to buy food. Seven or eight of us piled into his station wagon. Unfortunately, when we got there, the commissary was out of many of the things we needed. (Delivery trucks have fan belts, too.) Anyhow we learned to improvise - the kids got to eat Spam for the first time in their lives - and no one went hungry.

Fortunately, about a week later, the extreme cold spell ended, and we could get back to a nice, comfortable 40 below!





Comentarios

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"That's crazy talk :) I like to hear about it, though . . . stuff I'd never know about, like starting a fire under your car. Previously I would have thought that would be a BAD idea."

por Michael Kane 

"thanks for that info...very interesting stuff and it makes all of riding out the winter in the mid-atlantic states fell appreciably warmer"

por Art Kane 

"Wow! I know what to get Dad for Christmas next year. He'll be able to golf all winter in that gear!"

por Elizabeth Kane 

"Well, now it is 50 below. This is bordering on "extreme cold." We own the house next door, and rent it out. Unfortunately, the furnace is out most of the time with these very extreme temeperatures. Our house and my son's house next door will not exceed 67 degrees. Dressing for dog-walking is now a 3 layer undertaking. There is a weather alert for ice fog in the valleys, with visibility close to zero. Ice fog comes when it is very cold, and has a lot to do with car exhaust. It tends to settle in low lying areas. Fortunately, we live in the hills. Cars: my husband has many cars - mostly old and in poor repair. He purchased a brand new double cab Dodge truck this summer. Now he is driving my car. The new truck starts OK, but takes long to heat up inside. In contrast, my Subaru outback has heated seats, and a great heating system for drivers and passangers. Today my grandaugter, Alyssa, took the bus home from school. I went to Dawn and Billy's house when Dawn went to meet Aly at the bus. She did not want to take Mandy with her, as Mandy has the usual toddler's aversion to hats, scarves, mittens, etc. It was my pleasure to mind Mandy. We read two books and relaxed on the couch playing "Patty Cake" until Mommy and Aly returned. It was cold, and Dawn and Billy's windows were covered inside with frost. Their developer told them the frost is due to moisture from their fishtank and ubdoor plants."

por Eileen Montano 

"I used to live on Ft. Richardson in Anchorage and can speak not only to the cold, but also the dark. Summers are unbelievable and you can fish in the daylight for about 20 hours in wonderfully moderate temperatures. Winters, well....the highlight was always making a snow igloo that would last for months, a warm fire and shooting the local moose in the rear with a BB gun just to safely take the dogs for a walk."

por Andrew Basham 

"Hi Eins, Love your story and figured this was a good way to find out if it's still freezing in Fairbanks XO"

por Beth Kane