Adaptation to the weather – sort of
Ok, I know, living in Alaska sort of adapts the body to deal with low temperatures. There is this running joke among Fairbanksans: “I was fine in Fairbanks at 40 below. In Seattle, I started thawing. In Cancún, I started melting.”
I have to admit, I’m one of them. Whenever, I go to the Southwest in summer, I struggle with the heat. It didn’t use to be like that. In 1995, I had no problem walking thru the Utah desert in 104F (40oC). If it gets above 86F (30oC) in summer in the Interior, and it does do that, I say “I’m melting.”
The adaptation often leads to funny situations. A couple of years ago, I was at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. A colleague of my field from Paris and I went for lunch together. After we got our salads, she looked around for a table. I said “It’s so nice outside and there are free tables.” She gave me a look as if I were crazy and said “It’s only 10oC (50F)!” I really disliked to have to stay inside on such a beautiful sunny dry warm day.
Last week my hubby and I went out for date night at one of our favorite places with a beautiful view on the Chena River. Here the Chena curves in such a way that it looks like a small finger lake carved by the glaciers in the ice-age. But it’s not. Supposedly, the Tanana Valley wasn’t glaciated back then. The Chena flows into the Tanana. That point is my favorite of any Chena River boat tour.
When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw two fires. “What the heck is burning there?” I said and walked towards the fire immediately after my hubby had parked the car. The two fires were on the deck in pans of about 3/4 yard (0.69 m) in diameter. These pans were filled with green material that looked like broken glass of 1.5 inch (3.81 cm) in length and a bit less then an inch (2.54 cm) in the two shorter directions. The fire only burned in the center of the pan.
The fire seemed to burn in a the center of the pan over an area about 1/3 of the cross section of the pan. However, I believe that the fire got its fuel from a source much smaller than that. Fire is a chemical reaction. On average, a solid-flame has the highest temperature in the middle. A candle flame’s highest temperature, for instance, can be about 2500F or so (1400oC). The temperature of an open fire is about 450oC at its visible tips. The range of temperatures can be large and depends on the fuel type, amount of fuel and oxygen availability. The fuel flash points of diesel, i.e. when diesel vaporizes and ignites, vary between 126 and 205F (52 and 96oC). The melting point of soda-lime-silica (SLS) glass (beer bottles, pickle containers, windows) is about 580oC. Consequently, the glass would melt when the fuel source were in the glass. I assume that the glass is just decoration around the actual fire point source.
The glass pan is in a square box with about a foot wide seating area. I saw that the seating area had been cleaned by a hand brush. Around the two squares, the snow was shoveled away. It was snowing. Pike’s Landing’s Chef, manager, and a waiter were shoveling snow from a path to the restaurant’s deck door.
“What are these fires all about?” I asked. “Aren’t they cool? We installed them so people can sit outside on the deck having drinks when the weather is better.” the Chef replied.
For most Fairbanksans better weather means calm (no wind), sunshine, temperatures above 5F (-15oC). I bet this winter, people will sit outside watching the aurora, having a hot chocolate, cider, mulled wine, rum toddy, or even a crab soup, whenever there is no wind, the stars are bright, and temperatures are above 14F (-10oC). I will be one of them when I can get a spot on the bench around the fire at all.
What do you do outside in winter? Let me know, I am curious.
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Photos of me: G. Kramm
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