Ever since the University of Alaska Fairbanks students made national news with their photo in bathing suits and snow boots, taking a bikini photo at 40 below freezing has been on my to-do list. Thus, when ever a cold snap hit I eagerly studied the weather forecasts of the National Weather Service and other agencies to see whether, and if so, when temperatures would plum below -40F (-40oC). Finally, last Wednesday it happened!
Don’t get excited yet (or disgusted by the idea of a 54 old woman posing in a bikini). We could not take the photo and this post tells you why. The post will give you a glimpse on the very unique mentality of the people in Fairbanks. No matter whether they are there due to an assignment (e.g. military), for an adventure (e.g. students), on vacation, to escape (e.g. after a nasty divorce or breakup of an abusive relationship), since birth or because they like the community, it is finally cold enough for them.
When it gets below -40F, the short-term and long-term residents as well as visitors have document it. They all want to have their photo taken at the temperature display at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, i.e. the place that made national news years ago. The documentation however differs among short-term residents (including visitors) and long-term residents.
The former group bundles up like it were -60F (-51.1oC). They literally look like dumplings. Due to the multiple layers and the high insulation they provide, they take a lot of time for their photos. They do single photos as well as group photos until the battery of their camera gets too cold too permit taking another photo.
In the case of long-term residents, there are three groups. The one that doesn’t care and just says
I hope it is cold enough for you today.
The other two groups have in common that they only go to take their photo when the temperatures hit a new negative record for them. Let’s when they moved to Fairbanks they had the picture taken for the first time at -41F (-40.6oC). Then when they experience -44F (-42.2oC) for their first time since arrival, they have a new photo taken with their new personal minimum temperature. However, these two groups differ by their gear – weather appropriate outerwear vs. bikini. Both groups also have in common that they take the photo fast even though for different reasons.
Posing in a bathing suit at 40 below requires some logistics. You need to be bundled up in clothes or blankets that you can quickly get out off and back in. At the same time, these items must have a high heat capacity, i.e. they should not loose their heat too fast. You have to watch the cycle of the temperature display to hoop out of the car at the right time, know your pose, take the photo and run back into the car. You need to have the camera ready and how to wrap yourself back in the blanket/clothes fast. The car’s heating namely is insufficient at those frigid temperature. In plain English, even in your car you face below freezing temperatures. Then you have to head home or to where ever you can get a hot shower fast. You have to ensure that hypothermia and/or a cold are no options.
Now back to Wednesday. At the temperature display is a bus stop. In the early morning, the area was covered by ice fog with locally less than 20 yards (~18 m) sight. The valley was so foggy that one could not possibly drive out there.
An hour or so after sunrise the fog lifted and/or decayed. Once there was enough visibility and light, people drove to the sign to have their picture taken. Drivers pulled into the bus stop to wait until they were the first car at the end of the bus stop. Then they left the idling car to go about 25 yards (~23 m) back to the sign and take their photos. Then they headed back to the car, left, and the queue pulled forward. People left the car …. and so on. State Troopers were present to keep things safe with respect to the traffic rules. There was one car after the other parking in line on the side of the display waiting for their turn.
We past by the display several times on Wednesday afternoon and evening. There was still a traffic jam at 10:30 pm with more than 5 cars in line and others making U-turns in the area! Meanwhile it was -45F (-42.8o). State Troopers had put up a sign so that there was at least some place for the bus to stop when it needed too. Obviously, in response, people had started parking in the traffic light area around the corner. At least this is my explanation, why at that late time, a state trooper was placed with warning lights at the entrance of the bus stop area and a police car had stopped a car on the other side of the intersection.
Since the temperature was still higher than the personal minimum temperature I ever had felt so far, we changed our mind. We decided to try to take an OOTD photo at the display early in the morning on Thursday. Guess what? We still had to wait. And yes, there was still police!
What is the lowest temperature you ever were exposed too? How did you dress for it? What did you find the worst when being exposed to that temperature? Let me know, I am curious.
The weather situation that Fairbanksans and people in the Interior fear more than 40 below is wind. You can find more on Fairbanks’ winter temperature extremes, and how to dress for Fairbanks’ harsh conditions when aurora watching at the links.
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Photos of me: G. Kramm
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