Okay, yes, another weather post because I’m obsessed. Have you read my author bio lately (which I specially adapted for 2016’s release of Beyond the Precipice)? “EB does not like cold weather but has a fascination with it… E likes to test herself with physical feats during weather extremes… To this day, she reads books about adventures in Canada’s North…” Blah, blah. Yeah, all that.
“Most Canadian children are warned not to touch metal playground structures in the winter with their tongues, but in Alberta, one cannot touch metal with bare hands at extremely low temperatures” (re: gas station scene in chapter 23).
By the way, in spite of the warnings about metal and tongues, you always hear about the kid who had to try it. Either the kid panicked and ripped his or her tongue off the post, leaving a layer of taste-bud studded skin behind (ouch), or a teacher had to come running out with a cup of warm water to detach the kid. This happens in Ontario as well as here in Alberta. (Note: When wind chills fall below -23°C/-9.4°F in Edmonton, children have indoor recess.)
Given that I’d possibly experienced a temperature of -43°C one morning (I wish I’d known it then; I would have spat in the air to see if it does indeed crackle and freeze before it hits the ground), with highs that week of -38°C as a thermometer temperature, not wind chill — meaning bare hands have about 10 seconds before they get numb and woody — I still can’t fathom this: wind chill -61°C!
-41°C = -41.8°F
-61°C = -77.8°F
For perspective, Resolute in Nunavut sits at latitude 74.7°N, situated among the islands of Canada’s High Arctic between the Arctic Ocean and Baffin Bay.
By comparison, Edmonton is only at 53.5°N. The Nunavut to Edmonton latitude difference is about the same as from Edmonton (Alberta) to Charleston, N. Carolina, or Dallas, Texas, or San Diego, California.
So you would expect it to be cold in Resolute (aptly named).
But -61°C/-77.8°F wind chill? (-30 to -40°C wind chill is pretty common in Edmonton.)
“The lowest overall temperature ever recorded in Edmonton was −49.4 °C (−56.9 °F), on January 19 and 21, 1886. On January 26, 1972, the temperature was recorded at −48.3 °C (−54.9 °F) and at -61 with the wind chill, making it the lowest temperature including the wind chill ever recorded in Edmonton.”
~Wikipedia, Edmonton, Climate
For the first date, 1886, I wasn’t in existence yet (truly, though my students might not be so certain), and in 1972 I was in Ontario.
But, apparently, we have experienced weather that rivals Resolute this far south. The difference is we don’t have permafrost, we have trees and agriculture, and we boast a growing season length of 132 days compared to Calgary’s 107, due to its elevation in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains (Farmer’s Almanac). However, you’re wise not to plant anything that has leaves above ground, such as tomatoes and annual flowers, until the “May Long,” the Victoria Day long weekend, (in Ontario better known as the two-four weekend in honour of the 24-can flats of beer), or you risk losing it. Victoria Day weekend snowstorms are known to occur, and their possibility occupies the minds of gardeners as surely as the possibility of a cold, snowy Halloween occupies the minds of parents.
The coldest and longest winter I remember in Edmonton is 1995-96, where 1995 was the year without a summer, September was beautiful and above normal, and snow lasted for seven months, reminiscent of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The similarities were staggering. Like in the book, when the Ingalls family could finally access their Christmas turkey in May when the snow melted back from the delivery train, we too finally woke up on Mother’s Day.
The other brutal winter was 2010-2011, a long winter with record snowfall. Since snow typically doesn’t melt off through the winter like it would in the East, it collects for five or six months. That year, there was no space left to put it, and residential roads narrowed precariously. People in their seventies who had lived here their whole lives said it was the worst winter they’d seen in terms of the snowfall and temperature effects combined. We had three feet of undrifted snow sitting on front lawns, especially the shaded ones, into April.
And my car had been a small, rickety tin can travelling amongst aggressive oil field 4X4 pickup trucks on the highway. There are reasons why people own SUVs and trucks out here. It’s survival.
Don’t you find all this exotic? Edmonton is no small town, either:
“in 2016, Edmonton had a metropolitan population of 1,321,426, making it the sixth-largest census metropolitan area (CMA) in Canada. Edmonton is North America’s northernmost city with a metropolitan population over one million.”
So, what are real Edmontonians like? They’re friendly, united by a force of nature that has given them a hardiness they all share.
They don’t flinch at going barefoot around the yard when the temperature is around freezing (my daughter). Longing for spring, they wade ankle- to knee-deep in water-ice puddles formed by melting snow under swing sets (elementary school children). They forget jackets outside in the school yard when it’s 10°C/50°F. Working folk regularly walk outdoors for up to several city blocks in short sleeves to get coffee for the team when it’s well below freezing.
And then there’s this kind of thing. My son driving to the gym in his shorts and parka at -12°C/+10.4°F (wind chill -19°C/-2.2°F), which is actually not that cold if you ignore the fact that it’s the first week of March.
He has two things going for him:
-He was born here; I wasn’t.
-He has male metabolism and generates heat more easily.
My reference to Antarctica in Beyond the Precipice is not made lightly. In Chapter 23: Encroaching Shadows, Bret tries to pay at the pump at a gas station that still has a liquid crystal display. It’s a dark December, with a thermometer temperature in the high -20s and a wind chill of more than -40°C. His annoyance with the cold comes largely from the fact that he spends this winter in a semi-starved state.
“Fricking display is frozen. This isn’t even Siberia. This is Antarctica!” He unlatched the car door.
“At least do up your jacket.”
Bret got out, overlapped the jacket across his front, and held it in place. “I’m too cold to do it up!” He slammed the door.
As far as good books about winter survival in places with extreme temperatures, I’d already mentioned THE LONG WINTER by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
One of the greatest books I read, purchased second hand in the 1990s at a quaint bookshop off Whyte Avenue, was WITH SCOTT TO THE POLE (retold by Howard Marshall), British explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s historical race to the South Pole against Roald Amundsen in 1911. The descriptions come from Captain Scott’s own journal, which give this book tremendous value.
I would also recommend THE ARCTIC GRAIL: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 by Pierre Berton, which plunges the reader into the conditions endured by Arctic explorers.
More recently, in my quest for realistic fiction for kids who are tired of the eternal onslaught and overabundance of fantasy in their age group, I came across FAR NORTH by Will Hobbs, published in 1996 (not surprisingly). I have used this book as a novel study several times, in part because the conditions of the Northwest Territories are relatable to youth in Alberta and because Edmonton is mentioned. Edmonton is known for its exceptional, world-class medical facilities, and being closest to areas in the North, patients are often flown here for treatment.
Another YA book is BRIAN’S WINTER by Gary Paulsen, also published in 1996, which takes place in the wilderness of northern Ontario, Canada. (Having canoed in the interior of Algonquin Park myself, albeit in July, this book holds some sentimental value.) The book is noteworthy for the thinking processes Brian must go through in order to survive in the wild and in a land that sees winter conditions far more extreme than those he ever experienced in the United States.
Until the next time a crazy, weather-based article strikes me, stay warm!
References and articles
Edmonton Shatters Cold Record (Edmonton Journal, Dec. 13, 2009)
Edmonton Alberta coldest place on Earth (Aftermath News on WordPress; Edmonton Sun, Dec. 14, 2009)
List of Extreme Temperatures in Canada Hot and cold (Wikipedia)
Edmonton Canada’s Festival City (Wikipedia)
Chill’n in Resolute A blog post (Sarah on the Road)