It’s been below -30 since right after Anna left at Christmas. Our coldest day was -54, but Kobuk got down to -63 a couple times. (A storm just blew through and now it’s 20 ABOVE zero. Feels tropical.) -54 is cold, but not near as cold as when we were in McGrath in 1989 when the real temperature got to -83; no wind chill on that folks, just the temperature. We remember walking over to Jeremy’s 3rd birthday party across the road. Bonnie had six-month-old Anna inside her coat and Hans carried Hans C. who was bundled up with skipants, parka, wolf ruff, scarf, mittens, mukluks, blanket, etc. Hans asked him if he was okay and warm enough. He replied, “Yeah, but my eyeballs are cold.”
When it’s below 40 below, you don’t want to go outside with wet hair. You feel better when you touch the doorknob with gloves or mittens on instead of with your bare hands. Flesh doesn’t freeze instantly at those temperatures, but there are some frost-nipped faces around town. Snowmachines can run at those temperatures, but many snow-go’s wear sleeping bags to keep warm. The kids in Bonnie’s class dress for the weather and it takes quite a while to get everything on before heading out the door for the walk home. Kids here have little rituals about what they put on in what order. They’ve learned from parents, or personal experience, to tuck your jeans into your snow boots and to pull the ski pants over the boots carefully. They also know to put on mittens or gloves before putting on jackets and parkas which is good for keeping wrists protected, but makes it impossible to zip their own jackets. During the daily ritual of dressing up for going home the goal is to get everyone dressed at approximately the same time so nobody gets too hot before we hit the door. Most days it’s a pretty seamless process.
It’s been cold here and there have been some frozen pipes in town, but nothing like in Selawik. Their whole village of 800 is out of water/no sewer. In our teacher housing unit we have an electric stove. Teachers and others in Kobuk have propane stoves and at these low temperatures they don’t work (propane won’t vaporize at -40), so they’ve been cooking on wood stoves (if they have them).
On a final note, January was noteworthy for the cold temperatures, but also for the Northern Lights displays. Here’s a real-time video clip taken in Norway a few days ago. It’s probably the most realistic video we’ve seen that actually shows how they dance and move in the sky on active nights. Enjoy.