If you're anywhere in the northeastern United States right now, you may have noticed that we're currently in the midst of a little winter cold snap. A mood-ruining, commute-wrecking, soul-shredding, wondering why-a-just-universe-would-do-this-to-me-when-I-try-so-hard-to-be-a-good-person winter cold snap. Throughout New England, Canada, and parts of the Midwest, temperatures are a good 25 degrees below seasonal averages. Snow and its jerk friend, Wind Gusts, have kept planes grounded in New York and Boston, and we're all just slightly convinced that we're going to get frostbite while walking to work in the morning.
But can you really get frostbite while just walking to your car, or waiting for a bus? And more importantly, could this give you a decent excuse to bail on your morning commute? Can your phone break if you take it out to check just exactly how mind-bendingly cold it is out? Will your hair fall out of your head if you go out into the world with some strands still damp from your morning shower? Are we living in a permanent snowpacolypse snowmageddon situation now, where we will trade those little hand warmer packet things for food, and we all get to dress in giant cloaks, like Game of Thrones characters, and survey the barren frozen wastelands that are all that remain of our world?
Well, I can't answer the last question (yet), but I can answer all of the others. And in the extremely rare event that spring never arrives, and we do have to spend the rest of our lives trapped in a snowy wasteland where all the power belongs to the people who remembered to stock up on space heaters in October, well, knowing the science behind these seven annoyances that mess with our bodies and our lives in the winter certainly won't hurt.
But, I mean, spring will probably come.
How Long Can You Stand Outside Without Getting Frostbite?
The perennial bleak winter party question, "how long do you think it takes to get frostbite in this weather?" actually has an even crazier answer: you should know, because you've probably already experienced it.
Yup! You, dear northern reader, have most likely already experienced a touch of frostbite in your day. You know that feeling you get when you've been outside for too long in the winter, and your fingers or toes get a little numb? And then, when you get inside and warm them up a little, they actually hurt for a minute? That's called "frost nip" — a first degree form of frostbite, the wintertime affliction where cold temperatures actually freeze your skin and tissues.
Frost nip doesn't carry the possibility of any permanent damage, but second degree frostbite (where ice crystals can actually form on your frickin' skin) and third degree frostbite (the kind that leaves chunks of dead, blackened skin in its wake) certainly can.
How to prevent it: Figuring out the exact temperature at which frostbite becomes a threat is tricky, because calculating how fast frostbite sets in involves taking the wind chill into account, as well. Factors like degrees of layering also play a role — in extreme cold, our blood vessels constrict, sending the majority of our blood to our vital organs and diverting them away from our extremities, which is why our noses, toes, etc, are the parts of our bodies most likely to become frostbitten. Layers of mittens or socks can provide extra protection, but don't be a hero — stay indoors as much as you can, and layer clothes on all your extremities, just to be safe.
How Long Can Your Dog Stay Outside Without Getting Frostbite?
Even if you get your furry friend a fashionable dog parka and those cute winter booties, dogs can get frostbite, too. But your dog won't get frostbite just from doing their business — experts recommend that in extreme low temperatures, only let your dog spend 15 minutes or less outside, so a quick pee/poop walk shouldn't be a problem (I mean, it won't be fun, but it shouldn't be a problem).
How to prevent it: Pay attention to your pup's behavior if they go outside for any longer than that — short-hair breeds, as well as very young or very old dogs, are prone to hypothermia in the cold weather, which can eventually kill them. And check if to see any parts of your dog's skin are pale or hard after they come in — this is a sign of frostbite in pets. It should also go without saying, but I'll say it anyway— all dogs, cats, rabbits, and other fuzzy wuzzies need to live indoors during these freezing winter months. The cold weather is too much for them to healthily handle all day and night, even if they are a breed of dog native to a cold environment.
And if it's below zero out, experts recommend keeping your pet indoors entirely (growing up in New England, we used to let my family dog poop on newspaper in the garage when it got too cold to go outside, a #protip that you are free to take or leave).
How Long Can Your Phone Stay Outside Without Getting Frostbite?
Okay, fine; even though your phone is your best friend and also possible secret lover, it cannot get frostbite. But it can still get damaged by the cold. Apple recommends only operating iPods and iPhones above 32 degree temperatures — trying to run them in colder weather can drain the battery, shutting the phone off. Sub-zero temperatures can also make the glass screens more fragile and prone to breaking.
How to prevent it: The good news is, even if they turn off because of the cold, almost all smartphones seem to go back to normal once they're warmed up indoors. If you desperately need your iPod for your ten minute walk home from the train stop (and, I mean, you do), try to keep it in your jacket's inside pocket rather than exposing it to the air — this might keep its battery life from being drained by the dread winter winds. And if you actually depend on your phone for serious stuff —like making emergency calls or finding directions — bring along a back-up power source when you're going to trudge through sub-freezing temperatures.
Will Your Hair Break Off If It Freezes?
When your hair is wet, the strands are soaked full of water, which is why damp hair can freeze any time when the temperature falls below freezing. Sure, it makes for a mildly entertaining YouTube video, but this is yet another case where what makes for a mildly entertaining YouTube video and what makes for a pleasant life are at cross-purposes — freezing your hair can give you split ends, or, in a worst case scenario, can even make your hair break. So, if you need attention from strangers on the Internet, please, make a video of yourself playing "Enter Sandman" on the kazoo instead of freezing your hair.
How to prevent it: Don't go outside in freezing temperatures with wet hair.
Can "Ice Beards" Hurt Your Skin?
Somewhat improbably, "ice beards" have become a new selfie trend, as men who return home from a winter jog or shoveling the driveway find that the moisture from their breath has transformed their beards into a tiny winter wonderland, and they must share the joy. However, while ice beards don't hurt your skin (and are also super cool, and may make you feel like the Ice King from Adventure Time), the temperature has to be low to get an ice beard, so they are also a sign that you should head indoors ASAP.
How to prevent it: No matter how tough your ice beard makes you or a man in your life feel, experts recommend that joggers stick to runs runs of a half hour or less in below zero temperatures.
Why Do My Glasses Fog Up When I Come Indoors?
If you're a four-eyes like me, you are more than familiar with the wintertime vexation where coming in from the cold leads to a few seconds of being completely blinded by your fogged-up glasses. What causes this? Well, I failed fourth grade science class, but let me try to explain anyway: the dew point is the temperature at which water condenses. Glasses exposed to the cold air have been chilled past the dew point while you're outdoors, where the dew point is very low. Once you come inside, where the temperature, and thus dew point, is higher, your glasses warm up, and while they are warming, the humidity in the room condenses on them, fogging your glasses up. Did I explain that correctly? (Any readers who are actual scientists: I am sorry.)
How to prevent it: Apparently, you can prevent the whole danged thing by cleaning your glasses with shaving cream.
Why Does My Skin Get So Dry In The Cold?
The top-most layer of our skin tends to reflect the humidity level of the environment around it — so the low humidity both indoors and outdoors during the winter can lead us into the exciting universe of chapped and dry skin.
How to prevent it: Though the obvious solution to dry skin in the winter is to add moisture to your skin via liberal application of moisturizer, you can also keep your skin's natural moisture in a bit better by showering in warm, rather than hot, water.
Though is the tender caress of a hot shower in this winter worth maybe some dry skin later? Only you can answer that question for yourself (but also yes, oh god, YES).
Images: Giphy (8)