Farmer’s Calendar for February 2017

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So Cold You Could Hear Your Breath Freeze

The coldest day in the recorded history of North America (outside of Greenland) was 70 years ago this month, when a Canadian weather station at Snag, Yukon Territory, hit –81.4°F. How cold is that? So cold that your spit freezes before it hits the ground. So cold that your nostrils ice up. So cold that you can hear your breath freeze—“a tinkling sound,” according to witnesses. So cold that the four weather observers present could hear laughter and conversations in an aboriginal village 3 miles away. “A spoken word remained in the air as a tiny, motionless mist for 3 to 4 minutes,” one reported.

The Greek philosopher Antisthenes spoke of a faraway land where words froze as they were spoken and could not be heard until summer, when they thawed.

The deepest cold I’ve ever experienced was on a winter camping trip in the White Mountains. It was 30° below zero. The water in our canteens froze solid, as did a jar of chunky peanut butter.

Hiking out, we began showing symptoms of hypothermia—slurred speech, difficulty walking, an almost drunken hilarity. We laughed all the way back to our cars, trailing little clouds behind us. If Antisthenes was right, some June hikers must have been startled when they passed by.

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