Things that happen when it’s -37°C outside

Thermometer showing -37°C

Happy New Year! We started the year with an extreme cold front sweeping down from the Arctic. Temperatures were between -30°C and -39°C for the first week of 2024, but then it got warmer. It’s only -12°C now. Practically summer haha!

We’re used to cold weather up here, but when it drops this low, it does affect everyday life. Here are some examples:

Ice starts forming on the inside of the windows

Window with frost and ice on the inside of the glass

I know this happens all the time even at much higher temperatures but we have brand-new, triple-glazed, insulated-to-high-heaven windows made for this climate. That these windows ice up means it’s really cold.

The heating system starts acting up

Our house is heated with ground source heating and we have a big heat pump in the utility room. When I woke up on Tuesday (first day of the cold snap) it was unusually chilly indoors, and then I saw the light on it blinking red.

“Max thermostat”, the display informed me.

“Fuuuu… What does that even mean?!?!” I thought as I frantically dug out the manual and started flipping through it.

Turned out it had been overheated due to the extreme drop in temperature but wasn’t broken in any way. I was able to reset and restart it without a problem. But those long minutes before I found the solution and the pump started humming again were very very stressful. You do NOT want the thing heating your house to give up when it’s this cold!

The ventilation system starts acting up

To save energy and protect against the harsh climate we live in, our house is more or less airtight. There’s no built-in natural ventilation like in older buildings, so we have a mechanical ventilation system pumping air around.
Practically, this means we have a big metal box in the attic with a bunch of fans inside. We also have a remote control in the utility room to change settings etc without having to go up in the attic.

Well, on day 2 of the cold wave, said remote started complaining about high temperatures and “low rotation”.

The manual suggested a few possible problems and their solutions, all of which meant messing with the big metal box. Our attic isn’t insulated or heated at all (it’s a “cold attic” as we call it here) and is only accessible via a ladder from the outside.

I can tell you it’s not very nice trying to do mechanical work in such cold. It’s especially not nice when you have to take your gloves off to reach the parts you need to get to. 🥶

The problem showed itself to be that ice had started forming on one of the turbines which in turn had broken a small plastic panel that then got stuck in the rotor. We called the company who installed it to ask for advice and they were very very clear that the system was NOT to be turned off for any length of time as it was certain to freeze up completely and only make things worse. So we couldn’t just leave it, it had to be fixed asap.

We draped the whole box with a blanket and stuck the cabin heater from the car underneath to melt the ice. When the ice was gone we managed to remove the broken piece of plastic and get the thing going again. Phew.

You need all the clothes

I get to wear my fur-lined hat! And my grandmother’s knitted mittens!

I’m warm-blooded by nature and rarely feel cold, so I don’t need lots of clothes to stay warm. That hat is beautiful imo and I love it, but it is also so ridiculously warm I can only wear it when it’s exceptionally cold.
Same with the mittens. They’re gorgeous but they’re also 100% wool and very very warm.

Getting to wear items like these are actually a fun part of the cold. 😄

One who isn’t as thrilled to wear winter clothes is our labmix Runa. She has short but very dense double-coated fur and can withstand most temperatures, but now I had to dig out her jackets. Couldn’t find the thick winter jacket anywhere so wrapped two thinner fleece-lined jackets on her instead.
It didn’t seem very comfortable, but better than nothing. And she didn’t have to wear it for long. When it’s this cold I don’t go for long walks, I just take her outside to do her business and then we go back indoors.

Skare, our golden retriever, doesn’t seem to need clothes at all. I suspect he’s too dumb to freeze. 😜

The dogs need to be activated indoors

Speaking of the dogs, we need to find things for them to do indoors. Like I said, Skare doesn’t seem to care about cold, but I doubt he knows what’s best for him… And Runa doesn’t want to go out at all.

An easy-to-set-up puzzle game is to strew some treats on a towel and roll it up. It’s a low intensity game that can take surprisingly long for them to complete.
I also hide treats around the house and have them search for them.

Part of a living room. There's a treat on the back of a couch and a black dog is standing on the floor looking at it
Can you spot the treat?

You get to use the fireplace

A fire burning in a soapstone fireplace

We have a soapstone fireplace in our kitchen/living room (open floor plan) so of course we’re putting it to use. The house is usually warm enough – in fact we usually refrain from lighting a fire because it would make the house TOO hot – but now it’s showtime!

In addition to the extra warmth it’s so cosy! I love having a fire burning! ❤️

The windshield washer fluid in the Volvo freezes

Photo of the front of a Volvo. The snow under the car is bright blue in one spot.

… and subsequently breaks something. There’s bright blue in the snow underneath were the washer fluid container is, so something is broken.
Luckily it’s not like washer fluid is necessary for the car to run, so we’ll fix it later.

You put up a cover over the front door to insulate

A hallway with a heavy curtain covering the door

The weakest point of our house is the front door, so we’ve covered it up to prevent cold seeping in. The cover is a thick and heavy blackout curtain and it is doing its job well. 👍

Your phone turns into a zombie

While phones aren’t generally made to operate in sub-zero temperatures they usually work better than expected. The battery might drain faster and the touchscreen might get sluggish but it’s rarely a noticeable problem. Especially if you keep it in an inner pocket of your coat.

When it gets this cold phones don’t want to cooperate at all though. Especially not the camera. I took the below photo a few meters from our house (i.e. after only a minute or two outside) and it barely worked. Took several seconds for it to focus.

Winter landscape with snow-covered trees and fields. The light is low and golden.

You can’t hear it because it’s a photo, but my husband is in the background shouting “What are you doing?! You’re gonna break the camera!” 😅😬

Society start having trouble

Not all of it, but some parts.

Lots of things break in the cold, so I know plumbers, electricians, mechanics etc. have been swamped with work. And the local Facebook groups have had people asking for wood, jumper cables, fuses etc.

Flights, trains, and buses were cancelled all over nothern Sweden for several days. I know nothing about aeroplanes, but trains and buses could technically run even in extreme cold, it’s just not worth it. IF something happens and the train/bus breaks down things will get real dangerous real fast in such cold. Authorities decided it wasn’t worth risking people’s lives.

The coldest I’ve ever experienced in person was back in the late 90s when it dropped to -42°C. 🥶 At the time I was a teenager still living at home. I remember standing in the kitchen window looking up the road for the bus and waiting for someone to call and say the bus and/or school was cancelled. No such luck though, it was business as usual…

The record for coldest temperature ever in Sweden is from 1941 when it was -52.6°C in Vuoggatjålme. I hope I’ll never have to experience that. It would make this cold snap look like nothing.

Comments

  1. 15 January 2024

    Do you know the Kong Wobbler? Our dog absolutely loves it and goes bonkers for her Kong Wobbler. She gets it everyday after the lunch walk and is always busy playing with it for 5-15 minutes. I can highly recommend it :)

    REPLY
    • 28 January 2024

      Ooh, it’s like one of those wobble toys! Sounds like something my dogs would like, and Kongs are about the only toys that Runa can’t demolish (she’s a shredder) 😂 Thanks for the tip!

      REPLY
  2. 15 January 2024

    Thankfully it doesn’t get that cold where I live – it’s currently 9°F outside and we’ve got a dusting of snow. Your hat is adorable, and I love it! As for dogs? Well, my chihuahua Kiki refuses to go out the door unless she knows she gets to see my neighbor whose front door is less than 30 feet from mine. She much prefers staying in her bed, cuddling with her almost 8-week-old puppies. I need to try that towel method to keep her and the puppies occupied.

    REPLY
    • 28 January 2024

      Omg chihuahua puppies must be adorable! And tiny! Best of luck to Kiki and her pups 😍

      REPLY
  3. Bird
    13 February 2024

    Wow, you nordic people are my heros! Considering what you have to go through every winter, I don’t complain anymore about minus 10°C. With some good physical exercise for example cycling in the winter, it’s also possible to endure colder temperatures better. But considering the houses… how did the people live in past times in those climates? When lots of tech wasn’t around, let’s say 70 years ago. Stacking up 10 people in one room with a stove to heat it all up?

    REPLY
  4. 18 February 2024

    Man that’s cold. While it does get cold out here not as bad as that! That towel trick with the dogs is actually really clever! I used to hide them in plastic Easter eggs. My dog was quite skilled at getting em open.

    I feel you with the heat. After we had a load of snow the sewers backed up or whatever and our basement flooded. Killed the water heater and the furnace. Which is no fun. Luckily we could stay at my sister’s till it was fixed. Though my dad stayed. As did the birds, we just covered them with blankets and towels and they were fine.

    Fires in fire places are nice. We have one, but I believe it’s blocked off or whatever. We do have this fake one in there you can turn on and it gives the impression of a real fire. Doesn’t give off heat or anything but its pretty and cozy.

    REPLY

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