A look at our 10 days of deep cold (-40s)

After 10 days of deep cold, warm(er) air has returned. As I start writing this at 02:30 on January 19th, the temperature has risen 11 degrees in the past 6 hours. Although life has some extra challenges when the thermometer starts reading temperatures in the minus-40s (where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet), many Yukoners find it exhilarating, and surely everyone agrees that it produces some spectacular scenes. The photos that follow journal that cold snap.

I began my series of cold-weather photo outings on Thursday, January 9th. I posted on Facebook at 10:30 that it was now -34°C, “too chilly to even go to the hot tub”, but the view out my window was spectacular so I needed to get out. The first photo shows the spectacular beauty of the Alaska Highway just east of Whitehorse, at -29°C that afternoon (that’s -20°F). That’s the Yukon River bridge ahead. What a place.

Yukon River bridge on the Alaska Highway just east of Whitehorse
I do quite a bit of shooting at the Lewes River Dam (a.k.a. the Marsh Lake control structure) just downriver from the Yukon River bridge, in all seasons. The open water at -29 creates some great fog.

Lewes River Dam, Yukon River, at -29C
The Yukon River just downstream from the dam.

The Yukon River just downstream from the Lewes River Dam, at -29C.

The Yukon River just downstream from the Lewes River Dam, at -29C.

I really like this angle on the dam from the slope high above.

Lewes River Dam, Yukon River, at -29C
That little outing wore me out and I had to go home for a nap, but that afternoon I went into town to do some more shooting. The temperature had only warmed up one degree by the time I shot the next photo a couple of minutes before 3:00 pm.

Downtown Whitehorse and the Yukon River at -28C
APTN was shooting a segment at my favourite location on Long Lake Road. They offered to move to let me shoot down the river from that exact location, but I was okay with what I had.

APTN shooting a segment at my favourite location on Long Lake Road in Whitehorse, at -28C
For me, the deep cold adds a new dimension to photographing a town I can’t imagine ever leaving. It was -36° when I shot the next photo a few minutes before sunrise on Saturday the 11th.

Downtown Whitehorse and the Yukon River at -36C
Back up to my Long Lake Road spot for the broader views. The next photo was shot at 10:02.

Downtown Whitehorse and the Yukon River at -36C
Looking downriver from the same location a minute later. That’s Shipyards Park in the foreground – once the home of our large fleet of steamboats.

Shipyards Park and the Yukon River at Whitehorse, at -36C
At 10:16 the sun was lighting up the world in a wonderful way, though adding no warmth to it. This was shot from the same spot as above, but at 235mm. It shows the Marwell industrial area (home to an oil refinery during WWII), Mountainview Drive, and on top of the hill, Yukon College and the Yukon Arts Centre.

Whitehorse, Yukon, at sunrise, at -36C
Turning the other way again at 10:17, the downtown area was still in shadow.

Whitehorse, Yukon, at -36C
I stayed there for a while longer to watch the sun light up more of my world – this was 10:28.

Whitehorse, Yukon, at -36C
And at 10:32 the moon was in a good position for a few shots.

The full moon at Whitehorse, Yukon, at -36C
The next photo was my final one from the spot on Long Lake Road, at 10:36.

Whitehorse, Yukon, at -36C
Driving along the Yukon River – Rotary Park is on the opposite side here.

The Yukon River at Whitehorse, at -36C
On my way home, I got distracted by the fog along the Yukon River by the restored sternwheeler SS Klondike.

Fog along the Yukon River at Whitehorse, at -36C

Fog along the Yukon River at Whitehorse, at -36C

While I was shooting there, a friend came along and got a photo of me.

Murray photographing along the Yukon River at -35C
It was the SS Klondike I was getting some photos of when the photo above was shot.

It seems that most new homes in Whitehorse in recent years have electric heat (because it’s cheap to install), but Yukon Energy had every piece of generating equipment they own or have leased going full-tilt when I shot the next photo on January 11th. That afternoon there was an LNG tanker and a diesel tanker loading up the respective tanks. The forecast for that night was for -44°C with a -56° wind chill (that’s -47 and -69F), and it was forecast to remain similar all week. I’d have no problem staying warm if the electrical system crashes – most people in Whitehorse would be in serious trouble. The next photo shows the leased Cat diesel generators.

Yukon Energy's leased Cat diesel generators running at -35C
It was the LNG generators pumping out this impressive vapour. The mountain is Golden Horn – I live at the foot of it, 3 blocks off the Alaska Highway. It looks like a volcano, but isn’t/wasn’t.

LNG generators pumping out an impressive amount of vapour at -35C
This was the Yukon River right below the power dam. Pretty quiet…

The Yukon River right below the power dam, at -35C
The first -40°C of the season, at 05:15 on January 12th. It was -37 in town, and the forecast was for 6 degrees colder that night. The all-time record for this day is -44.5, set in 2005, when the record was set for the 12th, 13th, and 14th. Tucker tried really hard this morning to convince me that going outside to poop is just stupid ๐Ÿ™‚

Minus 40C on my home weather station in Whitehorse, Yukon
I spent a few minutes on the wood pile when it warmed up to -36°C ๐Ÿ™‚

Murray working on the wood pile at -36C
The weather forecast as it was at 4:00 pm on Sunday, January 12th.

Whitehorse weather forecast for January 12th, 2020
If not for this, I may not have even bothered to go out at these temperatures. The garage isn’t heated, but never drops below about -8.

Cozy vehicles in my garage at -40C
I went out to do another few minutes work on the woodpile on the 13th, but my wood splitter said it was too damn cold to work. Sissy. An hour warm-up changed his attitude, though, and we made a good addition to the wood room in the basement.

Frozen wood splitter

On January 14th, the Calgary Zoo tweeted that their Penguin Walk was cancelled “due to extreme cold weather conditions.” Calgary Mayor Nenshi retweeted that with the comment “Nothing to see here, folks. Just a city where it’s too cold to let the penguins outside.” It was 6 degrees colder in Whitehorse ๐Ÿ™‚

Just before noon on the 14th, I headed into town to take a friend out for lunch. I thought that with the temperature still at -40°C it would be a safe bet that reservations wouldn’t be needed – I was right ๐Ÿ™‚

Welcome to Whitehorse at -40C
The sign on the Millennium Trail in Whitehorse amused me. It was -41C and there could be “Icy Patches”, the sign says. I’ll try to avoid them ๐Ÿ™‚

Sign warning of icy patches on a walking trail in Whitehorse - at -41C
The ice fog was so thick on the 14th there wasn’t much to see – the next 2 photos were shot at 11:37.

Whitehorse in thick ice fog at -41C

The Yukon River in Whitehorse in thick ice fog at -41C

It’s now 09:20 on January 20th. Cathy arrived home last night from 10 days with her family in Ontario, and it’s warmed up to -22°C so the excitement of the deep cold is over. I’ll be back at the Yukon Transportation Museum to work on my boat for a bit this afternoon.

On the health front, I’m getting worse by the week. These photo and other outings, however, are required for my mental health regardless of how tough they are. Ten days ago, I went to see my doctor (my GP), and she now has a referral to the GF Strong spinal injury rehab centre in Vancouver in process. Fingers crossed, though it could take many weeks to get into one of their programs…


A look at our 10 days of deep cold (-40s) — 34 Comments

  1. Beautiful images Murray, thank you and hope you get your call sooner than later โค๏ธ

  2. While I truly enjoyed all the pictures and all your comments your comment about can’t imagine leaving intrigued me. I’m sure that I would enjoy getting out and shooting some pictures in the cold but it would get to me after a while. I guess it’s according to what you’re used to. You’re correct in saying that the cold gives an extra dimension to the pictures but I’m satisfied to let YOU take the pictures while I sit in our warm house and enjoy them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Wow great photos Do you shoot from your car ? Does you camera work ok at -40 ? wishing you all the best

    • Thanks, Bruce. I shoot while out walking, though sometimes the walks are quite short. The camera needs some care but it’s good for an hour so or so at -40 then getting tucked inside my jacket for a while revives it. Sometimes I just put the battery in an inside pocket.

  4. Good article on -40 reality. Love the photos Murray. Fingers crossed for short appointment wait.

  5. Beautiful photos and I enjoyed all of the info you provided on each one. Praying your health takes a turn for the better. Canโ€™t wait to be back in Alaska this summer.

  6. I enjoy all your photos that you post; Are there homeless people in Whitehorse?
    If so, I wonder how they survived the cold -40 weather?

  7. Beautiful pictures!
    I’m looking forward to see the Yukon-Winter in 2021!
    All the best for you and THANK YOU!

  8. Whitehorse is our favorite city in Yukon and Alaska. Stayed there 2 weeks in the rv 2016. Great to see the beautiful winter scenes around a city we like so much. Thanks for sharing! Hope all goes well with the back problems.

  9. Your photos are a real treat for me as I live in North Florida. To experience such low temps and snow are a mystery to me. It is truly beautiful though. I visited Whitehorse a few summers ago so I have a reference point. I hope you can find some answers to your medical problem but you are certainly coping well. Thanks for the update

    • Thank you, Linda. It’s a different world than yours, for sure! I wouldn’t mind feeling some warm white sand under my feet about now ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Thanks so much for documenting the beauty of the Yukon. When I grew up there we certainly had stretches of -40 and colder. But not many people were photographing the amazing scenery!

  11. Great pictures Murray, as always. Sorry to see you are not feeling any better. Have you made a connection of all this cold weather and your health. Could this very cold weather affect your physical health ?
    take care.

    • Thanks, Maureen. I don’t think the cold is affecting my problems, but am considering a short trip to Arizona to test that idea, just in case.

  12. Thank you again for the wonderful pictures! My two faves are the one of the downtown area taken at 10:17 and then the one taken at 10:36 (“from the spot on Long Lake Road.” Looking closely it appears that they were taken from the same vantage point, but with different length lenses. And, of course, the lighting has changed dramatically in the 20 minutes between shots making for two very different pictures. You are truly an artist with your camera.

    I am currently in New Orleans at a conference and the temperature (at night) is getting down into the 40s and I FREEZE just walking out of the motel and over a couple of blocks to a restaurant. I cannot even begin to imagine NEGATIVE 40! How did anyone ever survive there long enough to build shelters? Folks in the Yukon must indeed be tough souls!

    Praying that your inner toughness will see you through your current health crisis. That, and that you won’t have to wait long to see those specialists and that they’ll quickly be able to figure out what is wrong and fix it.

  13. Wow, just some absolute stunner photos here! Thank for posting.
    I have decided to getting more enjoyment out of my favorite photos, and have started getting them printed on canvas, and hanging them around in the house. And in our RV too. Brings me happiness!

  14. Thanks Murray, you get well and I hope to see/meet you and Cathy and the others this summer.
    I love your blogs and they make me so homesick.

  15. Sehr schรถne Fotos. Ich hoffe irgendwann einmal im Winter im Yukon verweilen zu dรผrfen.