Life at 36 Degrees Below Zero

I really like it when Mother Nature drops the temperature far below zero, to bitterly-cold levels. It’s exciting. While I may not like every aspect of deep cold, recent posts by Yukoners on various social media sites show that many of us consider the cold to be more exciting or at least invigorating than anything negative. The woman standing beside her frozen car outside the nurses’ residence phoning for help yesterday would no doubt have some negative feelings, and 2 mornings of the last 4, our water has been frozen up and it has taken several hours to get it running again, but overall it’s still fun.

It’s -36.9°C (-34.4°F) at our home in rural Whitehorse as I start writing this – we’re usually a bit colder than the Whitehorse airport when the official measurements are taken. This is forecast to be the last day of a short cold spell (5 days or so), then we’ll be back to slightly above normal temperatures.

A Week of January Weather in Whitehorse, Yukon

Yesterday morning, 20 minutes after the 10:01 sunrise, the temperature had bottomed out at -35.9°C (-32.6°F). I hadn’t been out for any Frigid Foto Fun in a couple of years, so this was a good opportunity to do it. And Monty and Bella spent far too much time in the house over the holidays, so they were raring to go.

-35.9 degrees in Whitehorse, Yukon
My first destination was the Yukon River Bridge (a.k.a. the Lewes River Bridge) on the Alaska Highway 9 miles east. The cold spot for the day was just a couple of miles east on the Alaska Highway, where it hit -38°C (-36.4°F).

-38 degrees on the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse
As expected, there was mist in the air at the Yukon River Bridge, from the open (unfrozen) water. Although most people call this “ice fog”, it’s actually “steam fog”, which forms when cold air moves over warmer water – the more of a temperature difference, the thicker the fog.

The Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
There are very few of the old arched bridges left on the Alaska Highway – most have been replaced by concrete spans, which are really boring, photographically speaking. This is one of the subjects that I wish I had done a much better job of recording over the past 25 years.

The Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
The sign on what many people call the Marsh Lake Dam calls it the “Lewes River Control Structure”, but whatever you call it, I really like taking photos of it. Well, I just like being around it – both the colour and the power of the water are wonderful in any season.

Lewes River Control Structure on the Yukon River
A high view of the control structure, processed as an HDR image to minimize the darkness of the shadows.

Marsh Lake Dam on the Yukon River
It was actually downtown Whitehorse that was intended as the primary photo subject for the day, but on the way there I got side-tracked by the look of the cloud being produced by the snow-making equipment on the Mount Sima ski hill.

Snow-making on the Mount Sima ski hill at Whitehorse, Yukon
Mount Sima is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. It also closes when the temperature at the top is below -25°C (-13°F), but some pretty interesting temperatures inversions happen there – right now it’s -36.9 at my house, -18 at the top of Mount Sima.

Mount Sima ski hill, Whitehorse
I finally reached downtown Whitehorse at 12:25, and with the temperature still at -34°C (-29.2°F) the Yukon River was steaming beautifully.

Winter steam fog on the Yukon River at Whitehorse

Winter steam fog on the Yukon River at Whitehorse
The trees around the sternwheel steamer SS Klondike have a very thick coating of frost.

Hoar frost on trees at Whitehorse, Yukon
Next, I drove out the Long Lake Road to my favourite overlook of the city. Even at these temperatures, there were lots of people out walking, and I saw one person on a bicycle (several people commute on bikes in any weather).

Ice fog along the Yukon River in Whitehorse
Looking down the Yukon River, with Shipyards Park on the opposite side.

A winter look at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse
We don’t have “snow days” or “cold days” in Whitehorse – even the kindergarten classes still get their daily walks 🙂

Kindergarten class out for a walk at -34 degrees
Looking up the river to downtown, with a plume of “smoke” from every furnace and kitchen vent, and even open doors.

Back on the bank of the Yukon River with lots of ice whispering by, the fog hides the buildings of downtown Whitehorse.

Downtown Whitehorse and the icy Yukon River in a winter fog
I drove over to the Whitehorse power dam looking for more photo ops, but didn’t really find much. The plume of steam/smoke is from a diesel power generator. With the river flow steadily decreasing as it freezes, more and more electricity needs to be produced that way instead of with hydro turbines.

Power generation on the Yukon River in the winter
Looking down on the Riverdale residential area. From there I went downtown, but with the temperature warmed up to -31C, the photos I was looking for had disappeared.

A winter scene at Riverdale in Whitehorse
The official low at the Whitehorse airport yesterday was -34.4°C (-29.9°F), still a long way from the record for that day, -46.7°C (-52.1°F), which was set in 1966. The record high for that day was +5°C (+41°F), set in 1958. The lowest temperature I’ve ever seen on a thermometer was in my back yard on the morning of January 30, 2008. Even though the thermometer was bottomed out, the temperature probably didn’t go below -50C.

-50 in Whitehorse, Yukon

It’s warmed up to -36.2, so I think I’ll go out and watch the sunrise this morning 🙂


Life at 36 Degrees Below Zero — 7 Comments

  1. I don’t think I would ever like that kind of weather. That HDR is done right. It doesn’t look fake and you can see a lot more details than in a normal picture. Very interesting blog.

  2. LOve the cold weather pics!! People in my class today were complaining about shooting in -15C weather in Almote, Ontario over the holidays. I’m going to show them these pics!!

  3. I guess I thought that the dam would be frozen. Nice photos especially the ones with the brilliant blue sky.

    I’m still riding in interior AK but it has only gotten to -30F. (videos posted on my blog)

  4. ” warmed up to -36.2 ” !!! ………love it… in a word WOW.

    We were driving around last week with the car reading at +36…
    Thank goodness our beach is only 5 mins in the car, which reminds me, Chair(check),umbrella (check),sunnies(check),eskie(check).

  5. Beautiful photos of Marsh Lake Dam, Whitehorse (love the children stomping along in the snow) and the river. Our car reading yesterday was +29, more than warm enough. Thank goodness for air-con. In Nov. we experienced the Heat Wave across The Ditch in Brisbane and had temps. of +33 to +45. Too much of a good thing! Your photos are very enticing, but if I were there I think reality would soon kick in!