Life at Forty Below Zero

I find life at 40 below zero to be quite invigorating and even exciting, and though it’s a bit of a challenge, I love photography at those temps. If there’s ever any doubt that the Yukon remains a unique place to live, a few days of minus 40 will verify it :)

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours wandering around town by car and on foot, taking pictures that I hope will give those of you in warm places an idea of what it’s like.

The first step is to get the car ready, and having a garage makes that a great deal easier. While it’s not heated, it does hold heat well, so even when it’s -40°C outside (that’s also -40°F), it seldom drops below -16°C (+3°F) in the garage. That means that the cars don’t need to be plugged in to power the engine and battery heaters, and you don’t need to scrape snow, ice and frost off the windows.

This is my Davis weather station as I waited for the car to warm up after pulling it out of the garage. The graph at the lower left shows the temperature dropping overnight. Dressing both myself and the dogs takes a few minutes – lots of layers on me, and booties on the dogs with a coat for Monty for when we go walking (Kayla grows her own :) ).

The forecast called for a high of -27 but it actually never got close to that.

It was sunny as we headed into town, but the heavy ice fog blanketing downtown Whitehorse could be seen as I dropped down from the Alaska Highway on Robert Service Way. This was shot at 10:30, 47 minutes after sunrise.

It was nice to see that most of the electricity for Whitehorse (and beyond) is still being produced by the hydro generators rather than the diesel generators in this building – only one of the diesel generators was running. Yukon Energy has a graph online that shows the current state of production and consumption. As well as the emissions issues of diesel generation, it costs approximately three times as much as hydro generation.

The Yukon River right at the edge of downtown Whitehorse is always beautiful, especially so in these conditions.

Within a few hundred yards, the ice fog got very thick. I love the ghost ship feeling of the S.S. Klondike in the fog.

I headed over to the power dam, and drove back into the sunshine. Although it looks from this angle like the river is completely frozen, there’s lots of water still flowing under the ice.

It’s amazing how sounds travel in the deep cold. This Air North Hawker Siddeley 748 sounded like it was taking off on the road beside me!

Schwatka Lake right above the dam, with the volcano-looking peak Golden Horn in the distance.

From the dam I drove around the Riverdale residential area and then up Grey Mountain Road for a look back down into the fog. This was shot at 10:57.

Another look at Riverdale and the fog.

I thought that Long Lake Road might offer some good photos but the fog below in the downtown area was so thick that the only shot I got was this one of the point where the Yukon River freezes completely.

When the ice fog is undisturbed and has a distinct top to it, the view from the Canada Games Centre can be quite impressive. The fog was quite diffused yesterday, though.

The airport was, of course, a stop on my tour, but I just missed the Jazz flight’s arrival and nothing else came along. The fellows in the control tower must do a lot of reading on days like this :)

There are a lot of people traveling these days – the parking lot always has hundreds of vehicles in it, and some have been there for a long time. At $1.50 per day for parking (free for the first hour), long-term parking at the airport is reasonable here.

The Transportation Musem was the next stop – this shots shows DC-3 CF-CPY and the steamboat Neecheah, with Golden Horn in the background.

The museum’s new LCC-1 LeTourneau Trackless Land Train now has wheels and tires mounted.

Finally, I went back down into the fog to do some errands and get a few shots of life on Main Street. At this point (noon), it had warmed up to -36°. Life really does go on as usual here, regardless of what the temperature is.

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9 Responses to Life at Forty Below Zero

  1. Carole says:

    BEAUTIFUL pictures!

  2. As always, beautiful pictures.

  3. Giles says:

    Wonderful pictures of the cold weather. I miss it this week where it has been in the +30’s here in Australia. I still am not re-acclimatised to the heat yet. People here in Australia do not realise what it is like to live in those temperatures and some didn’t believe me when I told them the temperature when I lived there.

    Great site, Giles

  4. Patsy says:

    Balmy 70 degrees here in FL :) Enjoyed the pictures.

  5. Rejeana says:

    Another one of my (probably stupid) questions…can you FEEL ice fog?

  6. Not a stupid question at all, Rejeana. It’s certainly not overwhelming but I think you can feel ice fog, perhaps a bit more than you can with “normal” fog. The air does feel “thick”.

  7. Neal says:

    Very, very interesting. Do you have any problems with your camera/lenses when it’s that cold? I know the battery wouldn’t hold out long if you left it in the cold but I was thinking more along the lines of going from a warm car to -40 and then back to a warm car, etc.

  8. I had an Arctic battery pack for my Canon Rebel so battery power was never a problem in the cold. I don’t have one yet for the 7D, but no problem so far. I’d never had a problem with any functioning with the Rebel, with I got a Tamron lens with the 7D and the auto-focus seems to freeze up on it :( Condensation is a problem going from the cold to a warm place, but by keeping the car very cool I had no problems with this shoot. Part of the reason there was no problem may be that the 7D has a much greater mass than the Rebel so heats and cools slower.

  9. Murray,

    Everytime you post your beautiful pictures, I think about moving to Alaska more and more. I have 8 years until I retire from the NYPD.
    Keep posting awesome pictures and I just might be your neighbor soon! :-)