What we really feel when we feel "cold"

Temperature is just a measure of jigglyness, says Henry Reich of Minute Physics. Not in the "I don't think you're ready for this jelly" sense, but at the scale of atoms. And it's this jiggle that can help explain why two things that are, technically, the exact same temperature can feel totally different when we touch them. Great science for a cold day! Read the rest

A frozen egg

This happened in my friend's henhouse this morning.

My friend Kate Hastings, who took this photo, thinks this egg froze because the hen cracked it slightly. But it also looks like the kind of expansion cracking that you can get when eggs freeze and burst their own shells. When the water in the egg white and yolk freezes, it forms a crystalline structure — and that structure isn't very tightly packed. There's lots of space between the molecules, which means that solid ice takes up more space than the liquid it replaced. If the egg freezes solid enough, it's got nowhere left to expand except outside the shell.

Eggshells, as it turns out, are not a great insulator from the cold. Chicken butts are, but chickens also don't always sit on their eggs consistently enough to keep those eggs from freezing.

One side note: You can actually thaw and eat frozen eggs. But you shouldn't thaw and eat an egg like this. That's because the shell is actually a pretty good barrier against bacteria. If a fresh egg — the kind sitting under a hen — has cracked, there's a higher likelihood of bacterial infiltration.

Thanks to Kate and Grampaw!

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The evolution of white fur and an animal sex scandal

Up north — in Canada and other places where snowy winters are reliable (and reliably heavy) — you find more animals whose fur comes in various shades of white. This is true even for species that are brown or black further south. The difference is obvious. But how does it happen? Carl Zimmer presents two possible paths to paleness — random mutation, and fortuitous cross-species mating. In related news: Golden retrievers are probably getting it on with Canadian coyotes. Read the rest

Science proves that you should wear glittens

They're the mullet of cold-protective clothing. Half glove, half mitten — really, fingerless gloves with a handy mitten flip-top.

They are also fantastic.

Now, partly, this is a matter of personal opinion. But partly, it's just good science.

Before you spend your weekend outdoors, or take your next chilly commute, let's talk briefly about glittens — and the science that makes them superior hand covering. Read the rest

The science of flu season

Flu season is in winter. Okay, great. But why? (Consider this an open thread for all your favorite humidifier recommendations.) Read the rest

Rainbow-colored igloo

This beautiful, rainbow hued igloo was designed by Edmonton's Brigid Burton, who wanted to entertain her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend (an engineer student), visiting from New Zealand over winter break. Burton froze cartons full of colored water and left the boyfriend, Daniel Gray, to do the rest, building the structure out of 500 ice-bricks.

Made a coloured ice igloo while visiting my gf in Edmonton, Canada. The local news station did a story on it. News article in comments (imgur.com)

(via Colossal) Read the rest

How to: Instantly turn water into snow

The physics behind a viral video

How plants stay warm

Plants and animals have to adapt to live in high latitudes and chilly mountain environments. With animals, we kind of instinctively know what makes a creature cold-weather ready — thick, shaggy fur; big, wide snowshoe paws. But what are the features of cold-weather plants? It's one of those really interesting questions that's easy to forget to ask.

At The Olive Tree blog, Tracey Switek has at least one answer. In cold places, you see more plants that grow in little mounded clumps. Of course, plants can't really rely on huddling together to create warmth. So you still have to ask, "Why is it better to grow in a mound when it's cold out?"

The dome-like shape which the cushions tend to take (made possible by an adaptation that makes all the plants in the clump grow upward at the same rate, so no one plant is high above all the others), and the closeness with which those plants grow, makes these clumps perfect heat traps. The temperature on or inside a cushion can be up to 15 °C more than the air temperature above it. The cushions are able to retain heat radiating up from the soil, as well as absorbing heat from the sun (a very dense, large, clump of green can get surprisingly warm on a sunny day at high altitude). Add to that the fact that the wind speed in and around a cushion can be cut by up to 98% from open areas, you have a perfect recipe to prevent heat loss.

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What to drink this winter — according to Smithsonian

Smithsonian's Food and Think blog has a (Northern-hemispherically biased) list of ideal Christmas/wintertime drinks — along with some cool history about where those drinks come from and how they're made. For example, Imperial Stout beer was invented in the late 1690s as a way to help delicious English stout beer survive frigidly cold Russian winters. Raise the alcohol content — and bam! — beer fit for a czar. Read the rest

How snowflakes get their shapes

Some snowflakes are unique. Other's aren't. Chemistry is why.

Something to keep you warm when it's nippy out

Earlier this year, construction workers discovered what is now the world's oldest known bra. It dates to the 15th century and was found with a bunch of other clothing, stuffed between the floors of an Austrian castle. Most likely, it was being used for insulation, the same way we might stuff a wall with fiberglass batting today. (Via Christopher Mims) Read the rest

Goodbye "Snowmageddon XIX", hello "Gandolf"

The Weather Channel has decided to begin naming winter storms the way we already name tropical storms. But while tropical storm nomenclature is an organized and official process, carried out by a branch of the United Nations, winter storms will be named apparently at the whim of The Weather Channel. The result: Not only can we move past calling every blizzard either Snowmageddon or Snowpocalypse, but we also get to hear news anchors discuss the damage caused by Winter Storm Gandolf. (Please note that this is Gandolf, not Gandalf. The former is a character in The Well at the World's End, an 1896 fantasy novel. The latter is probably tied up in intellectual property restrictions.) Read the rest

Reminder: BoingBoing meetup in Minneapolis on Saturday

Twin Cities Boingers will be meeting up this Saturday afternoon. The meetup is ostensibly scheduled around the Art Sled Rally in Powderhorn Park, but will still happen even if there isn't enough snow on the ground for the sleds to, you know, sled.

Emily Lloyd has graciously volunteered her house, across from Powderhorn Park, as the location of the meetup. We'll meet at 3216 10th Ave South at 1:00 — BYOB and a snack to share. Then, at 2:00 (King Boreas willing) we'll cross the street to watch some awesome sledding action!

See you there! Read the rest

Alaskan town has 176 inches of snow on the ground

Hey, guys, I figured out where all of Minnesota's winter snow went. It's in Cordova, Alaska.

Since Nov. 1, storms have dropped 176 inches of snow and more than 44 inches of rain on the town, about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Temperatures warmed overnight, and residents awoke to standing water because of stopped-up drains. The rain also made the existing snow heavier.

The warmer temperatures - about 35 degrees midday Wednesday - brought another hazard to the Prince William Sound community of 2,200 people: avalanche danger.

There's one road leading out, and it was closed though it could be opened for emergency vehicles.

"We have the National Guard right now using the standard shovel, and they're getting pretty trashed every day - not the shovels but the Guardsmen themselves," he said.

That's from an AP story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the whole thing to learn about the intricacies of snow shovel design, and why a standard shovel just ain't enough to deal with 176 inches of snow. Better ones are being airlifted in.

The image above—taken by the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management—gives you an idea of what it's like to dig out of a snow pack like this. I will admit, as much as I realize what a disaster it would be to live in Cordova, Alaska right now, there is a part of me (the part that is approximately 5 years old) that just looks at this photo and thinks, "I will build the most AWESOME fort EVER!" Read the rest

How seasonal affective disorder works

Winter is coming. And Scientific American's Bora Zivkovik has a detailed explanation of the biological basics behind seasonal affective disorder. Read the rest