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Now that it's +20 to +30 C outside and summertime, it's time to remind yourself about the coldness of the coming winter. The average day temperature is about -5 to -10 C, but it'll be 20 to 30 degrees below zero in the extremely cold days - from days to weeks per winter. What happens in a modern society that's accustomed to frozen winters - say Finland - when it gets extremely cold?

In December nights
the teeth of the stars
bite, grinding the bread of frost.

In December nights
the moon sailed
like a coffin
to the blue hell of the zenith.

The black forests
shook
and the walls of Northern lights
stood still

Flash
of the blade of frost
In death's hands
in December nights.

Arvo Turtiainen: -50 C

A radiant sunrise few hours before the noon cannot make the frozen landscape any warmer. Though it's colder outside that in your freezer, you go to work. Snow makes an distintive grating sound when you walk in it. The air is still - there is no wind, because wind always brings warm and humid air from the sea. Very fine - almost imperceptible - flakes of snow fill the air. It feels as if the snow precipitates from air all around you. The normal humidity of air starts to precipitate in extreme cold. Sun sets in early afternoon, and a cold night falls again.

The price of electricity soars in the energy market. Warmer countries, like Denmark, sell electricity to the colder countries in the north, like Finland and Sweden. Because of 10-cm-thick insulation and central heating, temperature inside isn't changing much. But the electricity grid is carries a massive load as it's feeding energy to the electric heaters. The distribution transformers, which are closest to the customer, burn out all around the country, causing a wave of small-scale blackouts.

There are people "stranded in the coldness", because they use only electrical heating. And when electrical heating fails, the inside temperature starts to go down. Fireplaces are common in Finland, so those who have fireplaces have a fallback system. It's been even proposed that housebuilders should be obliged by the law to build fireplaces (or other fallback systems) to houses with nothing but electrical heating.

To save electricity, houses are heated using the fireplaces. The flip side of the coin: fires. Extreme coldness is called tulipalopakkanen - "fire frost" - because fires get more frequent. The typical mechanism is related to the aging of the house. In the old houses, the wooden hull of the house is protected from the hot chimney by an insulation made of sand. Now, moss can grow in the sand. When the chimney is overheated, the moss starts to smoulder. It may smoulder for days, until the fire reaches a critical spot in the hull - and then the whole house's on fire.

Trains slow down as the diesel feed to the engine is cold and possibly thickened. Diesel needs heating before use and may cloud and thicken, or "freeze", so all diesel-powered transportation is slowed down. Also, brake systems may blow up if there's too little glycol and too much water in the cooling fluid. (And do you know what's the engine block heater of the Finnish Army standard truck "Proto"? A blowtorch. Really. There is a pipe installed on the truck into which you place the blowtorch; the pipe leads to the engine block. Blowtorches are idiot-proof and virtually fail-safe compared to electrical engine block heaters.)

People tend to minimize the time spent outside, because it takes so much time to dress and undress the environmental protection suit that you call winter clothing. Air is unpleasantly bitter in its coldness. The society in general looks more calm and disorderly conduct in public is reduced. Those who are drunk and angry cannot harrass or assault the people in the street, because there isn't any. But crime never ends - in just moves inside.

When it's 30 below zero Centigrade, the ice on the road loses most of its slipperiness. (See driving in snow.) So, when the temperature goes up, the motorists may not realize that ice is getting slippery again. Road may be as slippery in -20 C as in -5 C. So, there are road accidents like on the first day of winter.

To save the energy, the thermostat is set 2-3 C lower than usual. Now, the extreme cold cools down the structures of houses. So, when it gets warmer, the house is still cold and heating it back to the usual temperature takes a lot of energy. You'll need to switch the heating up to the maximum to make any difference. Thermostats can keep only the air at a set temperature, not necessarily the walls.

Also, water pipes burst when it gets warmer, not when it gets colder. They can take freezing, but why they can't take melting was not explained until recently. A cylinder of ice develops inside a pipe in the cold weather. Now, when it gets warmer, the pipe expands, but the ice doesn't. The water flowing in freezes between the pipe and the blockage, and there you have it. The cylindrous blockage has an equivalent or larger diameter than the pipe, so the pipe is completely blocked and bursts from the slightest thermal contraction.


Käänsin itse. Alkuperäinen löytyy etsimällä nimellä "Tammiöinä". Tammikuu kääntyi vahingossa joulukuuksi, mutta menköön, kun "December" soi paremmin.

-50 c (Sodan tammiöinä)
Tammiöinä
purivat tähtien hampaat
rauskuen
pakkasen leipää.

Tammiöinä
purjehti kuu
kuin ruumisarkku
taivaanlaen siniseen helvettiin.

Mustat metsät
vavahtivat
ja revontulen patsaat
pysähtyivät.

Välähti
pakkasen tikari
Kuoleman kädessä
tammiöinä.

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