The universe is trying to kill us »« The trials and tribulations of a single man

The freezing of 2014

 

It’s cold, scientists baffled by Arctic front in Winter and all that, but it is miserable. It turns out the heating system in my shitty apartment can’t handle sustained temps much below freezing. The heating element only adds a few tens of degrees to whatever passes through it, so it blew warmer air, warmer meaning about 45 degree F if the thermostat is accurate. But hey, armed with a solid knowledge of thermodynamics and several layers of clothing, it also turns out that if you just leave the hot water in the shower on, that warm air rises to the ceiling and gets yanked into the heater and that gets it almost to 60 degrees. Which got the apartment above 50. … Let’s just say it was a bad night. Then I saw what was hitting the majority of the US and thought I’d better just quit bitching:

LA Times — A brutal “polar vortex” gripped much of the Midwest on Monday, pushing temperatures to record subzero lows, grounding more than 4,000 flights and prompting authorities to urge residents to stay home or go to emergency warming shelters. In Chicago, temperatures dropped to a record 16 degrees below zero at O’Hare International Airport on Monday, spawning a new National Weather Service Twitter hashtag: #Chiberia. Records also fell in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana. In Minneapolis, it was minus 18 — minus 40 with the wind chill — and the high was minus 12. Margaret Roth found herself stranded in the Twin Cities, where she had arrived from Florida for a wedding. It was so cold, she said, that the inside of her nose froze.

Comments

  1. unbound says

    Yeah, heat pumps should be made illegal everywhere except extreme southern states. In addition to not really even working much below 20 degrees F, they aren’t even very efficient at much below 40 degrees F.

    Interesting to see how the rest of the US reacts to having similar temperatures that North Dakota has every year. Unfortunately, most states don’t have the support infrastructure to deal with those temperatures.

  2. DonDueed says

    Does the state of Texas not have regulations about a landlord’s responsibility to provide adequate heating in apatrments?

    Oh, wait… who am I kidding?

  3. TGAP Dad says

    In my area of Michigan, we got 18″ of snow, followed by -12 degree temps. Texans are wimps!

  4. says

    I believe the global climate mechanism behind this is:

    1. Extremes of heat in the tropics cause the local atmosphere to expand. Expanding atmosphere lifts, pushing eastward because of coriolis. This air, being hot and coming mostly from over the ocean, carries a high concentration of water vapor.

    2. The resulting decrease of air pressure in the tropics draws colder — and therefore more dense — air in from the poles.

    3. As the cold air close to the ground moves towards the equator, the air pressure at the poles decreases, pulling the hot air higher in the atmosphere to the poles to equalize the pressure imbalance. Eventually, the warm air begins to cool, causing its water vapor to condense, often resulting in precipitation.

    4. This is a common climate pattern that usually lasts for only a few days, and ends when either the temperature imbalance is sufficiently resolved. If the tropics remain extraordinarily hot, or the warm air cools too far away from the poles, the imbalance remains and the climate pattern continues.

    I remember reading early climate forecasts in the 1980s that used this model to explain why global warming could — temporarily — cause extremes of winter weather. That seems to be what is happening here: the warm, wet air is sinking into the cold, dry air lower down, forcing out the moisture. The air cools too far south, meaning that the poles do not warm up. This keeps the engine running, resulting in massively cold air with massive precipitation.

    Eventually, the poles will heat up too, and the freakish snow storms will turn into equally freakish rain storms.

  5. magistramarla says

    Gregory – I love your well-written and easy to understand explanation. After reading and hearing so much blather from the right-wingers about it, it is so refreshing to come to FTB and see comments by people who have a real understanding of science.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    It was so cold, she said, that the inside of her nose froze.

    She should switch to a plastic coke spoon.

  7. says

    I know we’re wimps, but it turns out I may have suffered a bout of hypothermia despite the balmy 15 degree low we had last night in the Texas hill country. By early this morning it was about 45 degrees in here, and I just could not get warm. Then I started getting dizzy, feeling weird, and my chest was tight, kinda like when you jump into cold water, actually worried for a bit that the ticker might be acting up. I’m seeing the cardio tomorrow just to be safe, but I just had the heating element replaced, it’s been toasty warm for several hours now, and all those symptoms have almost entirely gone away.

  8. lanir says

    It’s all relative. I’ve lived through a Canadian winter and a summer and winter in Florida. Illinois is a long state so even going from one end of it to the other the ability to deal with snow and cold weather is noticeably different.

  9. says

    unbound @ 1 said In addition to not really even working much below 20 degrees F, they aren’t even very efficient at much below 40 degrees F.

    You haven’t been keeping up with the technology. I have a minisplit ductless heat pump not 10 feet from me in my home office/studio. It’s 5F outside (upstate NY) and this little beastie is pumping out heat just fine. It’s rated for 13 below. The coefficient of performance at 15 degrees is around 2.5 so I think it’s plenty efficient.

  10. says

    I spent the morning dealing with 2″ of ice on the floor of my darkroom from where a pipe broke. Arrgh! I got distracted by something last night and forgot to go cut the water off before it was too late.

  11. johnhodges says

    Instead of relying on a heat pump that is not strong enough for the extreme conditions, try this: prop open your oven door (put a just-big-enough weight on it to hold it wide open), and turn the oven on. (I suppose I am assuming you have an electric oven.) If you can block off the kitchen from the rest of the house, with doors or a jury-rigged curtain, so you are heating less space, better.

  12. Wylann says

    Interesting to see how the rest of the US reacts to having similar temperatures that North Dakota has every year.

    It’s pretty much the same as when there are ‘record heat waves’ that would just be another day in Az. It’s a combination of what you’re used to, and whether the infrastructure can handle it.

    Living around Seattle, I can see why so many people have issues when it gets above 90F. A good portion of homes there have nothing in the way of cooling. The flip side of that is that in the southern states, they aren’t used to heating in temps much below 40F for any extended periods. Space heaters are easier and cheaper to come by than a room AC, though.

  13. poose says

    The cold can create all sorts of weird thermodynamic behaviour. Case in point:

    Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning we never saw an outdoor temp above -10F. To call cold like that dangerous is an understatement-mind we’re talk static air temps. The wind chill was more like -50.

    We have a sink in the garage. I’ve found that focusing a lamp under the sink (on the pipes) keeps them okay, but usually the drain trap freezes solid. ‘Cest la vie, we managed. I use than sink to refill the humidifier tanks once a day.

    This morning-warmup to plus 10-pipes freeze solid. WTF? How does a twenty-degree increase equal frozen pipes?

    Reason: GARAGE includes a rather large door. When I cleared snow yesterday there was just enough frozen stuff to prevent the door from fully sealing. Oops. New routine for heavy snow-garage door must not show any gaps and fine-tune closer in the fall to close FIRMLY. Part of what kept it sealed earlier was the snow piled up against it…

  14. poose says

    Wylann:
    “Interesting to see how the rest of the US reacts to having similar temperatures that North Dakota has every year.”

    I agree, but I still think the Midwest sees the worst of it. Last two years we saw a range of 130F, from -15 to +115F.

    No argument about heat pumps (central air, 1 ton capacity or better) or a furnace (90,000 btu/hr or better)-we have both…and the energy bills to match.

  15. poose says

    Marcus Ranum

    “I spent the morning dealing with 2″ of ice on the floor of my darkroom from where a pipe broke. Arrgh! I got distracted by something last night and forgot to go cut the water off before it was too late.”

    I feel your pain. Purdue University awoke to eleven water pipe failures, the damage at the Biochemistry building alone is estimated at about US$1M. BTW-class starts next week or so…

    The joy of water main failures in large-scale buildings is they usually show up after the thaw begins.

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