Why do people choose to sit outdoors in the freezing cold?

I was horrified to read this story about some football fans who had fingers and toes amputated because they got frostbite while watching an NFL playoff game in Kansas City in the bitter cold.

Research Medical Center didn’t provide exact numbers but said in a statement that it treated dozens of people who had experienced frostbite during an 11-day cold snap in January. Twelve of those people – including some who were at the 13 January game – had to undergo amputations involving mostly fingers and toes. And the hospital said more surgeries are expected over the next two to four weeks as “injuries evolve”.

The temperature for the Dolphins-Chiefs wildcard playoff game was minus-4F (minus-20C), and wind gusts made for a windchill of minus-27F (minus-33C). That shattered the record for the coldest game in Arrowhead Stadium history, which had been 1F (minus-17C), set in a 1983 game against Denver and matched in 2016 against Tennessee.

The wildcard game was played the same day the Buffalo Bills were supposed to host the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that game was pushed back a day because a blizzard dumped up to two feet (0.61m) of snow in New York and made traveling to the game too dangerous.

The game in Kansas City went on as scheduled because the frigid weather didn’t present similar problems getting to Arrowhead Stadium, even though the National Weather Service warned of “dangerously cold” windchills.

Frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 30 minutes, Dr Megan Garcia, the medical director of the Grossman Burn Center at Research, said in a statement that answered one of the top questions she is asked. The timing can be even shorter if there is a windchill, she said.

I know the danger of frostbite because I lived in Cleveland. When I had to clean the driveway after a snowfall. I would make sure that I was not outside for long and this was for temperatures that were nowhere near as low. With temperature as low as they were at the football game, I would simply not go outside at all because you feel so miserable and it is so dangerous, not just because of frostbite but also because of cardiac arrest. My mind boggles at how spectators can enjoy watching when sitting in the freezing cold for nearly four hours.

I know football fans can be fanatical about going to see their team whatever the weather. I have met some of them in Cleveland and they proudly talk about how they go irrespective of how cold it gets. These stadiums are open. You would think that teams that are in places that have severe winters would construct indoor stadiums but that is not the case. I think they feel that playing home games in cold weather gives them an advantage over teams that are located in temperate zones because those teams will find it hard to adjust to the cold.

The NFL has made things worse by lengthening the season. The coldest 30-day period in winter is from January 5th to February 5th. It used to be that the regular season consisted of 12 games and fewer playoff games so that the Super Bowl would be in early January. That could still be very cold. But in the desire to make more money, they lengthened the season to 17 games, added a so-called ‘bye week’ that made the regular season 18 weeks long, and added more teams to the playoffs so that now the playoffs and the Super Bowl are in the middle of the coldest part of winter, with the last game in mid-February.

I hope this horrible experience of people having their fingers and toes amputated will result in games being canceled when weather conditions become so dangerous. But I am not holding my breath because there is too much money involved. There is also something about the macho culture of football that makes people think that it is somehow a matter of pride to play and watch in bitterly cold weather.


  1. OverlappingMagisteria says

    But if all your fingers and toes are amputated, they can’t get frostbite anymore when you go to a game. Problem solved!

  2. ardipithecus says

    The (relatively) few fans who got frostbite were likely those who didn’t jump up and cheer every 2 yd gain. The players are all moving around enough o not get too cold at those temperatures, plus they got to go indoors for a long halftime.

  3. Mano Singham says


    I have seen heaters on the sidelines that blow warm air so that players can warm up i when they are not on the field.

  4. VolcanoMan says

    I mean, when I was 10 years old I attended the 79th Grey Cup, where the wind chill during the game was around -35°C. We wore warm clothing and brought thermoses of hot chocolate. I was still freezing (especially my fingers and toes, despite proper winter boots and thick gloves), but I do think there’s an element of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” here because dealing with temperatures like that outside is just a part of life sometimes…”I’ve done it before and was fine” is a good thing to have in your back pocket when such circumstances come up. Still, knowing what you’re in for and adequately preparing for it are essential, because nobody wants to lose appendages.

    And it was an amazing game -- one of the classics actually. By rights, the Calgary Stampeders should have won, having 28 first downs to Toronto’s 7, and 406 yards of total offence to Toronto’s 174…but the Argos managed to flip the script and take over the game in the 4th quarter (starting with Rocket Ismail returning a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown, which is a Grey Cup record that still stands). Also, watching John Candy (RIP) celebrate at the end was quite memorable.

    So…there are reasons. Perhaps not good reasons (to some), but people do all sorts of things for bad reasons, and form positive memories at least some of the time.

  5. Jazzlet says

    Matt G @7
    Alcohol increases the peripheral circulation so it can directly increase heat loss, but also because you’ve got more warm blood in the skin you feel warm and so are less likely to put on gloves etc, even though you may be losing too much heat.

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