When I lived in Fairbanks in the late 1980’s I worked for the Division of Family and Youth Services and my job was that of a potential first responder to investigate child protection emergencies.
Adapting to a sub-Arctic environment was somewhat new. Hey, I grew up during part of my early years in North Dakota, and there are times it is colder than the lowest levels of Dante’s Inferno. But that had been interrupted by a long stay in the “banana belt” of Idaho.
Let us just say that I spent a goodly portion of my first summer there browsing surplus stores and cobbling together adequate outerwear for my daughter and myself. I was gifted with a Mouton lamb parka with a luxurious snorkel hood and wolf ruff and having it be two sizes too big gave me plenty of room for layering. Rather than doing the Carhartt Arctic Extreme coveralls that so many other did I went for snow pants. I was also given a pair of a bit too large mukluks that I filled out quite nicely with extra socks.
At that time I was driving an old International Harvester Scout. That puppy could take me anywhere, and it had a heater that was probably stoked by a fire-belching dragon. It took me to the auction and back again, and anywhere in the surrounding countryside an investigator had to journey. I even learned to drive on the frozen rivers as a shortcut during the depths of the winter.
There was a point during one particularly cold winter (note: -30F is not exceptionally cold, that’s normal) when we had -55F before windchill and the ice fog settled in. It has gotten colder a few times since I left as the Freddy’s sign photo attests to. Personally, I find anything below -35F just plain cold beyond belief.
The funny thing about the ice fog is that if you look straight up it thins out and eventually vanishes about 20 feet up. But on the ground the stuff is impenetrable.
Fairbanks essentially was on lock-down. How people made it to work at the local Market Basket I have no idea. I was thankful they were there because I still needed to stock up on groceries to get me through a few weeks.
I was on call during the ice fog period. We didn’t have a lot of calls during that time, but the police still had jobs to do and there were times when, as a first responder, I still had to get from point A to point B and potentially several other points after that. Thank all that is holy that the rest of the community had no desire to drive or it would have been one accident after the other.
Dim lights, fog lights, it made no difference. Couldn’t see a thing. I learned to drive the Scout with one tire in the gravel by the side of the road in order to keep my car on the straight and narrow. Intersections were challenging, unless I happened to make a right turn.
And I gotta say this first responder was a very slow first responder. You just couldn’t see far enough to catch the glow of that on-coming headlamp of either the train or the car you were about to meet for a head on collision.
One night I was slowly crunching my way back home, my mental map telling me I was near the left turn I wanted to make. I realized there was a faint glow up in the air. I eased the Scout forward slowly until I found I was at the base of one of the bank time and temperature signs. I got out and walked up the side of the car and across the front of the hood to the pole and then looked up. -55 With that, I pulled my snorkel hood a little closer with my lambskin gloved hands and reached out to the hood of the truck to find my way back to the safety and warmth of the cab.
Those were the days!