Just when you thought it was too cold to do anything fun, here are a few things you can only do when it’s cold outside your entire family might enjoy.
Make an ice-light
Requirements – bucket, water, candle.
Temperature – below freezing for 24 hours, the colder and longer the better.
Fill a bucket of water and leave it outside to freeze. The actual temperature isn’t so important as long as it consistently below zero so it doesn’t start to melt.
Depending on the temperature, turn the bucket upside down and get the ice out. There could be liquid water in the middle at the bottom (so be careful when you tip the bucket upside down) which makes a space for the candle. The speed of freezing depends on your temperature of course, if it’s well below freezing it might just take a few hours.
Light the candle, carefully place the ice on top and you’ve a beautiful icy light. The heat of the candle melts a hole through the ice above it after a while, but this doesn’t seem to matter, the candle should be sufficiently protected by the ice walls from the wind to not blow out.
You could also try mixing some food dye in with the water to get coloured ones too or maybe use a glow stick or two as a light source instead.
An Ice Carousel
Requirements – a lake or large pond, chain saw, rope, stake, spade or shovel, outboard engine, wood for a supportive frame.
Temperature – not so important, the ice needs to be safely walkable, 15cm or more
Another great winter idea from Finland where they have lots of lakes and ponds that freeze over in winter. I’ve never tried it, not living near anywhere suitable, but it looks like a great fun thing to do.
Place your stake in the ice so it doesn’t wobble, tie the rope to it and scribe a large circle on the ice. Use the chain saw to cut around the line you have scribed so you have a floating circle of ice. Site the outboard motor on a wooden frame cut through a hole in the ice and use it to spin the ice disc around. The practice is a bit more tricky to do, getting the circle really accurate will make it work so much more easily.
Throw hot water into the air and watch it drift away as steam
Requirements – boiling water from kettle, plastic or insulated cup.
Temperature – below -20C / -4F
It needs to be much colder for this one, it works better the nearer to boiling the water is and the bigger the difference between the hot water and the air temperature is. Try it on the coldest day you can and do what you can to keep the water as hot as possible, realistically it needs to be below around -20C for good results. The colder it is the better and easier.
Get a vacuum flask and fill it with boiling water (take care) leave for a minute or so, pour it away and fill again with boiling water, put on the lid and go outside, you’ll also need a plastic cup or even better an insulated mug.
Pour some of the water into the cup and throw it into the air. Marvel at how the hot water goes up but then turns to steam and simply drifts away! There’s lots of opportunity for photography too, get into position with a plain background behind where the steam will be and play around with shots into the sun or lit by the sun from the front.
If it’s very cold and you’re very careful, you could even try to put some in a supersoaker, water pistol or similar and puff out steam.
In a similar vein try blowing bubbles and watch them freeze into ice crystal balloons before they land (or maybe shortly afterwards)
Requirements – empty plastic bottles with tops, optional – piece of substantial metal at least 10cm square
Temperature – below -20C / -4F, but maybe less cold
If you have more time and/or patience, you could try supercooling water.
The idea is that you can cool a liquid below its freezing point and as long as it is clean and undisturbed it won’t freeze for a while despite being cold enough to. When it does freeze, it does so very quickly.
You could try this using your freezer but there’s a lot of potential for messiness that is more easily contained outdoors.
Take several clean plastic bottles and fill them with water, screw on the lids and leave them outdoors in a calm spot where it is below freezing. As a guideline for a 500ml / 1 pint bottle, 3 hours at -20C (the temperature of most freezers) is the right sort of time but it’s very variable. Some of the bottles may have already frozen solid (and so split – hence this is better outdoors) but hopefully some should still be liquid and supercooled.
Carefully pick one of the still liquid ones up and either tap the side sharply, tilt upside down or shake it gently. If you’re lucky and it is supercooled you will see the liquid water turn to ice starting within a matter of seconds and spreading throughout the bottle.
Another variation is to very carefully unscrew the top from the bottle and pour it onto a very cold hard surface (should be lots around if you’re outdoors!). This time if you’re lucky, you will make a mound of ice as the water comes out liquid but almost immediately freezes as it hits the already frozen surface, make sure there is already a small piece of ice that you’re pouring it onto.
6. Frozen bubbles
Bubbles can make any scene seem like a fairy tale, but they pop in the blink of an eye. That’s not an issue when temperatures dip below about 9 to 12 F (about minus 11 C), and you can make the bubbles freeze. The trick is to blow them up in the air so that they have time to freeze before hitting the ground or another surface. The bubbles will form crystalline patterns and some might break, looking a bit like the shell of a cracked egg.
FUN FACT: Wood frogs freeze solid
Wood frogs — native to northern regions of North America, from North Carolina up to Arctic Canada and Alaska — freeze almost completely solid during the coldest months of winter: As cold-blooded animals, their body temperatures can’t resist changes in ambient temperatures. But the hoppers have evolved a mechanism to survive their frozen stupor, in which their liver breaks down a compound called glycogen into glucose (sugar), and releases that glucose into their bloodstream. The sugar behaves as a sort of anti-freeze in the animal’s blood, keeping it alive as it hibernates through the coldest months of the year.
The frogs can live this way for weeks at a time, until temperatures rise back up above freezing. At this point, their hearts start to beat; they gulp for air, jiggle their legs, and hop away in search of a mate.