Throwing a cup of hot water into the air in sub-zero temperatures


One of my colleagues on a previous team was stationed in Alaska as part of his military service. He said that one of the things people did for a cheap thrill was to take a cup of hot water outside when it was like a bazillion degrees below zero and throw it up into the air. (Things must be really boring in Alaska in the dead of winter.)

But you have to see it to believe it. And now you can.

Comments (21)
  1. Bill says:

    All I can say is I hope to never see it in person. To Cold….

  2. mikeb says:

    And all I can say is that if I’m ever anywhere that’s cold enough, it’s the first thing I’m going to do…

  3. Jon says:

    I tell this to people all the time but no one believes me and its never cold enough to do down here. I never thought to search youtube for it.

    I remember my AP Physics teacher explaining why it works (IIRC it has to be hot water) but I don’t remember the specific explanation. Any physics people know why?

    [Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some site where you could type hot water thrown into the air on a cold day and it would find Web pages that talked about it? I bet you could make a lot of money if you ran such a site. Oh well. Some things were never meant to be, I guess. -Raymond]
  4. Evan says:

    I’ve seen this before, and was tempted to try it last year. I think I have to this year. It might only get cold enough during the night though where I am (southern WI), and then only for about a week each year.

  5. I live in Alaska, and I gotta tell ya, this is probably only done by bored physiscs students.. the rest of us are just tryin to find a good set of boobs to snuggle up to and keep warm.

  6. Luke says:

    found this through google at  

    http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae7.cfm


    "Some people claim that hot water freezes faster because a pot of boiling water can be thrown into the air on a cold winter day, and it freezes in mid air creating a shower of ice crystals. Whereas a pot of cold water thrown into the air comes down as large blobs of water. This happens because the hot water is so close to being steam, that the act of throwing it into the air causes it to break up into tiny droplets. (hot water is less viscous than cold water, listen to the sound it makes when you pour it in the sink) The small water droplets have a large surface area which allows for a great deal of evaporation, this removes heat quickly. And finally, the cooled droplets are so small, that they can be easily frozen by the winter air. All of this happens before the water hits the ground. Cold water is thicker and stickier, it doesn’t break up into such small pieces when thrown into the air, so it comes down in large blobs."

    Answered by: Joe Larsen, Ph.D. Chemistry, Rockwell Science Center, Los Angeles, CA

  7. ColdWaterOmo says:

    On a related note, hot water can sometimes freeze faster than cold water.

    Looks like this effect was discovered by a Tanzanian kid:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mpemba

  8. GreaseMonkey says:

    [ Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some site where you could type "hot water thrown into the air on a cold day" and it would find Web pages that talked about it? I bet you could make a lot of money if you ran such a site. ]

    Couldn’t this be the site for that?

  9. poochner says:

    And we could call that site "Nimrod" because it would be for mighty hunters…

    with communication problems.

  10. Dhvy says:

    [ Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some site where you could type "hot water thrown into the air on a cold day" and it would find Web pages that talked about it? ]

    yeah, its called google :) infact the linked video comes in as the second result.

  11. David Walker says:

    I have read that the oilfield workers in Alaska have a very hard time with the cold; your steel wrench can snap into many pieces in the cold (steel gets much more brittle at very cold temperatures).  It must be quite dangerous and inconvenient to have a wrench snap in your hands…

  12. This is a common entertainment in Antarctica, particularly in the winter. Followed by the 300 (degree) club. Google THAT.

  13. Worf says:

    Why google when Slashdot just posted a story about it yesterday (the 300 degree club)? http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/12/12/1553250

    Well, it was about doing IT in the Antarctic, but there’s pictures and an explanation of the 300 degree (Fahrenheit, but for those of us not in the US, around 173 degrees C) club. It’s safe for work…

    Then again, McMurdo is a US base…

  14. Dean Harding says:

    Dhvy, I think you should try typing "sarcasm" into google as well… see what comes up.

  15. Puckdropper says:

    There’s gotta be like a googol sites out there.  How would you index and search them all???

    One site I referenced said basically it didn’t have to be extremely cold, just close to the freezing point of water cold.  I might just try this at some point when it cools down a bit more. : – )

  16. Joe says:

    I just tried this outside my house in Houston and it doesn’t work at all!

  17. Name Required says:

    At 7:25AM on December 14, 2007 it was 56 degrees in Houston.  Of course it didn’t work.

  18. nah says:

    I always wondered what would happen if one opens a bottle of beer in vacuum. My theoretical knowledge tells me it should boil and freeze at the same time. Does anybody have guts (and vacuum) to try?

  19. Starfish says:

    If it’s a bottle of Schrödinger’s beer, it is both frozen and boiled until you try to drink it.

  20. Robert says:

    > [ Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some site where you could type "hot water thrown into the air on a cold day" and it would find Web pages that talked about it? ]

    > yeah, its called google :) infact the linked video comes in as the second result.

    Once again, it appears that there is no sarcasm sufficiently obvious that nobody will take it at face value.

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