As you might have seen mentioned once or twice on the Interwebz, it's going to be cold on Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The narrative has been beaten into the ground, but this is one time I don't think it's entirely over the top.
The general discussion about the weather forecast has been reports of a high of 0 and low of around -18. However, the more important forecast is the wind chill, which could bring the temperature, or at least what it feels like, down to somewhere between -30 and -50. It is going to be absolutely, crazy ridiculous cold on Sunday.
Per weather.com (found via PFT) there is a wind chill advisory Saturday 6 p.m. CT to Sunday 6 p.m. CT. That converts to a wind chill warning beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday night. The game gets going at 3:40 p.m. CT, which means the 4th quarter will be under way at the start of the warning. Here's how weather.com described what it means:
* WIND CHILL VALUES OF 20 BELOW TO 35 BELOW ZERO SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY. WIND CHILL VALUES OF 35 BELOW TO 55 BELOW ZERO SUNDAY NIGHT THROUGH TUESDAY MORNING.
* FROST BITE ON EXPOSED SKIN COULD OCCUR WITHIN 30 MINUTES SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY... AND AS LITTLE AS 10 MINUTES SUNDAY NIGHT THROUGH TUESDAY MORNING.
A WIND CHILL ADVISORY OR WARNING MEANS THAT VERY COLD AIR AND WINDS WILL GENERATE DANGEROUSLY LOW WIND CHILL VALUES. THIS WILL RESULT IN FROSTBITE AND LEAD TO HYPOTHERMIA OR DEATH IF PRECAUTIONS ARE NOT TAKEN. IF YOU MUST VENTURE OUTDOORS... MAKE SURE YOU WEAR A HAT AND GLOVES.
There has been a lot of talk comparing this game to the legendary Ice Bowl in 1967. Mike Juley of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel put together a great article discussing the differences between then and now. There are plenty of differences that make this game a little more bearable. It will be ridiculously cold, but it probably will not be quite as awful as the Ice Bowl.
The Packers are working to accommodate freezing fans. They will hand out 70,000 pairs of hand warmers, and they will provide two free cups of hot chocolate and coffee at concession stands. It won't exactly save the day, but it's certainly helpful.
It is entirely possible this is all being blown out of proportion, and the weather will end up freezing, but not quite -50 wind chill cold. However, when you start getting down under 0, there is still plenty to be concerned with. If you happen to be going to the game, and are reading this, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta provided some useful pieces of advice. Among other things:
- Eat a big meal, as food can help generate body heat.
- Drink coffee and hot chocolate, NOT alcohol
- Loosely layer clothes to keep warm air trapped inside
- Wear a hat because 20% of body heat is lost through the head
- Head indoors every so often when possible
If it does get down into the minus double digits, there are serious potential consequences. You can suffer hypothermia and even frostbite on your face and other exposed skin when you start getting down that far. Here is an interesting explanation of the effects of -40, which is apparently when they have to use alcohol thermometers instead of mercury thermometers:
Minus 40 is also the point where it's no longer safe to expose any skin to the cold. At this temperature, or windchill temperature, skin can freeze almost instantly. This was determined, believe it or not, by a bunch of scientists who stood around in Antarctica until their skin froze.
Some of the players were asked if they would be wearing sleeves on Sunday. Alex Boone said on KNBR that he would not wear sleeves:
#49ers Alex Boone: no sleeves at GB. Said on KNBR his mom /g'ma call him crazy: "Leave me alone. ... I don't tell you what to wear to work"— Cam Inman (@CamInman) January 3, 2014
Justin Smith was asked about wearing sleeves. He said he would see what the weather was like before making his decision, but he seemed inclined to wear them if it was as cold as people were saying.
Justin Smith: "You’re not gonna scare the opponent by not wearing sleeves. He might call you a dumb-ass"— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) January 2, 2014
Head coach Jim Harbaugh generally dodged questions about the weather much of the week, but he had an amusing answer when discussing the weather.
We're aware of it and we'll pack all our shoe options. And the guys will put clothes on that they'll be able to move around in and then start playing. The heart rate ramps up, the hot blood races to the arteries, to the vessels, to the capillaries, and there distributed to the fingers and the toes. In an athlete, the age and the health of these guys, that hot blood will be racing around.
It's going to be an issue from start to finish. The 49ers will get at least one chance to try and acclimate to the weather. According to Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers will conduct an outdoors walkthrough at the Packers practice facility. It won't be as cold Saturday as is expected Sunday, but it's one opportunity to get at least some kind of idea about the situation.
The 49ers can't use Lambeau Field for the walkthrough because there will be tarp on the field. Snow is expected Saturday, but it should be cleared up by Sunday. With tarp on the field, in getting the snow cleared by Sunday the field conditions should be pretty decent. It'll be cold, but with heating coils underneath, as long as it doesn't snow, the conditions should be decent.
The sting of the cold is a big deal, but the most significant obstacle could be the football itself. Greg Roman talked about how the ball is going to be harder. Wind could potentially be an issue as well, but the ball and grip are going to be noteworthy for the offense. Coach Harbaugh also mentioned how it could be a bigger issue for the kicking game.
"I think the ball and the effect that that has on the game will be more seen by the kickers. The kickoffs won't fly as far, the punts won't fly as far, that's true. You'll probably see 10, maybe even 15 less yards on the kickoffs."
This will be something to track all game long, whether it be kicks or punts. The field position battle could swing dramatically.
The Green Bay Packers do get an edge in generally cold weather given the time they get to practice in it, and the number of games in which they play in it. However, when you start getting down below 0, does anybody really have thaaaaat much of an edge? I suppose maybe a little, but when it gets that cold, I don't know that anybody comes out a winner.