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It's cold. Really cold. "So cold that a man’s laughter freezes in his throat and chokes him to death."

... But coming from Finland and rather merrily facing the current <-25°C outside, I began to wonder how cold is it, really?

Are there any pointers in the books that could be used to make an estimate of the actual temperature ranges throughout Westeros, in wintertime? (measured in °C)

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    I don't recall there being concrete values on the books, but you must consider that the characters in Westeros don't have the same resources you had to endure low temperatures - the lords have their castles, but most of the smallfolk live in poor houses that wouldn't really be able to protect them much of the winter. – Wilerson Feb 4 '12 at 2:49
  • @Wilerson I was thinking in the lines of descriptions of the cold's effects, like if there was something like "the wind was so cold that when men stepped outside, by the time they got to their neighbours house they couldn't feel their fingers". – Ilari Kajaste Feb 4 '12 at 9:15
  • @Wilerson Oh, and I'm not trying to dispute that it's really cold, just wondering how freezing cold it is. You're very correct that the living conditions are bad - especially for the common folk, and they woudn't be able to get good protection from the weather. Though, afaik, the clothing shouldn't really be any worse from today (in fact, possibly better). And in the north I'd imagine builders for the lords would probably know how to build structures for winter too. – Ilari Kajaste Feb 4 '12 at 9:22
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    Normally, there would be a comment like "Like... so cold." for this kinf of question but... I'm not doing it. – apollo Mar 14 '16 at 9:03
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From what I've learned in life, people experience cold (and heat) very differently. Currently, we've had down to -30 C outside for a week now, and I know that to many southerners, that would not be simply "cold", "very cold" or "incredibly cold", it would be something like them going outside, clasping their hands to their ears and screaming "Ahhh!! What is it! What?!" It's beyond their imagination.

In Turkey when I felt like I was melting, the locals would walk around in t-shirt, shirt and jeans (!). On the flip side, they said it gets "really cold" in the winter, when it's +10 C!

I do not recall having read any good depiction in ASOIAF of how cold it actually is. In Dance Jon Snow "loses some skin" when he puts a finger on a piece of meat in a cold storage, which to me sounded rather exaggerated. In any real world situation, to lose skin you'd have to perhaps lick your finger and touch it to metal, as meat just does not have the heat conductivity required.

If memory serves, I think that the best descriptions of cold were in A Storm of Swords, during Jon's expedition north of the wall.

I think this lack of visualisation of the cold is due to the fact that GRRM is not from a truly cold climate. When it's "cold" in New Jersey (which is on the same latitude as Spain!), it is likely a somewhat wet cold, and snow and sleet makes it worse.

Here in northern Sweden, when it's -30C, it is a dry cold, so dry that moisture freezes on any surface, making the world fuzzy. When it snows, it usually gets warmer (and wetter). When it snows when it is really cold, the snow flakes are not really snow, but very, very small flakes of ice, with a texture like sand, running through your (gloved!) fingers.

When GRRM shows a snowflake drifting down beside the elevator on the Wall, to me, that sounds like warm weather. One large-ish single snow flake, that does not happen when it's truly cold. But I don't know if that was GRRM's intention.

I do not think you can properly extrapolate a description of cold, and I think GRRM knows this, and therefore purposely avoids being too descriptive. Also, it is worth noting that a true comparison would not be too useful, as a person in Westeros without modern clothing, low on food, etc might be much more susceptible to cold.

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    So basically, it's hard to find any pointers because it's likely that GRRM just doesn't know how to properly describe very cold temperatures (and probably knows it himself too, thus leaving it mostly undescribed). So the power of imagination then just makes it very, very cold relative to each readers' subjective experience. Ok, works for me, it's fiction after all. Thanks! – Ilari Kajaste Feb 12 '12 at 17:13
  • Im not sure you're argument holds much water; I fail to see how GRRM can imagine an entire world of dynamic variables but he fails to be creative enough to apply appropriate factors of very cold weather. I'm sure he understands that the impact of weather is subjective to the individual. Also, New Jersey might be on a similar latitude but it is much colder in the American North East than it is in Spain due to weather patterns and cold fronts coming down from Canada. – user13880 Apr 17 '13 at 12:16
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    @JamesC I've lived in Toronto, I know exactly what the weather is like there. And I can tell you that it is a very different type of cold from here. Anyway, this is pure speculation, based on GRRM reportedly growing up in New Jersey. For all I know, he grew up on Greenland in an igloo, where they have 300 different words for "snow". I stand by the statement that I do not think that one can properly extrapolate the experience of cold, and I also stand by the statement that GRRM is purposefully vague about how cold it is. If he had wanted to, he could have made it much more specific. – TLP Apr 17 '13 at 13:47
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    Also this lack of knowledge of cold and its effects are clearly shown when the producers for Game of Thrones (the TV-show) show all the Night's Watch guys and many wildlings running around in snow storms without head gear. No one in his right mind would do that. I bet during filming on Iceland, they had hats on but took them off when shooting. – TLP Apr 18 '13 at 12:44
  • The problem I have is the author's descriptions are all over the place. One moment it's so cold that breathing is uncomfortable, the next moment the wall is weeping, ie close to or above freezing. I assume that there's wild fluctuations in temperature, but that the extreme cold means White Walkers are near. – coburne May 14 '14 at 16:41
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It's worth remembering that we haven't actually seen what Winter is really like in the books yet. We've been told some reminisces from the past, some descriptive stuff, and seen the beginnings of it, but GRRM has yet to show us any first hand descriptions.

For a good indication of what cold is like, I'd recommend heading in the direction of some of the writings made by early 20th century Antarctic explorers. Apsley Cherry-Garrard's "Worst Journey in the World" (in particular "The Winter Journey" chapter) is a great place to start, and includes some nice descriptions: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14363/14363-h/i.htm#Page_230

I have met with amusement people who say, "Oh, we had minus fifty temperatures in Canada; they didn't worry me," or "I've been down to minus sixty something in Siberia." And then you find that they had nice dry clothing, a nice night's sleep in a nice aired bed, and had just walked out after lunch for a few minutes from a nice warm hut or an overheated train. And they look back upon it as an experience to be remembered. Well! of course as an experience of cold this can only be compared to eating a vanilla ice with hot chocolate cream after an excellent dinner at Claridge's. But in our present state we began to look upon minus fifties as a luxury which we did not often get.

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In the show Alister Thorne explains to Jon and Sam about his expidition beyond the wall during winter which lasted about 6 months. He explained that if

you took your **** out to take a piss you would lose your finger to the frost

which for most of us would take less then a couple of minutes. I live in Wisconsin where temps have been in the -30s to -40 degrees F. I would not wear gloves at times and after about 15min my hands would get fairly numb and uncomfortable but not lost. My guess is that the temps during winter in the north are probably equal to the poles on earth where temps can get -50 or worse. He also explains how the winds during winter could uproot trees so you can also factor in the windchill which could make them closer to -100 degrees F (if you can imagine how strong winds need to be to uproot trees).

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