Extreme Cold Weather: How To Cope Like A Finn

From extreme outdoor adventures, to staying on your feet in the city - here's our guide to surviving Finland's coldest days of winter.

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Winter sunrise over Koli National Park, Finland / Credit: @finnishparks Instagram

Forecasters in Finland have issued an extreme weather warning for much of the country, as temperatures plunge close to -30°C this week.

And in a once-in-every-30-years phenomenon, we’re likely to see temperatures stay below -20°C even into next month.

“We have a high pressure area over Finland, terrestrial easterly winds, cold air from
Siberia, mostly clear skies, and these are all components for very cold weather” explains Meteorologist Anniina Valtonen at the Finnish Meteorological Institute FMI.

“The situation can stay like this for some time. The cold spell may last into early March” she cautions.

There’s a heavy dose of science to explain why we’re shivering in a Polar Vortex at the moment, which involves rapid warming in the stratosphere above the North Pole. Then, when the Polar Vortex weakens or splits in two, Finland’s normal westerly winds weaken as well; so we get very cold easterly winds picking up strength instead, bringing air directly from Siberia.

“During the night time, temperatures can drop to -20°C to -30°C in places, and in the day time it can be -10°C to -20°C. So it’s a little bit warmer during the day, perhaps an early sign of spring!” says Anniina Valtonen hopefully.

The bottom line: it’s going to get very cold indeed right through the middle of this week, before easing up a little by Thursday.

Dressing For The Outdoors

At the Haltia Finnish Nature Centre at Nuuksio National Park, they’re used to giving advice on what to wear to keep warm.

“Of course you should have a hat because you lose most of your heat through your head. And a proper scarf and mittens too” says manager Mari Valtonen.

“If you go hiking in cold weather you should have many layers. Trousers and long underwear, and it’s even better if they are woolen underwear” she says.

Something important to keep in mind, don’t wear too many layers because that makes you sweat, and sweat freezes.

Mari says one of the biggest mistakes that people coming to Nuuksio make is not wearing the correct shoes – or being fashion victims.

“Young people, they have too short shoes and trousers and you can see even see the skin, that’s the fashion! And it’s a problem because it’s very important that your skin is not exposed” she explains.

Extreme cold winter weather in Lapland / Credit: News Now Finland

Official Advice

Finnish police forces can spend seven months of the year dealing with cold weather problems, depending where in the country they are.

Officers in Helsinki – and other cities – have been active on social media warning people of the driving hazards in cold, snowy or icy road conditions; and encouraging drivers to keep the car windows and lights clean.

But another real danger when the temperature drops is the risk of hypothermia – literally, freezing to death. And when Finns mix alcohol with cold weather, that risk increases.

“In our own code, with drunk people in the summer time we don’t need to respond to the spot so quickly. But during these cold days we need to respond to the spot immediately” explains Deputy Chief Inspector Seppo Kujala of Helsinki Police.

“It can have dangerous results for the individual if they are not collected and taken to some shelter” he says.

Luckily, it’s not so common for people who drink too much to freeze to death. That’s because the do their drinking at home.

“When it is very cold, people just get indoors, and if they are drinking heavily they do it indoors so basically things outside are kind of calmed down during the colder periods” says the Deputy Chief Inspector.

Finland’s National Institute for Health and Wellness THL gives practical advice for walking on icy pavements in extreme cold weather.

According to a recent survey, four out of ten Finns have slipped during this or last winter. And THL is trying to cut that number.

Slippery surfaces, poor road maintenance, inappropriate footwear and darkness are the main factors behind wintertime stumbles.

So THL advises people to focus on walking – stay off your phone. Stay alert and anticipate any especially slippery parts of the pavement. Put on shoes with a low and wide heal, with a good grip – or even attach extra grips to your shoes during the worst weather.

THL also advises that consuming alcohol increases your risk of falling down!

Snowmobiling north of the Arctic Circle / Credit: @LaplandSafaris Instagram

Expert Tips From Lapland

The outdoor guides at Lapland Safaris operate in extreme conditions all across northern Finland.

“The basic rule is layered clothing. That’s the key issue when dressing for very cold temperatures” says Jyrkki Karonen, Rovaniemi Area Manager for Lapland Safaris.

“We we talk about cold temperatures, clothes should be very loose fitting inside whether it’s mittens or clothing, trousers, jackets. It needs to be one size bigger so there is pockets of air between the layers” he says.

And beware of the different types of cold weather in Finland. The dry cold in Rovaniemi, inland, is quite different to the bitter coastal cold of Kemi, where ice breakers operate.

Jyrkki Karonen adds one more warning that people might not think about: their lip balm or face moisturiser.

“Often people use some cream on their faces which consists of a certain amount of water, and then when you are putting on cream, moisturiser to cheeks and lips and you go outside to extreme cold temperatures it’s not a good mixture” says Karonen.

“When it freezes, you will have nice points on your face that will freeze too. You can use some, but be careful of the ingredients and make sure there isn’t too high water content” he says.

Forecast Ahead

At the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Anniina Valtonen says the next four weeks looks to be 10 degrees colder than average for this time of month.

Scientists in Finland usually see lower than average temperatures for up to 60 days after a sudden warming stratospheric event above the North Pole, and the Polar Vortex effect.

They happen roughly every second year, but the last major midwinter freeze in Finland happened in January 2013.

So don’t expect to be throwing away your winter clothes any time soon.