(Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader
Danielle and Chad Albers just wanted to entertain the kids.
With temperatures Monday at 10-degrees below zero and wind chills nearing 50-below throughout the Midwest, videos of T-shirts freezing in minutes, boiling water evaporating in the air and eggs freezing solid ran in a loop on television and online, and spread rapidly across social media.
Late that afternoon, the Albers decided to try a handful of the sub-zero experiments themselves.
"We thought it would be something fun for us to do before supper," Chad Albers said.
First, they filled balloons with food coloring and held them outside for just long enough to turn the liquid into little colored ice pellets to show to their children, ages 3 and 8.
Next, they filled a pot with about two cups of boiling water and set a bottle of children's bubbles by the door. They'd planned to throw the water up and watch it vaporize, then blow bubbles and watch them freeze in the air.
When Danielle Albers went outside and stood in front of her picture window, her children watched as she began to heave the water into the air.
"As I was throwing it, I slipped on the ice and the water went up," Danielle Albers said. "It went all over my neck and down my back."
She started rolling in the snow to soothe the sting, but when she came inside and started taking off her clothes, her family saw serious burns. Despite living just blocks from Sanford Hospital's emergency room, she couldn't drive herself.
"I couldn't drive," she said. "I was in too much pain."
Albers sustained second- and third-degree burns along her neck and back. Large, yellow blisters had bubbled up across her lower back.
The Albers weren't alone, either in testing the limits of the ultra-low temperatures or in being hurt in the process.
Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce and BuzzFeed reporter Adrian Carrasquilla spent parts of Monday and Tuesday using Twitter to track down cases of burns sustained by throwing boiling water in the cold.
Pearce got curious about the boiling water trend when a friend from his native Missouri tweeted that the boiling water experiment was trending on the social media site.
"I hadn't even seen any of the videos at that point," Pearce said.
Pearce soon saw someone who claimed to have been burned and thought "well, this is interesting," he said.
By the end of the day, the reporter was able to find more than 50 people on Twitter who claimed to have burned themselves or posted photos of their injuries.
Pearce's post was noted by BuzzFeed and Slate.com, and stories about his discovery went viral, reaching thousands through social media
Brad Temeyer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., was one of them.
The culprit in most cases, Temeyer said, was wind, not ice. Based on the strong winds, the injuries didn't surprise him.
"Normally, when it's this cold, the wind isn't nearly this strong," Temeyer said.
Temeyer's colleague, Marc Chenard, threw a pot of boiling water into the air for an Argus Leader videographer on Monday. Temeyer and Chenard have each done the experiment several times.
The speed of the throw matters, Temeyer said. The huge discrepancy in temperature will cause the water to vaporize instantly, but the droplets must be small for that to happen.
"It all depends on how you throw it," he said. "If it goes up in one water mass, it will come down that way, too."
Danielle Albers says her advice is to avoid the practice altogether.
"Just don't do it," Albers said. "It's not worth it."
Temeyer says the temperatures won't reach low enough for the experiment to work for quite a while.
Temperatures will continue to rise through the weekend before falling slightly at the beginning of next week.
(Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader via USA Today