For days, we’ve been experiencing a “polar vortex”, where the cold front has dislodged from the Arctic Circle and moved south.
As Canadians, we’ve prepared ourselves with our road salt, winter jackets and thermo gloves. We’ve turned on our generators and car heaters. But we cannot forget about our IT. Your servers may be stored safely, but the polar vortex poses a threat to any mobile devices—smartphones, tablets and laptops—left outside or in extreme temperatures.
How does the extreme cold damage IT?
Rapid Expansion/Contraction – Electronic components contract when they are exposed to extreme cold temperatures, meaning they can break easily. The slightest reshape could turn a piece of technology into a paperweight.
For example, in a hard drive, the distance between the optical head and the platter is 50nm. That’s less than the width of a single hair. If you turn on a cold hard drive, the electricity heats the circuit, causing components to expand quickly and warp. If the head and the platter touch, the hard drive is broken and the data cannot be recovered.
LCD screens – Extreme cold temperatures will damage LCD screens. Smartphones, laptops and monitors all use displays created by liquid crystals. When the crystals are exposed to extreme cold temperatures, they freeze. This will either leave small black spots or, in worse cases, ruins the entire screen.
Batteries – If you’re electronic is running out of battery power quickly, you can blame the cold temperature. The chemical reaction in batteries create electric currents. But when it’s cold, there are less reactions and a smaller current. In turn, the battery will output more power to keep a sufficient energy supply. In other words, cold temperatures drain batteries.
Condensation – Turning on an electronic with condensation is like turning on a wet smartphone – it short circuits. Condensation will coat the internal and external components of any electronic that is moved from cold temperatures to a warm environment. Turning on a wet device will cause permanent damage.
How to prevent damage
1. If you do have technology that has been left out in the cold, bring it inside or to a warmer environment. Allow all condensation (moisture), internally and externally, to evaporate before turning it on.
2. If you need to use the device immediately, warm it with a hair dryer, not a torch or a flame, to maintain a gradual temperature change.
3. Finally, only turn on your device when it reaches room temperature. This will protect the circuit boards and internal components from breaking or changing shape.
Store electronics safely
Dry surroundings, constant air flow and temperatures just slightly lower than room temperature are the best environments to store your electronics. Remember, if it’s too cold for humans, it’s too cold for IT.