Episode 82: Snow Special

Air Date: June 20, 2007

An avalanche can be caused by … a person yodeling.

busted

While the small-scale experiments indicated that aimed at the right place, an amplified voice can set off an avalanche, in the final test, no amount of yodeling by a professional yodeler could elicit a response. Even when the the yodeler was provided with a megaphone no avalanche took place.

An avalanche can be caused by … the sound of a whip cracking.

busted

Adam theorized that the miniature sonic boom caused by the cracking of a whip could trigger an avalanche, however, no avalanche took place.

An avalanche can be caused by … people firing small guns at the mountain.

busted

This myth was started with stories of World War II soldiers setting off avalanches in heavily snowed-in areas with their artillery, thus using them as environmental weapons. Adam and Jamie attempted to test if lower-powered weapons, such as two MP5s (submachine guns), could also cause an avalanche. They could not get an avalanche to start using these weapons.

Despite the "busted" designation, Jamie emphasized that avalanches are heavily dependent on existing conditions and it’s impossible to tell exactly what will trigger an avalanche.

A person’s tongue can instantly stick to a freezing (below 0°C) metal pole when touched, making it difficult to remove.

confirmed

Using both Tory’s tongue and that of a pig, it was determined that a human tongue can be frozen to a cold metal pole substantially enough to risk pulling some of the skin and muscle off of the tongue. Kari jokingly suggested that a person could free his/herself by peeing on the contact point between pole and tongue.

Driving backwards on an icy road is safer than driving forward because of improved traction.

busted

Although it was found that cars can achieve better traction on an icy road while driving in reverse, the increased traction didn’t offset the sheer difficulty of driving in reverse. Each member of the Build Team drove a different type of vehicle through an icy course and each of them had more difficulty completing the course in reverse than while driving forward.

64 Comments

  1. Henry says:

    Avalanches can indeed be caused by artillery fire. Here is just one of many references.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avalanche

  2. Charlie says:

    Yes, you may want to rename that, because they use small artillery to cause avalanches all the time. The standard is actually an air powered canon that fires a charge into the snow.

    What was busted was gunshots cause avalanches.

  3. Raul says:

    Just blow it up with dynamite!!! The avalanche

  4. Wayne says:

    Contrary to popular belief, while alcohol does make a good antifreeze, your tongue will still stick to a cold metal pole even if you are drunk. Worse, I saw a person with a tongue piercing get stuck and the piercing froze to the pole, too. Talk about wishing for a video camera!

  5. John says:

    Yep, in New Zealand they use an M40 recoiless rifle with a 105mm shell to cause avalanches in the alps. I think they should rename this myth for sure.

    http://www.avalanche.org/pictures/105mm.jpg

  6. Austin says:

    I think that the myth concerning the reverse driving in snow came about from people noticing that they seem to drive better in reverse. I believe that this can be true as most people will not drive over 2 or 3 mph in reverse while on snow.

    • Mike says:

      Yes, and I think the issue here is that you DO have more traction if you reverse in this scenario: you are driving up a hill with a rear wheel drive, you will struggle unless you have weight in the back. If you try the same with a front wheel drive it will be easier, but if things get really tough, the best is to reverse with a front wheel drive. You have the weight and the torque coming from “behind” and you will get up the hill better.

      • Sebastien says:

        True
        been there, done that.

        i used to live up a hill and even with winter tire we were not always able to climb when in the middle of a snow storm, thus having to walk our way until the snowplow came. However, climbing in reverse with a FWD car sometimes gave us enough traction to make it up the hill when it was not possible in forward. (i later got a subaru and didn’t have the problem anymore ;) )

      • Jake says:

        No way, reverse slows you down. If you want to get up a real hill, you will need to get a run at it and hope for the best…. going backwards isn’t going to allow any momentum at all.

        • Thorbjørn says:

          You are right about reverse being slow. But it is not always all about speed and momentum to climb up a snowy hill with a car. If you want to go in a straight line, momentum is good. But if you have to go around some curves, speed and momentum will easily bring you off road.
          If traction is more important than speed, going reverse with a front wheel drive is absolutely an option.
          The car is more difficult to control in reverse, but on the other hand, if you don’t make it, you have to make your way down in reverse to try again. It is difficult do drive up hill in reverse, but even more difficult driving down a snowy hill in reverse.

  7. Greg says:

    The Alps are in New Zealand now?

  8. Dave says:

    Yes, as a matter of fact, the Southern Alps _are_ in New Zealand, if you’d bothered to look it up.

  9. Adam says:

    A really easy way to unstick your tongue from a flagpole or whatever is just to pour a little water on it. It pops right off, no harm done.

  10. José says:

    MP5 isn’t a machine gun, and it’s not really loud either. I totally understand why they couldn’t use a real MG in this situation, but what they proved was only that small weapons fire can’t start an avalanche, at that distance.

    Artillery is very plausible due to sound & impact, even machine guns could be… just not two 9x19mm MP5 SMGs.

  11. Buster says:

    Regarding the myth in which guns cause an avalanche: The myth statement has been altered to exclude the word “artillery”, since the MythBusters actually used submachine guns in the test, not artillery. Thanks for the feedback.

  12. Cpt. Cranky says:

    3 people from the San Francisco area doing a driving in the snow myth? I wonder if they’ve ever driven in snow before. I think they should retest using drivers familiar with driving in those conditions.

  13. genoobie says:

    If you don’t panic, you can probably unstick your tongue. You’d have to blow on the surface and hopefully it’s not too windy or too cold or you’re done.

  14. hunter says:

    it should also be noted that they used mp5s which use 9mm rounds. that is pretty small compared to others. also, considering the characteristics of a small submachine gun like the mp5, i doubt that all of the rounds were too scattered and weak by the time they reached the mountain to do much of anything. they should have tried it with a saw machine gun. this would actually have a chance of causing an avalanche. what they were doing was like trying to put out a fire with super soakers.

  15. Musicia says:

    i been thinkin…can u really save yourself by taking covering behind a rock…mabe the avalanche could just boom the whole rock n u die the same

    • MSpears says:

      It depends on how *solid* the rock is. If it’s part of the mountain, it would probably protect you from the impact of being hit by tons of snow, but not from being buried.

      If it’s just a rock (i.e. sitting on the surface of the mountain, not anchored to the surface), then the avalanche could very well carry the rock… and you… along with it.

  16. Ethan says:

    what ate the name of the sunglasses that Jamie was wearing in this episode, I’ve seen them before and I thought they were cool but what are the brand name or style called to I can find them. they look like welders goggles. thanks in advance

  17. chuck says:

    The reverse question…
    Nearly all transmissions, manual or automatic, have greater torque multiplication in reverse.
    With impossible loads, a weak clutch, or failing autotrans pumps, if you just had to move the car/truck, reverse would might be the last thing to die…and save your bacon in an emergency
    As for driving on ice/snow, shift up to reduce power (and thuse reduce spinning) for improved control

  18. Phil says:

    Adam – I’m very insulted on how you cracked a bull whip. I’ve been watching your show for a few years now but I’ve been cracking bull whips since I was 11 years old (approx 40 years). You did not attach a popper on the whip so the stiff leather end created a very low level pop. I perform with a 12 foot bull whip with a popper approx 3 feet long and the boom is much louder than the machine guns you used and even louder than most high power rifles. I was born and raised in Colorado and frequent Colorado’s mountians and have, once in my younger years durring a winter camping trip in the back country did start an avalanche with my bull whip! I am frequently threatened to be arrested for discharging fire arms because police and rangers do not believe that a bull whip makes such a noise until I prove to them in their amasement on the noise I can create. One time I was asked by a ranger if I new who was setting off major exposives in the area.

  19. Adam says:

    i don’t think that the vodka mouth wash myth worked like you wanted it to be cause mouth wash only works in you mouth you dont swallow it. you inhale cigarettes so maybe thats why it didn’t work?

  20. jamoecw says:

    yes, and i am sure you can get the whip to break skin, in the episode about the cable snapping they failed to break the skin, they always try to get more power rather than look at what actually causes what they are looking to create.

  21. Fred says:

    Ola, nao sei falar ingles nao. Sou do Brasil e sempre que posso assisto. Tem coisas muito interessantes, mas tem mitos com falhas de conceito. Como exemplo o do radar (que bota o cd no fundo do carro)
    o cd pode funcionar para diblar fotografias e nao filmagens.

    Abraco a todos
    ate a proxima

  22. Dan says:

    Ethan, If you are referring to the orangish sunglasses I THINK they are Smith Optics Hudson model. I have them in black and they are comfortable. When the temple did break off I sent them back to the company and they sent me a new pair gratis. Now I am their best evangelist. They are the only brand I will wear despite being given other makes.

  23. Ethan says:

    Negative on that Dan. Jamie’s glasses weren’t orange they were black/mirrored. I searched the Hudson model and those weren’t the ones i am looking for. the ones I want look like a welders goggles- heres a pic http://www.rlslog.net/mythbusters-s05e13-dsr-xvid-kyr/

  24. Kev D says:

    Way back when i was younger about 32 years ago that is, i went shopping with my mother, being the young and inquisitive person that i was ,thought it would be fun to lick the ice off the chilling element of a super market cooler. Unbeknown to my mother who had wandered off looking for the next bargain, turned round to find me nowhere in sight walking back round the isle saw that i had my head stuck in the cooler with my tongue stuck to the element , only to have to be freed by the local fire brigade, which happened to be collecting there grocerys much to everybodies amusement and to my and mothers embarrassment. As we left the store my mother gave me the biggest slap ever thats how i dicovered about your tougue sticking to metal. 100% confirmed

  25. Paul says:

    Kev, and I guess the sound of the slap set off an avalanche of stacked soup tins. Heh heh!!

  26. Stephen says:

    @Ethan:

    They are called Glacier Glasses. Not real sure which manufacturer or style. Good luck on your search.

  27. ken says:

    avalanches can be set off by small firearms, artillary, and loud snowmobiles, i don’t know about yodeling. im from AK, and they use artillary to purposely clear avalanche areas every year. Its all controlled by the “snow conditions” temp, wind, barometric pressure, and humidity

  28. monkeyman says:

    Only thing that would get the tounge off the pole is hot water. breathing wont work regardless. as far as ripping it off with just a little water.. yea if you want to tear your tounge to hell….

    i am actualy watching this episode right now.. and trust me on this, regardless of their results. I know this does happen. Shame full as it is to admit it, I have infact done this, and i’m not saying much more than it was winter, and it was a metal pole. and yes, it hurts like a well u know, even for a while after your off.

  29. Aaron says:

    These people are idiots. Firstly, the real myth, which is not a myth at all, is that cars can get better traction going UPHILL in reverse. In a front wheel drive car, which is most cars nowadays, you get better traction going uphill backwards (similar to a rear wheel drive, obviously). However, of course on flat ground a front wheel drive car drives better because the sliding occurs behind the driving wheels. Being from colorado I have lived with this effect for most of my life. Secondly, and this is harkening back a few episodes, when cars drive with their windows down, the drag is different depending on the speed! They tested gas mileage on cars with windows down versus air conditioning on and windows up at a constant of (i believe) 55mph. Well, at that speed it is better to use air. But at lower speeds, where the drag is lower it is in fact better to keep the windows down. The rigor behind these ‘experiments’ is extremely lacking. Maybe it’s for TV convenience, but I doubt it. Most likely they’re just dumb.

  30. Jack says:

    Yes indeed. Watched this one last night, and it occurred to me today to poke around the web on this one. I was channel surfing last night, caught the show part-way through, and didn’t hear the myth explained (car in reverse in the snow.)

    Thus I wasn’t 100% sure what it was they were trying to prove, but as a 42-year-old New Hampshire resident, I can tell you that no one who has spent their life in a place that sees plenty of snow in the winter believes for even a second that the car is more controllable on snow or ice when driven in reverse. Quite the opposite is true, as most would suspect.

    What *IS* true, as Aaron pointed out, is that snowy hills that at first seem unclimbable in a front wheel drive car can often be tackled in reverse. This is because any car unloads its front tires under acceleration when being driven forward.

    In a FWD car, you get somewhat better traction in reverse since the weight is shifted onto the front wheels, particularly when traveling uphill. Once you reach the top though, you should turn the car around, and this sort of driving should only be tried as a last resort, when the car can’t *quite* make it up the hill, and you think an extra 10-15% traction will get you to the top.

    This does not work at all in a rear wheel drive car, of course, since they’re usually a little light in the rear to start with and running them in reverse only makes it worse.

    Torque multiplication doesn’t enter into it at all, it purely a function of weight transfer and available traction.

    I’ll disagree with Aaron re: FWD on flat ground though – FWD are downright dangerous in the snow. They’re great for enabling your mom or sister to pull in and out of the driveway though.

  31. Josh says:

    i know of a lot of small guns that have a lot more fire power than a teeny 9mm

  32. casey says:

    should of used way bigger and lounder guns and even a cannon

  33. David says:

    if the presserwaves of TNT could make an avalach a loud speeker should

  34. mike says:

    RWD is fun for us but for a novice is probably more dangerous. fishtailing/spinouts on the ice from too much throttle, as well as having very little traction from the get go. (unless rear engined of course..)

  35. Gary Cameron says:

    Another myth for you: A vehicle with a manual transmission will have better traction on pure ice if you start out using a HIGHER gear (second or third) rather than first. (I have personal experience with this one in a 4×4.)

    Four wheel drive, if engaged at higher speeds, is extremely dangerous. If you need 4×4 to go faster than 30-40 mph (50-60 km/h) you are going too fast for conditions.

    The tongue freezing to a flagpole myth is a no brainer for anyone who lives in a colder climate. Anyone from northern USA or Canada probably knows someone personally who has experience with this. Usually a younger kid on the school yard.

    I did not know that most vehicles have better traction in reverse. I DO know that using reverse is better if you are using a tractor or four wheel drive to pull another vehicle out of a ditch. This is mainly because it is easier to watch the vehicle you are assisting. (Please be extremely careful if you need to do this on or near a public road.)

    Trivia: According to a friend of mine who is a retired cop, front wheel drive cars usually do better at slower (city) speeds whereas rear wheel is safer at higher (highway) speeds. Notice that police prefer rear wheel drive vehicles.

    Your show is always a blast (pun intended). I very much enjoy watching it.

  36. keith says:

    About the traction in snow myth. I live in snow country and go back to the days before front-wheel drive (fwd). When fwd showed up us drivers noticed it could not climb a slippery hill as well as a rear wheel drive. Where the driving in reverse thing comes in is that we learned to drive up a slippery hill in reverse with a fwd vehicle. It worked better that way and more closely worked the same as driving up the hill in a rwd vehicle going forward. That is what the myth is really all about.

  37. Muzzy says:

    I can’t believe the tongue on metal thing was a Myth. I have a scar on the tip of my tongue from Elementary. Then again I’m in Canada so it’s probably more common here than in Cali.

  38. ERIC R says:

    I object to the idea that people who have NEVER driven on snow can have an objective test on anything to do with advantages for driving in snow. As stated by others, the myth is about traction in hill climbing not flat driving which these Caly folks are not equipped to handle.

  39. Paul Malley says:

    A car has more “tug” in reverse than in
    first as if you had checked the manual, you
    would have noticed that reverse is “more
    highly gearted” than first.

    A tractor ( two wheel drive, two large wheels at the back)can produce so much
    torque it can do a back flip.
    When going up a very steep hill or when
    bogged it is safest to reverse out.

  40. Tim E says:

    Having lived most of my adult life in New Hampshire, I can tell you that most people I see driving around in a snow storm might just as well be driving in reverse. Why is it that those who live in New England (Mass. in particular) can’t seem to remember from one year to the next that snow is slippery? Maybe this memory problem explains why they like the Red Sox so much.
    As for rear wheel drive vs. front wheel drive; in poor traction, front wheel drive is more forgiving (you don’t have to know how to drive as well). In the hands of an experienced driver, rear wheel drive will out handle and all around out drive any front wheel drive. How many race cars are front wheel drive?
    Don’t hurt yourself I’ll tell you….None.

  41. 4x4 in reverse says:

    I also agree the driving in reverse in snow myth was tainted.

    Here are some true facts. Even in 4 wheel drive with my ¾ ton diesel truck I could not make it up a snow covered icy hill. I attempted it 4 times all with the same outcome. The truck had all season radials that have great tread but are not studded or have the winter markings. After turning around at the bottom of the hill I climbed the hill with no problem driving slow and steady in reverse. I also think as other have stated, once the weight of the engine shifts off the front wheels towards the back the traction gets diminished. My story is different because I have done this even in 4×4 with a posi-traction rear end and reverse still worked when going up engine first did not.

    Love the show, but you need to get this right!

  42. superinsomniac says:

    now they need to try to find out the easiest way to get your tongue off the frozen pole with minimal damage to the tongue IE. avoiding burning it, tearing the skin off of it, etc.

  43. Christopher Treptow says:

    H&K MP5s fire 9mm rounds which don’t have alot of knetic energy. They will not start an avilanch. You should have gone with somthing like a Broning Modle 1917 or even an M-240 which fires 7.62mm rifle rounds. And if that does not do it the M-2 will, it fires .50 cal bmg.

  44. Matt says:

    Well, if you have no other way, the only way to get off the pole you are stuck to without losing skin is to make out with the pole. You are stuck because the pole is cold and froze you saliva. You need to heat up the area.

  45. Jacob says:

    I watch your show a lot an you have inspired me im 12 years old an i now love science thanks to you guys but i still have a lot to learn to know as much as you guys but now i learn from tv lol an Jamie love the hat!!!

  46. kcjaph says:

    With regard to loud noises triggering avalanches, not going to happen. Take a look at http://www.avalanche.org/~uac/ed-faq.htm . This is the Utah Avalanche Center and these people know. Explosives
    can trigger slides because the concussive force from the shockwave created from the explosion, not the noise created.

  47. Rommel Gagasa says:

    Hi Mythbusters..I think driving backwards on an icy road is not safe..but they say it can achieve better traction on the road…Can you try switching the tires so that the usual tire thread when going forward is using the reverse thread..So that you dont have problem driving on reverse..hope u understand my point…THANKS!!:)

    • Thorbjørn says:

      Rotation is irrelevant, it is all about weight distribution, putting more force on the driving wheels.

  48. Josh says:

    Hey guys, I just finished watching this episode and I understand that alot of viewers may not be familiar with snow driving (as is the same with some of the myth busters it seems). It seems peculiar to me that nobody happened to mention then main issue in the experiment. First off it’s pretty apparent that neither Tory, Grant or Kary have alot of experience driving in snow (nor driving in reverse on snow it seems). You need to take into account that in all the vehicles you tested you had front engines. When in reverse taking a corner the weight of the engine added with the tires turning in the back of the car adds alot more side force. The whole point of going in reverse on an icy road is to get somewhere that you wouldn’t be able to get to going forward(usually meaning uphill). That being said reverse is far superior to forward because acceleration is adding to the down force of the front tire in reverse. Also the fact that the car is in reverse going uphill also means that more of the cars weight is distrubuted to the front tires. By no means is reverse safer on curved roads going high speeds, but it may just get you where you need to go when forward just won’t work to get you there.

  49. Josh says:

    I also just noticed an earlier post mentioning having more traction in higher gears on snow. I’d like to offer my theory (or what I consider to be fact). When you start off in a higher gear there is less torque on the wheels at takeoff, meaning it’s harder for you to give it enough gas to make the tires spin. So it’s not really that higher gears give more traction (same car, same tires, same motion), it just makes it easier for the driver to not screw up :) Thanks.

    • Jahn says:

      Agreed
      Traction can not be increased, but a higher gir from standstill will give slower Acceleration. The friction is always at its’ highest just before you loose it.

  50. Taxx says:

    If you pee on anything metal it heats it up and will unfreeze any human flesh attached.

  51. busterz says:

    When I used to work at a ski resort, there was a steep road that didn’t get plowed. When we got bored we would see how far we could get our 2 wheel drive cars up the hill before having to back down. Traction has a lot to do with how much weight is on the spinning tires. In the case of my Accord (front wheel drive) driving in reverse allowed me to get much further up the hill than driving normally because while going up a hill a lot of the weight is transferred to the rear where the tires are spinning.

  52. tataia says:

    Driving a car in reverse on an icy road improves traction only if the car is front wheel drive witch is not normal (to have FWD). Normal cars are RWD so they have better traction driving forward. They are far superior to FWD. To bad that many manufacturers don’t build them anymore.

  53. Nils says:

    I live in icy Norway. And as many here says, a front wheel car can climb hills in reverse that is not possible in forward gear. And the reason that bwd and 4wd cars is often better in reverse, is because their tyres is worn down. But when you drive in reverse you will still have sharp edges the other way. And espescialle if you use spikes as they will only be worn down on one side. it will then be super sharp in reverse.
    So to Mythbusters, change the outcome!! this myth is CONFIRMED!!!

    • Alaskan says:

      Nils,

      I just like to confirm your diagnoses on FWD in reverse up a hill.
      Years ago I attempted to ascend a hill in Eagle River Alaska in my VW Rabbit and finally slowed to a spinning stop. I turned my car around and backed up the hill with no problems. More weight was transfer to the drive wheels, enabling greater traction with my studded tires.

      Now, in recent years I have been driving a RWD VW Vanagon and backing up a hill backwards would be much worst then forward. As all the weigh shifts back over the drive wheels when pointed forward up a hill.

      On all vehicles, you’d always put snow chains on the drive wheels. For obvious reasons, you want traction to go somewhere. Why not the best/newest studded tires for the same reason? Once you get going, one has no business making speeds on curves that would cause the other (bad/older/non studded) end to break traction.

      This past week I noted some video from latest snow storm in Colorado, where cars/trucks attempting an uphill climb slow to a spinning stop, then with all 4 wheels locked (drives on the brakes) would slide backwards down the hill. What was interesting was the heavier end of the vehicles all seemed to attempt to swing around the lighter end. If I remember my sciences classes right, two balls of equal size, but one is heavier, the heavier will beat the lighter ball down a incline. I discovered the same with my RWD VW when attempting my steep driveway. (Vanagon is heavier in front (54%) even though engine is in rear (46%)) I’d get off the break enough to swing tail end into curb, letting front end swing around and pointing back down hill and then drive forward down the hill. I sure wish the folks in the video had presences of mind to do the same. Oh well.

    • tataia says:

      The fact that a FWD car will have better traction in reverse has nothing to do with the wear of the tires. You can use brand new tires and the car will still have much better traction in reverse. And a RWD car will have better traction only driving forward regardless the fact that it’s rear tires have about the same wear level as a FWD car’s front tires. It’s all about weight distribution that changes when you change the direction of driving. But the manner in which mithbusters busted this mith was very unprofessional. How can you test this mith with persons that never drove in snow before? What professionalism is this?

  54. AMWOOD co says:

    I’d like to know if there are people in the southern states (Mythbusters is filmed primarily in San Francisco, California, right?) that actually didn’t know about tongues freezing to flagpoles. I live north of the border in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and someone in my old grade school used to go and stick his tongue to the basketball net poles every year (I don’t know why, but he did). As far as I know, your tongue sticking to anything metal in sustained cold (like a balmy -10 Celsius day in the middle of January), is common knowledge, and everyone knows someone who has done this (if they haven’t done it themselves on a dare).

  55. David says:

    I challenge your conclusions in the reverse driving in snow tests. In the scenes from the episode the person riding was looking backward instead of watching the speedometer once they got moving. I noticed everyone appeared to be going faster in reverse than forward. With the passenger ‘attempting’ to guide the driver instead of what they were supposed to be doing, your test results are invalid. This test would have been better performed by people that are professional drivers experienced with driving in snow. Every time the vehicle go out of line the driver over-corrected, which is worse to do on a slick surface than dry anyway. It made for good entertainment, but is not a valid test. I request a redo!

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