Behind the Forecast: Weathering cellphone trouble

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Science Behind the Forecast: Weathering cellphone trouble

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Nowadays, we spend a lot of time glued to our phones. The weather can shatter that connection quite quickly.

Many smart devices ranging from smartphones to vape pens to Bluetooth headphones are powered by lithium-ion batteries. While valuable for their ability to deal with high and low currents, that same property is their downfall once temperature plummets below freezing, according to Wired.

Their lack of internal resistance means while they don’t produce much heat, thus not wasting much energy, the chemical reactions inside the battery significantly slows down when temperatures fall. This drains your battery faster than water whistles out of a bathtub.

It’s not just the batteries, the LCD screens in our laptops, phones and even our car GPS’s are affected by temperatures. Each LCD screens is made up of millions of multicolored pixels that are each controlled by it’s on a transistor. Electricity passes through liquid crystal changing its shape which focuses light through filters and into the pixel lighting up the chosen color, Wired explained. Those pixels work together to create the colors of the images we see. The liquid crystals work their best between 32° to 120° F. In colder temperatures LCDs slow down, causing a blurry image.


Heat can pull a Wreck-It-Ralph on your phone too. Our phones do produce some heat. Even though they don’t produce much, additional heat from the environment can cause a phone to work even hard and thus become less efficient. Cell phones pump out the most heat when they have to perform complex tasks like tracking your route to Hot Topic, watching cat videos on YouTube and calling your mom for help with laundry, according to In 90 degree temperatures, the phone has to work even harder creating much more heat. All of this warmth can damage internal components and drain the battery. Components like the processor are quite sensitive to heat; they much slower as their temperatures rise. It then becomes a vicious cycle. The Guardian explains that a phone becomes more sluggish as it gets hot. It needs to stay active longer because it’s taking longer to complete tasks which makes it pull more electricity from its battery thus driving up the temperature even more.

Extended exposure to temperatures over 85° F can cause damage to a battery’s chemical components, leading to a shorter battery life. If a battery gets too hot it can explode.

Heat can significantly damage a phone screen as well. The liquid layers that make it up may swell as temperatures rise. The sensitive pixel in the screen can then explode causing the glass to crack.

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