Zombie physiology

Chill out: Does cold effect zombies?

By Chris Post

It is a question that is asked every winter: How would cold weather effect zombies? As with any theoretical discussion of zombies, the answer will depend on a number of factors including the type of zombie and severity of the cold.

The first thing we can establish as fact is that cold effects people and zombies are (or were) people, too. Regardless of the type of zombie, they inhabit a human shell which is subject to the same rules of physics as a living human. That being said, let’s look at the various types of zombies on a case by case basis.

Voodoo Zombies

These zombies of the Haitian tradition are, in fact, living people acting under the effects of drugs and religious belief. Through the administration of “magic” potions, the person has been sent into a death-like state and revived into a state of hypnotic suggestion. They act as commanded, but are granted no special immunity to injury.

As a result of this, Voodoo Zombies would be fully effected by cold. They would fully suffer the effects of frostbite and hypothermia. Given enough prolonged exposure to cold weather, especially wet, cold weather, the Voodoo Zombie would succumb and die.

Rage Virus Zombies

Rage Virus Zombies are those made famous in films like 28 Days Later. They are living beings deprived of mental faculties by a viral infection. As a result of their condition, they are driven to acts of homicide and cannibalism. They often appear to be unaffected by pain or fatigue, but do seem to suffer injury and death from traditional means.

Because of their condition, Rage Virus Zombies would probably shrug off the effects of cold far longer than their human counterparts. Frostbite causes pain and eventual numbness. Early stages of hypothermia cause loss of mental capacity and physical coordination as well as acute drowsiness. Rage Virus Zombies are usually shown to be immune to these effects.

To that end, the Rage Virus Zombie would probably keep going past the point that a normal human would lay down and die. Even after it lost fingers and toes to frostbite, it would probably keep crawling after its target. Eventually, however, the reduction in body core temperature begins to have effects on the heart and lungs. Given the understanding that the Rage Virus Zombie is still living, this would ultimately  end its life.

Romero Zombies

Romero Zombies are reanimated corpses returned to life by some artificial (but not magical) means. This could be exposure to a virus, fungus, chemical or celestial radiation. Regardless of the cause of their resurrection, Romero Zombies are immune to pain and are killed only by the destruction of their brain.

Since Romero Zombies can survive all manner of bodily injury, frostbite and hypothermia would have no effect on them whatsoever. They could lose entire limbs to cold and continue on in their hunt for human victims.

Given their immunity, normal winter cold in most of the world would not be enough to stop a Romero Zombie. However, as we stated earlier, they do inhabit a human form and are composed (at least to some degree) of flesh, which has a high volume content of water. At very cold temperatures, even living flesh will freeze solid. At temperatures of about -18 degrees (50 degrees below freezing) a living person’s flesh will freeze in about 15 minutes. We have to assume that the Romero Zombie would be similarly effected, if not more so do to a possible lack of internal circulation.

Frozen cells are also susceptible to rupture as water expands as it freezes. It is therefore possible that a Romero Zombie subjected to prolonged exposure to extreme cold could suffer cellular damage to its brain sufficient to render it permanently dead. Of course, the zombie could just as likely thaw out in the spring and begin its undead life anew.

Curse Zombies

Curse Zombies are creatures forced into an undead existence by some mystical or supernatural means. By their very nature, they defy scientific reason so it is impossible to say how they would be effected by cold, but examples from popular culture would indicate that the consensus is that they would not be.

The Nazi zombies of Dead Snow are a prime example of Curse Zombies who exist quite fine in cold climates. In addition, the draugar are a class of Norse zombies who live on in their frozen tombs to protect treasures or avenge their own deaths.

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