Toss a bucket of boiling water into freezing air with abandon, and the results can be magical: a sparkling cloud of vapor and crystallized water that looks a whole lot like snow.
As bone-chilling temperatures have settled across much of the northern U.S. this week, more and more people are trying that experiment out for themselves, and then sharing the results on social media.
At Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the Northeast, one weather observer let loose a pitcher of boiling water in the minus-31-degree air Thursday morning and then recorded as hurricane-force winds transformed it into snow.
But at-home scientists who try replicating the experiment also run the risk of learning that, before that boiling water becomes a wintry mixture of ice and vapor, it’s still, well, boiling. That means it can scald you, as some of those who pull the stunt are destined to learn the hard way.
During a 2014 cold snap, the boiling water stunt spread across social media as well. The Los Angeles Times found at least 50 people online who said they had scalded themselves by coming into contact with the scorching water before it hit the icy air.
Those are just the ones who were willing to admit it, too.
Some wounded scientists even needed medical attention.
There are also more traditional ways to hurt yourself while doing the stunt, though — like slipping on the ice, as one father learned this year.
The cold weather is expected to maintain its hold on much of the country for the next seven to 10 days, the Washington Post reports, with temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below normal. Those conditions offer plenty of time and the right environment to try the experiment at your own risk.
Luckily, for those who don’t want to get burned by their cold-weather antics, there are plenty of experiments for freezing temperatures that don’t involve scalding water. The Fargo Forum recommends watermelon bowling, freezing a banana into a “banana hammer” and creating “ghost noodles” out of ramen, to name just a few.
But if you have your heart set on throwing caution (and hot water) to the wind, consider using a super soaker, Gizmodo suggests.
Just be sure you know which way the wind’s blowing.