On December 8th of this year I visited our hives. I went out to the property we keep our bees on and strapped on my cross-country skis (had a foot of snow on the ground - everything well covered in snow). It was somewhere between 28 and 30 degrees outside (recorded high temperature for the day was 32 degrees, but that was after dark when a warm front was coming through). It was partly cloudy and about 10 mph wind - more calm around the hives that are behind a large hill. We have carnolian bees.
I was surprised looking at our yellow hive with all the activity around the auger hole with bees moving around at the edge of the opening and inside and about every 3-4 minutes a bee would come out and fly off on usual summer trajectory to parts unknown (up very high and to the north). One bee flew out and immediately dive bombed into the snow, struggled, got flight again and took off to parts unknown. Some bees flew out a few feet and then came back in. I never saw a bee come back from long return flight. But I didn't stick around for a long time.
In front of the yellow hive there are at least 50 bees scattered around 5 to 20 feet from the entrance who clearly either never made it very far, or died on their way back. They were under different light layers of snow - so these bees probably accumulated over a couple days.
Another flew from our other white hive into the snow and couldn’t get up off its back. I lifted it to the hive entrance, but it froze/died before it could crawl back in. Only about 15-20 in front of white hive, but a bee would come out of there every 5 minutes or so and either take off or sometimes try to fly back in (not always successful).
I kept yelling at them not to fly away but to stay inside and stay warm, but they wouldn’t listen.
I was shocked at so much activity in these temps.
I went out to the hives on Dec. 24th after a number of heavy snows (more than a couple feet of snow in most places) and it was about 20 degrees and very windy and overcast. I was on skis again, but wished I had used snow shoes.
This time, no bees were to be seen (didn't open the hive, just looked into the auger hole). I couldn't hear any activity, but didn't want to tap on the hive and disturb them as temps were dropping fast.