Another winter with more inevitable questions about wind chill. Many normal, sane, almost-bright friends of mine are still convinced that their cars and trucks "feel" the wind chill. I hate to burst their bubble, but that simply isn't the case. Certainly not the way flesh and blood humans feel colder when the wind blows stronger.

According to NOAA, "wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold. As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. Therefore, the wind makes it FEEL much colder." The key here is exposed skin. The stronger the wind, the more body warmth escapes into the environment, leaving you feeling colder.

Disclaimer: yes, a stronger wind will cool your engine block down to the current air temperature FASTER. NOAA agrees: "The only effect wind chill has on inanimate objects, such as car radiators and water pipes, is to shorten the amount of time for the object to cool. The inanimate object will not cool below the actual air temperature. For example, if the temperature outside is -5°F and the wind chill temperature is -31°F, then your car's radiator will not drop lower than -5°F." No ambiguity there.

Credit: NOAA
Credit: NOAA

NOAA's National Weather Service began including wind chill values in their forecasts back in the early 1970s and a revision to the wind chill table came in 2001, after new data from "volunteers" in wind tunnels. Where do I sign up for that? Oh yeah, we're all volunteers up here in the Northland.

If you're a math wonk and you want the formula used to calculate the current wind chill, here are the details, courtesy of NOAA:

Wind chill (ºF) = 35.74 + 0.6215T - 35.75(V^0.16) + 0.4275T(V^0.16)

Where: T = Air Temperature (F)
V = Wind Speed (mph)
^ = raised to a power (exponential)

Wind chill temperature is only defined for temperatures at or below 50°F and wind speeds above 3 mph. Bright sunshine may increase the wind chill temperature by 10°F to 18°F.

Credit: Paul Douglas
Credit: Paul Douglas

One last bit of caution: pets, including dogs, cats and horses can feel the wind chill. Even when it's above freezing, pets' extremities (including paws, noses, and ears) are especially susceptible to wind chill, according to veterinarians. Our furry friends don't have the option to slap on more layers and a warm hat.

It's always a good idea to focus on wind chill, and not just the current or predicted air temperature. A persistently numbing wind not only increases the risk of frostbite, but also hypothermia, a gradual drop in body temperature that can be fatal if not caught in time.

Think warm thoughts and remember the old adage: "There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing choices". Amen.

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