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Archive for January 10th, 2011

Wind Chill

Posted by Dirck on 10 January, 2011

Our eponymous item today is a frequent visitor to this part of the world, and yet so few people understand it.  Since there’s so little of it about today, we may speak freely of its secrets without it wandering over to find out why it keeps hearing people saying its name.

Wind chill is one of nature’s dirty jokes on people living at high latitudes, and it’s sort of the flip-side of the humidex.  The point of including these things in the weather report is to give a short-hand version of, “You may have a thermometer stuck to the outside of your house telling you the temperature.  Don’t believe it.  It’s not lying to you, but you can’t rely upon it.”  That takes a lot more time than “It’s -15 out, with winds of 60km/h, so the wind chill makes it feel like -30.”  There was a brief time when a technically more correct expression of watts/square centimetre was given out, but saying that the wind chill is 3750 really didn’t tell anyone much, and by the time it was explained it actually took longer than that first bit.

Wind chill is not extra cold, somehow magically generated by air movement.  It feels colder, but if the air is at -15, that’s as cold as it can get.  This is one of the things that gets on my back about peoples’ reaction to it– “Oh, my, the wind chill is -45!  I don’t think my car will start!”  Well, if the still-air temperature is -10, that’s as cold as the car can get, and your main problem will be getting into it without the doors being ripped off by the howling tempest of wind.

Wind chill is also not merely a figment of the imagination.  It is authentically dangerous to fauna (humans included) because it is stealing the heat out of your body at the same rate as air which is actually that cold.  If a car, door knob, or thermometer drops its temperature to -10 in three minutes rather than a couple of hours, it doesn’t care.  Creatures put up a fight about this sort of thing, though, and the faster the heat is drawn out of you, the more likely it is that you’ll lose the fight.  This is why dressing appropriately to the weather is important– each winter, a lot of people worried about a hat messing up their hair will discover that one’s ear lobes are not well supplied with blood vessels, and the walk from the parking lot to indoors is longer than they’d thought.  An ear which finds part of itself at even so mild a degree as -5 is not a happy appendage.

I frankly almost prefer a still -30 to a -12 with wind sufficient to have the same chill factor– still air doesn’t probe for gaps in the clothing so actively.  All things considered, I’ll take a Hawai’ian beach over winter any day that doesn’t include a tsunami, but since I’m currently stuck with the problem, I prefer to understand it.  Dress in layers, folks, and keep your pens towards the inside.

Today’s pen, keeping cozy:  Waterman Phileas
Today’s ink, undergoing no rapid phase changes: Pelikan 4001 Violet (See? Resolution under pursuit!)

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