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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Wind Chill

Air Date: Week of

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Weather forecasters in the United States and Canada recently calculated a new wind chill index, and it turns out the temperature might not be as cold as you think. Reporter Bob Carty sends an audio postcard from Ontario.


CURWOOD: In the good old days, a wind blowing at 25 miles per hour at a temperature of five degrees Fahrenheit would create a wind chill factor of 35 below zero. But those were the good old days. Today, there's a new wind chill index from the folks who make the weather rules for the United States and Canada. They put a dozen Canadians in a refrigerated wind tunnel, monitored their body temperatures, and discovered it isn't always as cold as we would like to think. Bob Carty sent us this audio postcard from Ontario.


WOMAN: I walk my kids to school. We walk through the woods, and it's really, really nice because it's really beautiful snow, and the ice on the trees. It's just absolutely gorgeous. And then we come around a street and then we go up a hill in this little park. Until that point, the kids are totally happy walking to school through the snow; we're enjoying the winter. And then that blast comes, and they don't want to be walking anymore. So that's when I really experience wind chill.


CARTY: Wind chill. A fact sheet from Environment Canada: "The coldest wind chill in Canada was recorded in Kugaaruk, formerly Pelly Bay, Nunavut, on January 13th, 1975, when 56 kilometer an hour winds made the temperature of minus 51 degrees Celsius feel more like 92 degrees below zero."

Wind chill is a feeling, not a real temperature.

MAN: Ah, yes. Wind chill is when the wind makes it feel colder than it really is.

WOMAN: But it's the same temperature.

MAN: Yeah, it's the same temperature, but with the wind it feels colder.

WOMAN: Wind chill doesn't affect inanimate objects. I didn't know that. Like, if there's no one there, is there really wind chill? (Laughs.) The great existential question.

LESHESKY: The wind doesn't actually make the air any colder. What it does is makes our skin colder. I've been complaining for 25 years that the wind chill index is wrong. My name is Randall Leshesky. I work at Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine, which is in Toronto. The old index exaggerated how cold it was, how cold it felt. This new equation is being used all across North America now. It's approximately 13 plus 0.62 times the air temperature, take away 11.4 times the wind speed at ten meters, and then you add to that 0.4 times the air temperature, multiplied by the air temperature.

MAN: Eleven point four times the wind speed… And then I’ll add 0.3965. Times that wind speed with the air temperature? Wow. So when I get up in the morning and want to determine how cold it is, I'll have my answer. And then, I'll be late for work. (Laughs.)

WOMAN: Imagine this. I'm not going to be able to tell my mom any more that it's 52 degrees below zero with the wind chill. She'll think I'm a wimp when I'm up here fussing about things.


CURWOOD: Our feature on the new wind chill index was produced by a now slightly warmer Bob Carty. And for this week, that's Living On Earth.




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