Weather Forecast


Ag Matters Column: Windchill holds danger for newcomers

For those of us that grew up in this neck of the woods, the term "wind chill" is a painfully familiar one. In fact, for those born during the dark of winter, it's not uncommon to hear toddlers babbling wind chill factors long before forming complete sentences.

As miserable as winter can be, wind chill may be our trade-off for inexpensive housing, freedom from rush hour traffic jams, wide open spaces and a low crime rate.

Over the past recent years, our area has become home to an influx of new immigrants, who for the most part, come from climates where terms like wind chill, frostbite and hypothermia were not commonplace -- or even part of their vocabulary.

Now that they are here, they will become painfully aware of the trade-offs for the aforementioned attributes of living in the Frigid North.

The windchill factor is the method used by weather forecasters to tell us how much colder the wind feels on unprotected skin. The wind doesn't actually change the temperature outside, but the temperature we feel is not the air temperature but our skin temperature. A person will sense that it's colder because the wind steals body heat by blowing away warm air that surrounds the skin.

This means the windchill factor is not a factor for inanimate objects like rocks, cars and snow -- they will all maintain the same temperatures no matter how strongly the winds blow.

The new wind chill index adopted in 2001 uses a mathematical model developed at Environment Canada that approximates how skin temperature, especially on the face, changes with various air temperatures and wind conditions.

Knowledge of wind chill is vitally important because it predicts just how quickly frostbite will occur at a given wind chill factor. For example, when the wind chill is from ?28 to ?39, exposed skin can freeze in as little as 10 to 30 minutes! This is regardless of the actual temperature shown on the thermometer.

In the summer, it's the humidity that makes the heat unbearable; but in the winter, it's the wind -- not just the temperature -- that makes conditions not only miserable, but dangerous as well.

Windchill equivalents are based on research conducted by scientists Paul A. Siple and Charles F. Passel in the 1940s, later used by the U.S. army to develop warmer clothing for soldiers. The research found that the rate at which water freezes depends on three factors: how warm it was to begin with, the outside temperature and the wind speed.

Following this research, many other countries adopted the windchill index as a public health tool so people could protect themselves from cold-related ailments such as hypothermia and frostbite. This is especially useful for those who are going to be outside for long periods of time for their work, doing chores, exercising, walking to school, or shoveling the driveway.

So, if you have a new immigrant living near you, share this information with them. If this is their first winter, they will appreciate any information that may save all 10 fingers and toes. After all, once winter passes, they'll want all their digits to count their blessing on having their first winter behind them.

For more information on this or other frostbitten topics, contact me at the Polk County office in McIntosh at 800-450-2465, or at the Clearwater County office on Wednesdays at 800-866-3125. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at Source: Environment Canada.