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Wind Chill Temperatures Explained

January 7, 2022
Wind Chill Explained- Meteorologist David Stoltz
Wind Chill Explained- Meteorologist David Stoltz
Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 7:11 PM CST
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HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - It’s that time of year again when we begin to hear the words wind chill, hypothermia and frostbite. But what does wind mean exactly? How is it calculated? Our body’s lose heat through our skin. The heat lost forms a thin layer of warm air near our skin. The body can manage to minimize heat loss when conditions are calm and temperatures are not to low. But what happens when the air temperatures fall and the winds begin to blow?

Wind chill is calculated by taking the air temperature and wind speed and plugging them into an equation that calculates the feel-like temperature by applying the rate of body heat loss. For instance, let’s say the air temperature outside is 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning and the winds are calm. The temperature our body feels is 35 degrees. Still cold, but tolerable for most of us. However, what happens if the wind picks up in the afternoon to around 20 mph. Now that thin layer of warm air that blankets the body is being blown away from the skin, the skin exposed to these conditions is now feeling a temperature of 24 degrees. While you can’t get frostbite from these conditions, as the the actual temperature needs to be below zero for frostbite, you can experience hypothermia which occurs when the body’s temperature falls below 95 degrees.

Let’s look at another scenario. How about the the temperatures we saw this week. We had an air temperature of 5 degrees and the winds were howling at 40 mph. This combination yields a feel-like temperature of -22 degrees on exposed skin. This kind of wind chill will cause frostbite as the actual air temperature is below freezing. In fact, one can experience frostbite in as little as 30 minutes of continuous exposure to the elements. The most vulnerable regions of the body being the extremities such as the toes, fingers, ear lobes and the tip of your nose.

And let’s take one last look at what happens in a extreme case. The temperature plummets to -20 degrees at night behind a cold front with blustery winds around 35 mph. This combination would create a dangerous wind chill of -55 degrees and place any exposed skin at risk of frostbite in as a little as 5 minutes. Definitely not the kind of weather fit for man nor beast.

There you have it. Air temperature plus wind speed equals the feel-like temperature for your skin. Be sure to wear the appropriate clothing this winter so Jack Frost gets a nip and not a bite.

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