Feeling the chill: What does wind chill really mean?

Winter Ready 2021

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — With winter weather comes colder temperatures. Add in some brisk winds and it can feel even colder outside.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), “wind chill” is a term used to describe what the air temperature feels like to the human skin due to the combination of cold temperatures and winds blowing on exposed skin.

In other words, the colder the air temperature and the higher the wind speeds, the colder it will feel on your skin if you’re outside.

So why does it feel colder if the wind speed increases but the temperature remains the same?

The wind doesn’t actually change the temperature outside. However, the temperature we feel is not the actual air temperature, but rather our skin temperature.

Both cold temperatures and wind remove heat from the body. As winds increase during cold conditions, the body loses heat more quickly. This process is similar to when you blow on a hot bowl of soup to cool it down.

The NWS created a Wind Chill Temperature (WCT) index that uses wind speed (mph) and air temperatures (°F) to calculate wind chill values.

For example, a temperature of -10°F occurring with a 20 mph wind gives a wind chill near -35°F. This means that your body will lose heat at the same rate as it would if the air temperature were -35°F with no wind.

The chart also highlights the dangers of winter winds and frostbite. Wind chill values near -25°F mean that frostbite is possible within 30 minutes.

If you have to go out in cold weather, follow these tips:

  • Stay warm and dry: Wet clothing can cause you to lose body heat faster, so make sure to wear waterproof, insulated boots.
  • Stay covered: Wear gloves and a hat. The NWS says at least half of your body heat is lost if your head is not covered.
  • Dress in layers, but wear breathable clothing: Trapped air between loose-fitting clothing helps to insulate you body.
  • Minimize exposure: Limit your time outdoors when cold temperatures and low wind chill values are in the forecast.

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