Wind Chill! What is it?

It’s the first week of 2015 which means it’s cold in Toronto. Watching the news I hear that the temperature is minus 9 degrees Celsius; minus 18 with the wind chill.

So what the hell is the wind chill and why don’t meteorologists and weather folks just give us one number that most accurately reflects what we feel outside?

Here’s what Environment Canada says about wind chill (note that it doesn’t seem to be written by a comms pro):

Canada’s wind chill index is accurate, easy to understand and reflects the needs of Canadians. It is based on research using human volunteers and advanced computer technology, combined with recent medical advances in the understanding of how the body loses heat when exposed to cold. As a result, the wind chill observations and forecasts that you hear are now much more representative of what you actually feel.

The index is expressed in temperature-like units, the format preferred by most Canadians. By equating the outdoor conditions to an equivalent temperature with no wind, the index represents the degree of “chill” that your skin senses. For example, if the wind chill is -20 while the outside temperature is only -10ºC, it means that your face will feel as cold as if it was a calm day (no wind) with a temperature of -20ºC.

I think the above EC information highlights why we’re confused by the wind chill. If it feels like minus 20, why not just say “it’s minus 20, stay warm”? Perhaps because the colder the better, in terms of more of us checking to see how bad it is, and, you know, the increased ad revenue that comes from more viewers.

That said, I used to work at The Weather Network and I know that the meteorologists there were serious about the science of weather and giving Canadians accurate forecasts. I also remember a friend at the time questioning the wind chill factor.  I defended it then, but now I’m not so sure.

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