What is Wind Chill, and Why is it Important?

Weather Knowledge

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Have you ever walked outside on a cold, windy day and thought it felt so much colder than the actual air temperature? What you experienced was a wind chill.

Cold air alone can be deadly, but when the air is moving, its effect on people and animals adds additional threats due to the rapid loss of body heat.

According to the National Weather Serivce, the wind chill number is an approximation of how cold the air feels to your body, based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold air.

Our bodies naturally lose heat through convection, even when wind isn’t present. With little to no wind, some heat from the process actually hangs around close to our bodies, creating a small layer of warmth that keeps us warmer.

When it’s cold and windy, however, that layer of warmth that usually clings close to our body is blown away. The removal of heat from the body drops skin temperature and internal body temperature, which is why it feels so much colder.

Because wind chill results in rapid heat loss from the body, it can have adverse health effects. The lower the wind chill tnumber, the higher the risk for developing frost bite and/or hypothermia.

Frostbite occurs when body tissue freezes. The condition is seen most often on fingers, toes, earlobes and the top of the nose. Though, any exposed skin is susceptible to developing frost bite.

Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature falls below 95 degrees.

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, it’s important to cover all exposed skin and dress warm. Wearing layers, winter hats/scarfs/gloves/coats, avoiding drafts and breezes indoors, eating hot food and drinks and checking on friends, family and the elderly are all good practices for maintaining a normal body temperature when dealing with extreme cold.

The wind chill chart above shows what the wind chill will be given a certain temperature and wind speed. Find the temperature on the horizontal and match it to the wind speed on the vertical. Where both the vertical and horizontal rows meet is what the wind chill is. The different colors on the chart indicate the rate at which frostbite can occur.

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