Okay Seriously, Though, What’s the Deal with Wind Chill, Anyway?

Baby, it’s cold outside, but it’s even colder than your weather app is telling you. Or at least, it feels colder. What’s that all about? 

You’ve probably heard the term “wind chill factor” used by local meteorologists and your friends who live in cold places who want you to know it’s, like, really cold there right now. Wind chill is the temperature that a person feels because of the wind; in other words, the effect that wind speeds have on how we perceive cold temperatures.

It’s all about how quickly your body will lose heat due to the gale force winds blowing up a wintry mix outside. Because of the blood vessels wired all throughout our skin and underlying tissues, we are constantly radiating a thin layer of warm air that helps insulate us from the cold, and keeps us actually a bit warmer than the surrounding outside temperature. When it’s windy, however, a lot of that heat is quickly carried away, causing us to feel colder than we would be just living in our little self-generating bubble.

Fact or Fiction?: Wind Chill Is Real
Wind chill chart provided by the National Weather Service.

When winds are whipping by at faster than 25 mph, they’re carrying off that heat faster than your body can generate it, leaving you exposed to the full effects of the actual low temperature outside. This is why wind chill temperatures can be useful and are reported on the local news and in some advanced weather apps; you can dress more appropriately if you know just how many times you’ll be cursing the weather gods on your commute.

In reality, wind chill is all about perception, so a wind chill index is an attempt to calculate how we humans will perceive the temperature according to how quickly the air around us is moving. So while it’s not an exact science, you and your exposed fingers probably still appreciate the heads up when it’s 40 degrees outside but “feels like” 30. Either way, don’t forget your scarf and hat!