With the onset of winter comes a need to prepare and be aware of the hazardous weather conditions that follow. Wind chill is a weather effect that poses potentially harmful conditions during the winter months especially when combined with snow advisories and freeze warnings. It is important to be aware of the risks posed by this phenomenon and to take the necessary precautions to avoid potentially tragic consequences.
Wind chill is a term meant to convey the rate of heat loss when skin is exposed to wind. It is the annoying and potentially dangerous habit of wind in whisking away the top insulating layer of warmth and moisture that sits above the skin during the cold, wintry season. In the hot summer months the wind’s whimsical antics are a welcomed effect but in frigid weather it can prove to be quite dangerous and detrimental to our well being.
Wind chill was introduced into the world of weather forecasting by a team of scientists in the 1930’s working in the South Pole. A series of experiments involving buckets of 100 degree water placed both under shelter and exposed to the winds were conducted to determine when and for how long the scientists could venture outdoors before it posed a risk to their health. The exposed water froze faster as the winds whisked the warm top layer away far more quickly than that of the sheltered water bucket. Thus the term wind chill was coined and put into common use by forecasters across the globe to aid in determining the level of danger we potentially faced when exposed to these conditions.
Wind chill can make us far more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. These are nasty conditions with potentially troublesome or even fatal consequences. Frostbite results when water in the skin and surrounding tissues freezes causing tissue cells to rupture resulting in gangrene and, in some severe cases, a need for amputation. Hypothermia results when body temperature drops significantly leading to high risk of death.
Combating the negative effects of wind chill:
* Wear lightweight and warm clothing in several loose-fitting layers to help trap heat and create insulating layers. Outer layers should be made of waterproof and tightly woven materials.
* Clothing items should include a hood to help prevent heat loss from the head and neck regions. Include a warm winter hat and scarf in this scenario to better prevent the up to 40% heat loss that occurs in this area of your body.
* Apply moisturizer to the skin to aid in preventing water loss. Allow it to dry before venturing out into the cold.
* Not only does extremely cold weather have the potential to freeze lung tissue when inhaled it also allows for heat loss during exhalation. Cover your mouth with a scarf to limit these negative effects.
* During winter weather we tend to consume fluids on a much smaller scale. Make sure to keep yourself hydrated so that your body does not become overtaxed. Keeping hydrated helps to maintain warmth.
* Wet clothing will draw heat from the body and during windy weather causes intense evaporation resulting in major heat loss. Keep clothes, skin, and shoes as dry as possible.
* Consuming a large meal before venturing out into the cold results in a higher propensity for extremities to become negatively affected by the cold weather. Blood is diverted from extremities such as fingers and toes to the stomach to aid in digestion. Consume smaller meals before venturing out into the elements to limit this potentially problematic situation.
Taking a few precautionary measures and keeping informed of weather conditions will help you and your family avoid the dangerous consequences of the wind chill effect. If at all possible it is highly recommended that you stay indoors during wind chill warnings. Winter can be a beautiful time of the year when proper preparations and precautions are taken. Stay safe out there!
Weatherbug – Wind Chill
BBC – Weather
BBC – Wind Chill Effects
CDC.gov – Frostbite
CDC.gov – Hypothermia