How Cold is Cold?

28 January 2015, 15:09

Have you ever headed out the door wrapped up against the predicted cold weather only to find yourself stripping off some layers as the day goes on? Most of us have. Similarly most of us will have had days when we didn’t wear enough layers and shivered our way through the day.

Whatever the case may be it brings the temperature – whether you measure it in Celsius or Fahrenheit – into sharp focus. And it is not as easy to adjust to as you might think.

For example while the temperature gives us an idea of what it might feel like during the day, it only tells half the story. A day where the temperature is -5 degrees Celsius might feel warmer than one where the temperature registers at freezing point. This could happen purely because of the wind chill factor. If it happens to be pretty windy and the wind is coming from the north it will feel colder than if there was no wind at all. This is why we wrap up and try to avoid the wind getting onto our exposed skin as much as we can.

So while we are reliant on the weather forecast to tell us what the weather will be like for the day ahead, we may not always interpret that information as well as we might. For instance, you probably look at the temperature and whether it is going to be wet or dry. If you see snow on the weather forecast you know it has to be pretty cold otherwise the water droplets in the air won’t form into snowflakes in the first place. However this is only part of the story. You should also look at the wind speed and which direction it is coming from if you want to know truly how cold it might feel.

So while most of us won’t be any more than amateur weather forecasters we can at least get a pretty good idea of how cold it will feel. This could be very different from how cold it actually is. It might seem odd to think a temperature of 2 degrees Celsius could feel colder than when it is at freezing point, but when you factor in the wind direction and the force of the wind you’ll see it’s true. It can also make a difference if you factor in any precipitation that occurs. Anything that hits your skin is going to make you feel colder, whether it is rain or snow, so this too has an effect.

As you can see it makes sense to have a better understanding of how powerful these various factors are in terms of how cold (or not) it feels. It might mean you have a better chance of dressing appropriately for the day ahead.