Weather Whys Feb. 19, 2015

Q: When did weather experts start calculating wind chill?

A:  It’s believed wind chill factors (a combination of air temperature and wind speed and how they affect the human body) were first compiled by two Antarctic explorers, Paul Siple and Charles Passel, in 1945, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University.  “The original wind chill index used by them was around for many years, but it really wasn’t used much,” he notes.  “Most agree the event that made the term ‘wind chill’ famous was the Dallas-Green Bay football game in 1967 when the game-time temperature was minus-13 degrees, putting the wind-chill factor at minus-36 degrees. But even that was bested in 1981 when San Diego and Cincinnati played during wind chill conditions of minus-59 degrees.  The term has become very familiar in recent decades.  One survey shows that 82 percent of all Canadians use the wind chill index and not the air temperature to decide what clothes to wear each day.”

Q: What is the coldest wind chill ever recorded in the United States?
A: It’s believed it occurred last year in Alaska, McRoberts says. “The wind chill was recorded at Howard Pass with a temperature of minus -42 degrees and sustained winds of 71 mph, making the wind chill minus-97 degrees,” he notes.  “That occurred on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, in 2014.  The previous record was set on Jan. 28, 1989, at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska when the wind chill hit minus-96 degrees.  In such conditions, severe frostbite and hypothermia can occur in less than five minutes. Amazingly, this Alaskan cold pales in comparison to that measured at a Soviet weather station in Antarctica on July 21, 1983, which recorded an air temperature of minus-128 and had a wind chill estimated to be colder than minus-150.”