Progressive politics, ideas & culture


I want my wind chill

This Magazine Staff

image courtesy Environment Canada
Last week on his Maclean’s Blog, Potter Gold, Andrew Potter linked to a Slate article debunking wind chill as a reliable measurement of anything.
Now, winter makes everyone grumpy. Clearly, the Slate editor hating on wind chill hasn’t booked his Dominican vacation yet. This particular winter in my city has been psychologically more cruel than the average — always threatening, rarely delivering, and then kicking our ass the very second we thought we might get away with it. Potter is just Potter; he likes to grumpily debunk. But a pampered New York journalist dumping on wind chill because it failed to tell him anything his freezing cell-phone dialers couldn’t do just as accurately? It’s an insult to Canadianness. If we couldn’t marvel at wind chill temperature forecasts, what would be the point of living in Edmonton? (that was for you, Joyce)
A quick check-in with Environment Canada shows us just how important this index is to our national pride. We frickin’ own wind chill:
“Canada took the lead in an international effort to develop a new wind chill formula. In April 2000, Environment Canada held the first global Internet workshop on wind chill, with more than 400 participants from 35 countries. Almost all agreed on the need for a new international standard for measuring and reporting wind chill that was more accurate, easy to understand, and incorporated recent advances in scientific knowledge.”
Go ahead New York, tell me all about how expressing wind chill in relative temperature differences and “feel’s like” terminology is an insult to science. I don’t care. I’m rarely out in winter weather for more than half an hour at a time anyway, and if I am — to sled with my kids, walk in the woods or go ice fishing — like all smart Canadians I overdress in layers and then peel to adjust. What self-respecting citizen would actually use a weather report as their only evidence? Wind chill is not about ocean-moderated Manhattanites wondering if they should wear a scarf to stand outside flagging a cab. It’s about me having a great excuse to keep the kids inside and not have to wrestle with their damn snow pants for the third time in one day. Too cold boys, let’s watch Shrek again.
A wind chill report is the northern equivalent of the tornado “watch”. I drove across the American great plains last summer, twisting my head in every direction trying to see the terrifying twister every radio station had me “watching” for every five minutes. Only later did I learn that what you really have to listen for is the tornado “warning.” The “watch” means weather conditions are correct for a tornado. The “warning,” that there actually is a tornado. If you hear a tornado “alert,” well, yikes. Still, a little tornado “watching” sure sexes up a boring, flat drive.
People do get frostbite and even freeze to death, and the rate at which heat leaves your skin surely has something to do with that. Complaining that wind chill doesn’t factor in sunshine is sort of dumb, isn’t it? Has Slate-boy ever skated on the Rideau Canal on a beautifully sunny, bastardly windy day?
At its most benign, I suppose wind chill warnings aren’t even supposed to represent reality. They are soft-core weather.
Woah, look at that chill on Regina.

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