Wind chill and frostbite

Mark Deihl used Report!t to send NewsChannel 15 this picture of County Road 7 northwest of Garrett Indiana in DeKalb County on January 28, 2014.

Wind chill and frostbite are terms synonymous with winter. But, what exactly is wind chill? How is it related to frostbite? And what are the treatments for frostbite?

Wind chill is a temperature index. Commonly referred to as the “feels like” temperature outside, wind chill factors in air temperature and wind speed into a mathematical equation. This equation also incorporates heat transfer theory, which is heat loss from the body to its surroundings during cold and breezy days.That has a direct impact on how fast frostbite will set in on any exposed skin. The National Weather Service has put together a chart that breaks down wind chill values:

Source: NOAA.
Based on the temperature – at the top – and the wind speed – on the left – you can determine the wind chill. Then follow the color key to see how long it takes for frostbite to set in in those conditions. For example: with a temperature of -8° and wind speed at around 15 mph, the windchill is about -30°. That means, it would only take about 30 minutes or less for exposed skin to freeze. Source: NOAA.

 

You can also check out a “Wind Chill Calculator” here.

One common misconception people have is that if the windchill is -30°, they think their car is also -30°. But, winds don’t have the same impact on inanimate objects, like cars and buildings. Even high winds can’t force your car below the air temperature.

But, as mentioned above, windchill directly impacts humans. Many of us have found a time or two where we’ve been outside without gloves, ear muffs, or warm boots – and that can spell trouble. Frostbite most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. The blood vessels in these parts constrict to keep heat central to the body. In frigid conditions, skin cells don’t get adequate nutrition and oxygen and can start to die off. Numbness, a color change to purplish or gray, and waxy skin are all warning signs of frostbite. The best thing to treat these symptoms: gradual warming! Get inside and use warm – not hot – water to immerse the affected area (you don’t want to burn yourself!). Use your body heat from places like your armpits to warm fingers. Avoid rubbing or using friction to warm the affected areas – that can cause nerve damage. Doctors say if your symptoms don’t subside, don’t wait to seek attention. Typically, when extremities start to warm, you’ll feel tingling. But, if you don’t feel anything at all, or there’s swelling or blisters, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

Head to a warming station, limit your time outside, or wear extra layers. Do whatever you need to do to stay warm!

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