Canadians are well aware of how much misery the wind chill can add to an already frigid day in winter. Knowing the wind chill is in fact an essential part of Canada’s weather forecasts, as it provides everyone with the knowledge they need in order to stay safe in our worst weather.
It is for this reason that the Canadian Wind Chill Index is an accurate, easy to understand tool, that and reflects the needs of Canadians. It was created based on research that used human volunteers and advanced computer technology, combined with recent medical advances in the understanding of how the body loses heat when exposed to cold. As a result, the wind chill observations and forecasts that you hear are now much more representative of what you actually feel once you step outside.
The index is expressed in temperature-like units, the format preferred by most Canadians. By equating the current outdoor conditions to an equivalent temperature with no wind, the index represents the degree of “chill” that your skin senses. For example, if the wind chill is -20 while the outside temperature is only -10°C, it means that your face will feel as cold as if it was a calm day (no wind) with a temperature of -20° C.
The wind chill index enables Canadians to take action and avoid injuries from the cold. This includes dressing warmly to avoid frostbite and hypothermia, and making informed decisions based on accurate wind chill information, such as whether it is safe for children to play outdoors.
On cold and blustery winter days, listen for the wind chill index in your local weather forecast!
What is Wind Chill?
Anyone who has ever waited at a bus stop or taken a walk on a blustery winter day knows that you feel colder when the wind blows. This cooling sensation that is caused by the combined effect of temperature and wind, is what is known as wind chill.
On a calm day, our bodies insulate us somewhat from the outside temperature by warming up a thin layer of air close to our skin, known as the boundary layer. When the wind blows, it takes this protective layer away, exposing our skin to the outside air. It takes energy for our bodies to warm up a new layer and, if each layer keeps getting blown away, our skin temperature will drop and we will feel colder.
Wind also makes you feel colder by evaporating any moisture on your skin, a process that draws more heat away from the body. Studies show that when skin is wet, it loses heat much faster than when it is dry.
How does Wind Chill affect you?
Living in a cold country can be hazardous to your health. Each year in Canada, more than 80 people die from over-exposure to the cold, and many more suffer injuries resulting from hypothermia and frostbite. Wind chill can play a major role in such health hazards because it speeds up the rate at which your body loses heat.
How much heat you lose depends not only on the cooling effects of the cold and the wind chill, but on other factors. Good quality clothing with high insulating properties traps air, creating a thicker boundary layer around the body which keeps in the heat. Wet clothing and footwear lose their insulating properties, resulting in body-heat loss nearly equal to that of exposed skin. Your body type also determines how quickly you lose heat; people with a tall, slim build become cold much faster than those that are shorter and heavier.
We can also gain heat by increasing our metabolism or soaking up the sun. Physical activity, such as walking or skiing, increases our metabolism – which generates more body heat. Age and physical condition also play a part. Elderly people and children have less muscle mass and as a result, generate less body heat. Sunshine, even on a cold winter day, can also make a difference. Bright sunshine can make you feel as much as 10 degrees warmer.
Over time, our bodies can also adapt to the cold. People who live in a cold climate are often able to withstand cold better than those from warmer climates.
Beating the chill
The best way to avoid the hazards of wind chill is to check the weather forecast before going outside, and to be prepared by dressing warmly. As a guideline, keep in mind that the risk of frostbite increases rapidly when wind chill values go below -27.
A simple way to avoid wind chill is to get out of the wind. Environment Canada’s wind chill forecasts are based on the wind you would experience on open ground; taking shelter from the wind can therefore reduce or even eliminate the wind chill factor.
A recent survey indicated that 82 per cent of Canadians use wind chill information to decide how to dress before going outside in the winter. Many groups and organizations also use the wind chill index to regulate their outdoor activities.
Schools use wind chill information to decide whether it is safe for children to go outdoors at recess; hockey clubs cancel outdoor practices when the wind chill is too cold; people who work outside for a living, such as construction workers and ski-lift operators, are required to take indoor breaks to warm up when the wind chill is very cold.
Seven steps to cold weather safety
- Listen to the weather forecast
- Plan ahead
- Dress warmly
- Seek shelter
- Stay dry
- Keep active
- Be aware
1.) Listen to the weather forecast
- Check the Environment Canada weather forecast before going out in the winter.
- Listen for a wind chill warning. Wind chill warnings, based on local climate, are issued when significant wind chills are expected to occur.
Environment Canada’s weather forecasts are available through radio and TV broadcasts, Environment Canada’s Weatheradio network, and online at Canadian Weather.
2.) Plan ahead
- Develop a cold weather safety plan in advance to ensure that safety concerns are addressed when its very cold, or when the wind chill is significant. For example, schools could hold recess indoors, outside workers could schedule warm-up breaks, and those involved in winter recreation could reduce the amount of time they spend outdoors.
3.) Dress warmly
- Dress in layers, with a wind resistant outer layer.
- When it is cold, wear a hat (a large portion of body heat is lost from the head), mittens or insulated gloves. You should also have something to keep your face warm, such as a scarf, neck tube or facemask.
- Wear warm and waterproof footwear. When it is very cold, or when the wind chill is significant, cover as much exposed skin as possible. Your body’s extremities, such as the ears, nose, fingers and toes lose heat the fastest.
4.) Seek shelter
- When the wind chill is significant, get out of the wind and limit the time you spend outside.
5.) Stay dry
- Wet clothing chills the body rapidly.
- Remove outer layers of clothing or open your coat if you are sweating.
6.) Keep active
- Walking or running will help warm you by generating body heat.
7.) Be aware
- Watch for signs of frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia.
- Some people are more susceptible to the cold, particularly children, the elderly and those with circulation problems.
- The use of alcohol, tobacco and certain medications will increase your susceptibility to cold.