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WeatherTalk: What's the wind chill?

The Wind Chill Index has only been in common usage since the late 1960s and early 1970s

Cartoon of John Wheeler with a speech bubble depicting weather events

You hear it all the time. What’s the wind chill? Can you imagine going through a winter without this numerical fixation? Did you know that the Wind Chill Index has only been in common usage since the late 1960s and early 1970s? Prior to that, we could only add the term “windy” to our temperatures. The original wind chill formula was developed by the U.S. military during the 1950s for arctic maneuvers. But their science was hastily done, and the values it gave were ridiculously low.

During the 1980s, many meteorologists began to argue for a new index based on more accurate experimentation. After extensive testing, the improved Wind Chill Index we use today was adopted by the National Weather Service in 2001. So if you recall weather reports from the past with 80 to 100 below wind chills, you should know that the weather was probably not as cold as you remember.

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"The dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes," the weather service said in its advisory. "Use caution while outside. Wear appropriate winter clothing."