Windy enough for you? Warm-blooded beings—like us—have the unfortunate ability to experience wind chill, winter weather’s extra kick in the teeth.
“Wind chill only affects animate objects with body heat,” says Stephen Cheung, a Canada research chair in environmental ergonomics and an expert on how the human body functions in cold weather. “In still air, a body warmer than the ambient environment heats up a thin boundary layer of air around itself.” Wind unhelpfully takes this precious heat cushion away. “The higher the wind speed, the more rapidly the still air is removed, resulting in greater rate of heat loss,” says Cheung.
Plants—and your plumbing, and your car—aren’t affected in this way. “Plants are generally at or near ambient temperature,” says Cheung, so the wind doesn’t have the same impact. “Plants can still dry out and the plant cells can still freeze and die, but wind chill doesn’t increase the risk.”
You can minimize the unpleasant effects of wind by never going outside in the winter. Or you can do this stuff:
*Check the day’s wind chill factor, via your local weather forecast. (Unless you’re really into math, and want to calculate it yourself. You’ll need to know the air temperature and the wind speed.) The wind chill is expressed as a number, without a degree sign. It reflects a feeling of cold, not an actual temperature.
*Layer up. Dressing in layers is always a good idea in cold weather—you have more control over your body temperature. Plus, multiple layers help with wind protection. “You’ve got three to four layers for the wind to go through, rather than just one,” says Cheung.
*Wear a windproof exterior layer. It’s much more effective than insulation alone. “Most clothing largely protects against air temperature,” says Cheung. But if that clothing doesn’t ward off the wind, the wind can still remove any warm air surrounding your body.
*Stay dry. Wet skin loses heat faster than dry skin. If you’re starting to sweat, it’s time to unzip your coat or remove a layer.
*Cover your bits. While Environment and Climate Change Canada calls a wind chill of 0 to -9 “low risk,” by -10, your naked fingers and face are not going to be comfortable for long. At -28, you’re at a high risk of frostbite. And if it’s -55—holy moly!—stay indoors.