For the week of Dec. 11, 2017
When winter bites
By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
When the temperatures in Kansas dip below freezing, two types of people usually surface – those who enjoy invigorating weather and those who tolerate the cold from the inside. How an individual feels about the cold weather usually depends on where he/she grew up, age and more importantly, attitude.
Another element comes into play – wind chill factor. Wind chill factor is usually defined as the cooling effect from wind and temperature on the human body. Wind whisking by exposed skin during cold weather increases a person’s heat loss.
An Antarctic explorer, Paul Siple, and his colleague, Charles Passel, first coined the term “wind chill” in 1939. Siple described wind chill as the relative cooling power – heat removal – from the body with various combinations of wind speed and low temperatures.
Some 75 years later, wind chill has become a common term in our everyday conversation. Knowing the factors help people protect themselves against frostbite and hypothermia. Tissue damage occurs in frostbite when wind chill temperatures fall below –25 degrees F. Hypothermia results when the rapid loss of the body’s internal temperature alters judgment. This sometimes results in death.
Western Kansas stockmen know the harder the wind blows, the lower the wind chill factor. Simply put, it is the relationship between wind speed and actual temperature that produces this chilling effect.
People who spend time outdoors during these cold periods – stockmen, construction workers, hunters, runners and skiers – may create their own winds or increase the existing wind. Because movement magnifies airflow, they should be especially cautious of wind chill.
Manual labor and other physical exertion can cause heat loss also. Sweat begins and heat is removed by vaporization. Breathing cold air also results in the loss of heat from the lungs.
Few people realize that smoking, drinking, prescription drugs and illegal narcotics may also contribute to frostbite or hypothermia during bitterly cold temperatures. All of these dull the senses.
Alcohol dilates the capillaries of the skin and that increases the body’s heat loss. Nicotine smoke absorbed by the blood causes the capillaries to constrict. This restricts the blood flow to the earlobes, fingertips and other regions of the body. Medication can have side effects too, so venture outside during cold weather with caution.
Wind chill charts for regular references are available wherever outdoor equipment is sold. Use these charts only as a point of information. Wind chill charts aren’t always accurate because they don’t consider all the possibilities of heat loss, or the preventive measures against it.
Air temperature is rarely a reliable indicator of how cold a person will feel outdoors. Elements such as wind speed, relative humidity and sunshine or solar radiation also play a part. A person’s health and the type of clothing worn will also affect how a person feels.
When you go outside, dress for the weather and the wind. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers. These layers can be removed to prevent perspiration and subsequent chilling. Snug mittens are better protection than fitted gloves.
Always wear a hat, preferably wool, ear protection and a scarf or neck gaiter. If it’s bitter cold – stay inside or limit your exposure to the elements.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.