'Wind Chill' Gets A New Name

Nov 10, 2011
Originally published on November 10, 2011 7:32 pm
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Bob Dylan once sang you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. That's especially true in Mr. Dylan's home state of Minnesota and in the neighboring Dakotas where the wind chill factor can make an average winter's day downright dangerous, which may explain why the National Weather Service in the region will now issue extreme cold warnings instead of wind chill warnings. We're joined by the fittingly named Greg Gust. He's the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service for Eastern North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota. Welcome to the program, Mr. Gust.

GREG GUST: Well, thank you very much, Guy.

RAZ: You have said this is merely wind chill with a different name. Are the words wind chill just not scary enough to folks?

GUST: Well, the wind chill itself has got a fair amount of fame and notoriety over the years. But one of the problems with it is when the wind drops off, is it still a problem? Prior to this, if the wind was dropping off, well, we stop the warning. What if it's really darn cold out there? So that's what we're trying to get at is the wind may be dropping off, but typically in those situations the actual temperature has now become that dangerous.

RAZ: All right. So give us a sense of what your standard for issuing an extreme cold alert will be. What will have to happen outside?

GUST: Well, I'll give you an example that today I rode my bicycle into work. It was 22 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The 8-mile-an-hour wind gave a wind chill of about 12 degrees Fahrenheit. But I'm riding about 8 to 10 miles an hour, so I'm now pushing the wind chill to the single digits.

RAZ: Wow.

GUST: That's today. That's early to middle part of November.

RAZ: You're a tough dude, man.


GUST: Well, in another week or two, our average high temperature will be below freezing, and in a month, that average high temperature will be in the teens.

RAZ: Ouch.

GUST: So now, the low temperatures and the possibility for getting below zero and much below zero will crop up. The scenario will likely be having something like a winter storm occurring and you have wind. So now, the temperature is dropping 10 below zero, 20 below zero. At 20 below zero and with a 15-mile-an-hour wind, you are going to start having wind chill issues where you're at minus 40, minus 45 on a wind chill. So at that point, we normally would have had a wind chill warning in effect.

As that storm system moves away and the cold air continues to drain in, the wind will drop off. But now, under clear skies and light-wind conditions, the actual temperature itself starts to drop into that minus 30, minus 40 degree range. And so quite often, the wind chill warning would expire, but now the actual air temperature would be that cold.

RAZ: When you issue the extreme cold warning, what should people be doing?

GUST: Well, it's just like with the wind chill warning, they should be ensuring that they are properly dressed for it. School districts don't have outside recess at those type of temperatures.

RAZ: They don't have outside recess when it's minus 40?

GUST: Yeah. I think they've considered that perhaps the children should stay indoors at those ranges.

RAZ: OK. This is going to be - I understand this is a little bit of a test because people have gotten used to this over the years. So what if there's a rebellion and people say, you know, we want the wind chill warnings back?

GUST: Well, it is an experiment, so clearly, we still have the wind chill warning in our quiver. But it's, you know, we're working with this slowly. Last year, it was a little test. Now it's a bigger test.

RAZ: But I wonder whether you're a little bit nervous about this. I mean, wind chill factor is a pretty big brand name. Like New Coke or any other new brand, people come - it comes out, people are not always comfortable with those changes.

GUST: Well, I don't know. Do you think extreme cold is sexy enough to get into the vernacular? We think it has meaning here, and we're going to - we're testing that to see if it has enough meaning to warrant the change.

RAZ: Well, Greg Gust, thank you so much.

GUST: You are welcome, Guy. It's been a pleasure.

RAZ: That's meteorologist Greg Gust of the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, North Dakota, talking about the experiment to no longer issue wind chill warnings. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.