Ripping the Weather

What falls or blows counts. While rain and sleet cool us off a lot, snow is not so bad and clouds are like a blanket. Wind chill makes the air feel colder, but we know just how much and we can wrap for it. Your whereabouts don’t matter; the weather matters, the address doesn’t. Whether you’re warm or cold does not depend on what season it is. You dress for whether you’re warm or cold. Let others fret over calendars.

Rain, Sleet, Snow, and Clouds

Rain and sleet cool us off a lot. They have water, which conducts heat away.

Snow will cool us but not exactly as much, because snowflake shapes create teeny air gaps, which help insulate us. (Some animals hibernate under snow.) Thick clouds are like blankets, keeping some of Earth’s heat down near Earth.

Raincoats are not important. A warm jacket or coat with an outer shell that’s water-repellent will do the job quite nicely, thank you. But if you wade in the water to fish or go boating with an all-day spray, a poncho or rain suit with waders will often keep you relatively dry. That’s warmer.

Wind Chill

Wind chill is an index of how cold it feels when a thermometer’s temperature is combined with wind speed. The direction of the wind doesn’t matter, just the speed. Wind takes away warm air near your body and you’re left even colder. Skiing and your other fast moments, like riding a car or truck with open windows or an open top, or standing next to a strong fan, also cause wind chill.

Old charts from decades ago are out of date. They were revised in . You can get a new wind chill chart from the National Weather Service. It’s in degrees Fahrenheit and miles per hour, common U.S. preferences.

If you prefer degrees Celsius or centigrade and kilometers per hour, you can get a chart from Canada.

Visual signs for wind speed are a nice thing about the Canadian chart:

  • “Wind felt on face - wind vane begins to move” indicates a speed of 10 kilometers per hour (about 6 miles per hour).

  • “Small flags extended” indicate a speed of 20 kph (about 12 mph).

  • That “[the w]ind raises loose paper, large flags flap[,] and small tree branches move” indicates a speed of 30 kph (about 18 mph).

  • That “[s]mall trees begin to sway and large flags extend and flap strongly” indicates a speed of 40 kph (about 24 mph).

  • That “[l]arge branches of trees move, telephone wires whistle[,] and it is hard to use an umbrella” indicates a speed of 50 kph (about 30 mph).

  • That “[t]rees bend and walking against the wind is hard” indicates a speed of 60 kph (about 36 mph).

Haters of charts, if you’re one, you can make a rough guesstimate. Take the temperature in Fahrenheit, subtract the wind speed in miles per hour, and subtract another 5. If the speed is more than 20 m.p.h., you don’t have to subtract the five. In some cases, this will overestimate how cold it feels, but that’s safer, and it won’t really feel that cold.

Other meteorologists may have different calculations. Other factors may make a difference. Scientists may have published research in peer-reviewed journals. Privately-owned weather forecasting services may use other formulas. IBM probably is not making wild guesses when they produce their figures, and it seems possible that theirs consider wind direction as making a difference. I have not compared private meteorologists’ work and don’t know enough to judge it.

Weather, Not Where

Place doesn’t matter. Weather does. If the weather is the same in two places, you can dress the same in both.

City centers tend to be warmer and drier than nearby suburbs and rural areas. Cities are so built up that ground and buildings warm the atmosphere, which means no rain downtown when it’s raining in the countryside, or the city has rain instead of snow.

Dress for the weather.

Weather, Not Winter

The calendar doesn’t matter. Don’t dress for the season.

A “false thaw” happens late every winter around here. It’s followed by deep cold. Only after that do we get spring.

If someone builds a big bonfire and it’s hot, it doesn’t matter that the locals say it’s “winter”. The weather is whatever it is regardless of the season.

You’re Welcome For the Vegetables, May We Serve the Dessert?

Someone left something outside a business building. Is it yours? The answer seems to be yes and a manager tells someone to go out and get it. It’s winter and windy. I look at the worker who’s been told to go out and, with the manager present and both smiling, I say, No. You don’t have a coat. I like winter. I order you to stay here. I’ll go get it.

I had no authority to give any orders of the sort and we all knew it. I brought the item in.

Somewhere else, I told an office building worker that what I admired about the company he works for is how they give him a nice warm coat for when he has to go outside as part of his job. He laughed. He wasn’t wearing a coat when he stepped out into the cold.

(Note: I’m pretty sure the word was “here” but maybe it was “inside”. This was a few years ago, maybe more than a few.)

Snow and clouds are like blankets but wind chill makes the air feel colder. And where you are and what season it is don’t matter.

Websites of Interest

These websites have some interesting content, although I disagree with some of it:


Hiking organizations:

General retailers of outdoor products:

General information: