Answering Your Most Common Questions About the Cold
February 02, 2023
A "super-post" to answer all your questions on the cold! I really appreciate that you ask me, because they are questions that show you know I'll always give it to you straight: is wind chill for real? Is this really dangerous or life threatening? How bad is it really going to be? Here are the answers:
* In cold events like these, my approach is equal real-world to numbers-based. By the numbers, it's impressive, for sure. As for the real-world impact, that starts today: check car battery (service station can if you don't know how), tire pressure, home heating fuel level and...alternative heat is geared toward potential loss of primary heat. If your boiler cuts out, for instance, you want sufficient pellets or wood for the woodstove if you have one. A few thousand in New England will lose power just b/c of cold, then add 45mph gusts on top of that.
* We hear the term life-threatening and dangerous with cold like what's coming Fri/Sat, but is it really? Certainly not for most of us. The equation changes in these circumstances, among others: those without homes, who lose heat, who aren't properly dressed and pets/livestock. Keep in mind, loss of heat can come as a result of lost power, which is part of why we always encourage checking in on others at some point, particularly those who may be physically frail.
* What can we do for a leg up in the cold Friday and Saturday? For one, hydrate! As in hot weather, hydration helps the body regulate temperature in cold. Dressing in layers instead of one big coat, being ready in case of flat tire/breakdown. As for the dripping faucets...dripping faucets is probably one of the lesser understood points. If you have working heat in a well-insulated home, you don't need to do this. If your home is poorly insulated or you lose heat, many pipes run along outside walls of home, so become vulnerable...I've been getting questions whether we should run outside faucets - no! You'll get a big ice waterfall. Instead, you want to drain the water from those outside faucets after killing the supply to them. You could also try the insulated faucet covers but I don't personally.
* One repeated question that always comes up around these events: is wind chill for real? Absolutely, but here's how it works: all things have a "laminar layer" of thin air around an object's surface. For our skin, that layer contains our body heat. When the wind blows...the laminar layer is broken up/swept away, taking heat from the body quickly. This only applies to *exposed* skin! If you cover up, the wind chill has no impact. Of course, a part of our cheek or ear showing counts as exposed. This is why frostbite can happen quicker in wind.
* Wind gusts tomorrow will create a punishing wind chill that becomes dangerous later Friday into Saturday. There's another concern here too: these gusts Friday are sufficient for isolated power outages on top of the ~3,000 per day in New England already estimated from the cold.
* Friday wind chill forecast - but rather than just show the numbers, I always like to show the impact: orange is frostbite to exposed skin within 30 minutes of uninterrupted exposure, red is 15 minutes. Note the worst of Friday is absolutely Friday night. The fast-frostbite potential continues Saturday in the morning, but notice by lunchtime Saturday: it's terribly cold and will sting, but frostbite in 30 minutes of exposure won't be likely any longer in the Southern half of New England. Sunday brings a dramatic improvement, FWIW.
* What's incredible in the 10-day forecast is the rapid improvement from bone-chilling cold, to a milder-than-normal pattern as if this arctic shot never happened. Back to 40° for some Sunday, then nearly 50° by midweek!