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Wind Chill Dangers Warning Advisory Watch Protect Your Skin

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Last updated 11/23/2022

As I listen to the wind howl tonight old man winter is coming around again. Temperatures are dropping. Wind chill dangers.

Most of us don’t have to dress like we live in Siberia. But you should cover up your skin. Above all, protect skin from the harsh cold and wind during winter months.

Winter can dump some pretty drastic changes to the weather. It is best to be prepared if these situations should occur out of the blue. So, when temperatures drop stay up to date with the weather forecast.

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What is Wind Chill?

As you step outside the wind can feel like a punch in the face. Exposed skin can freeze. Furthermore, I introduce you to wind chill.

You may watch your local weather forecast and a wind chill advisory is reported. This is a combination of cold temperatures plus the wind effect. In other words, wind chill has been called the “feels-like” temperature.

Wind chill only affects people and animals when they are outdoors. It’s based on how much heat is lost through exposed skin when there are windy and cold conditions.  Certainly, the stronger the wind blows the faster it can whip heat away from your body.

This lowers your skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. Thus, the time until your exposed skin begins to freeze becomes critical.

And for it to be labeled wind chill temperatures must be at or below 50 degrees. In addition, wind speeds must be above 3 mph.

Wind Chill or Wind Speed?

Wind Speed tells you how strong the wind is. Air temperature and wind speed are combined to make the wind chill. So, the wind makes you feel much colder.

Wind chill and advisors are issued depending on your local area, it varies. For example, wind chill advisories for New York City begin with -15 degrees F and warnings with -25 degrees F.

This is compared to Chicago with advisories beginning with -20 degrees F and warnings with -30 degrees F.

Water Bottles and the Beginning

The whole idea behind wind chill was developed by two U.S. researchers, Paul Sipel and Charles Passel. This was based on studies they performed during the U. S. Antarctic Service Expedition from 1939 to 1941. Likewise, they put water bottles on top of their hut to examine how quickly this froze.

As a result, their data on heat loss helped to estimate how fast exposed skin could chill down. To sum up, what happens with wind speeds of different strengths.

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How Wind Chill Works

It is normal for your skin to radiate heat. Wind chill only affects humans and animals. With wind present it takes away that thin layer of warm air above your skin.

Most importantly, if you stay out in the cold too long this lowers your internal body temperature. Further, you have a higher chance of developing frostbite or hypothermia, in extreme situations.

   Warning signs:

  • Continually shivering
  • Memory loss
  • Disoriented
  • Incoherent
  • Speech is slurred
  • Drowsiness
  • Apparent exhaustion

How Your Body Regulates Body Temperature

Your skin is responsible for regulating your body temperature, it’s your thermostat. This is done through blood vessels. As a result, when you’re out in the cold weather your skin triggers shivering. So, your blood vessels contract providing heat to keep you warm.

When you’re cold, your blood vessels narrow as much as possible. This keeps warm blood away from skin’s surface and on your internal organs. To sum up, you may notice goose bumps.

Wind chill can really impact your body. It’s useful to consider extremely low wind chill as a sign from the cold’s dangerous effect occurring quickly.

An adult’s average skin temperature at rest is around 92 degrees F. Most people are uncomfortable or in pain as their skin cools to about 50 degrees F. In short, on a cold day with a strong wind your skin can reach that temperature very quickly.

One study with exposure of 23 degrees F air took 3 minutes for the face to cool to 81 degrees F. This was a calm breeze. But with a 20-mph wind, areas of the face dropped to the 50-degree F pain threshold in those same 3 minutes time.

How Cold Affects Your Body

Due to humans being warm-blooded your skin regulates temperature between 97-99 degrees F. Body temperatures should remain here no matter what climate you are in. However, this is a constant balance between heat influxes and losses (as I just took my sweater off).

Body Heat

There is a perfect temperature even if it’s hot, cold, humid or mild out. Ideally your body aims to stay at this, so your core works right. But when you’re moving away from the body’s core the lower your temperature drops.

Your extremities (hands, fingers, and feet) hold the coldest temps. When they become cold, your body temperature regulation activates. So different parts of the body warn and protect you.

Cold Hands

Hands and fingers, according to the body’s design, are known as “critical areas”. Here the speed of blood circulation can drastically reduce. Above all, this causes severe heat loss.

So, when you feel cold, your hands get cold along with swollen fingers. To sum up, an air temperature below 0 degrees F this condition is called phenomena hypothermia.

Blue Fingers

When the weather is extremely cold your body cuts circulation to your extremities. This is its survival mechanism. Women especially tend to have the more sensitive skin. Thus, Raynaud’s disease is more common.

Cold Feet

Similarly, to your fingers, your feet and toes are more sensitive to variations in temps. Your body will react and stimulate blood flow to help the feeling of cold and maintain the core temp as much as possible. However, illness can also have an effect.

For example, Raynaud’s disease or syndrome can make you feel cold. It is a chronic circulation issue affecting the extremities. Most importantly, it causes a loss of feeling, tingling, cold feet or cold hands.

Muscle Shiver

The cold can affect about 75% of your muscle mass. When the cold reaches your body, your brain interprets pain. Thus, your muscles begin to shiver to provide heat.

Around 80% of your available energy is redirected to reheat the affected muscles. Thermoregulation has a role however in this situation it reduces muscular power and endurance. Above all, the risk of injury is higher due to the weakened muscles.

Why is Wind Chill Dangerous?

Extremely low wind chills can be dangerous. But these aren’t actually temperature readings. However, they give a measure of heat loss by your body due to exposure from the wind.

And the colder this wind chill is the more danger you’re in. Your body is surrounded by a layer of heat protecting your skin from these cold temperatures. Thus, along comes this strong wind blowing this protection away.

Wind chill can cause frostbite which is due to the skin and underlying tissues freezing. Take an air temperature of -20 degrees F with a wind speed of 15 mph this can happen in 10 minutes or less. In conclusion, a stronger wind adding the cold the higher your risk for developing frostbite or hypothermia.

Hypothermia happens when your core body temperature loses heat quicker than it can make it. This drops under 95 degrees F. In short, for adults this is normally between 97 degrees F and 99 degrees F.

Hypothermia left untreated can cause failure of your heart and respiratory system. Thus, it can be fatal.

Warning, Watch and Advisory

The wind chill is put into three different categories.

Wind Chill Warning

A wind chill warning means to take action! The National Weather Service issues a wind chill warning because expected or occurring wind chill values are dangerous. If this affects your area you should refrain from going outside during the coldest times of the day.

  Most importantly, if you go outside:

  • Dress in layers
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear your mittens
  • Cover exposed skin
  • Tell at least one person your whereabouts
  • Update with arrival destination

Wind Chill Watch

Wind chill watch means to be prepared. NWS issues a wind chill watch because there is a possibility of cold wind chill values becoming dangerous. Similarly, to a warning, adjust your schedule so you aren’t outside during the coldest times of the day.

Above all, your car should have at least a half a tank of gas. In addition, update your winter survival kit.

Wind Chill Advisory

The wind chill advisory means to be aware. Just so that you know, NWS issues a wind chill advisory when there are cold wind values. But extremely cold values aren’t expected or occurring.

Still, you and your loved ones should dress appropriately and cover exposed skin when going outside.

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What can you do Against the Wind Chill?

Wear your layers. Cover exposed skin. In addition, don’t forget to wear your hat and mittens (not gloves).

Due to 80% of your body heat escaping from your head it is important to stay warm. Therefore, having your head exposed to wind chill and cold temperatures isn’t different than having your arm or leg exposed.

Wrapping it up

Figuring out the wind chill outside can be complicating. But it gives us something to go by. This only concerns humans and animals (so bring the pets in) and no other objects.

The main go away here is to protect your skin from the winter weather. Be prepared with each circumstance and dress appropriately with layers. Most importantly, cover all exposed skin.


Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.

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