It’s rare that the term “dangerous cold” is employed in weather descriptions for Boston and the Southern New England Metropolitan areas, but today is one of those rare moments.
Although the temperatures are cold – and, in fact, will set records in some New England cities for coldest high temperatures on this date – the temperatures in and of themselves are not dangerous for those who spend normal amounts of time outside, just uncomfortable. It’s the combination with wind that creates a dangerous component by introducing wind chill factor.
Wind chill is the best estimate we have of the effect of wind on the skin: above our skin is a thin layer of air that holds warmth around our body. When the wind blows across skin, the warmth is carried away, allowing the skin to cool quicker than it otherwise would, and how quickly this happens depends upon the wind speed…hence, the wind chill factor is the combined effect of wind and cold.
Today’s wind chill values of -20 for many is sufficient to cause frostbite in only 30 minutes of exposure while some of Northern and Western New England’s -35 wind chill has been enough for frostbite in as little as 10-15 minutes. There are some ways to fend off the effects of cold and wind:
1) Cover up! Wind chill only applies to exposed skin, so if you leave no skin exposed, you are immune from the effects of wind chill – it will still feel uncomfortably cold because the temperature is cold, but in this case, the danger would be negated.
2)Dress in layers: Dressing in many layers, rather than just throwing one winter coat on, will keep you warmer.
3)Take breaks from the cold: If you work outside, you may notice fatigue setting in or muscle cramping. Take breaks to warm up and give your body a rest to reduce the strain on your body.
4)Hydrate: Hydration is not just for the summer – arctic air is very dry, and dehydrates the body, making temperature regulation much more difficult. Staying hydrated is an important way to offset the effects of the dry air.
Pockets of dangerous wind chill will continue for New England into the overnight, then the wind will slowly subside over the course of the day Tuesday as temperatures warm, but the return to work and school coming off the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday will be a biting cold one at the bus stop and in the car before that temperature rebound begins. Even with the air not-as-cold, highs will still be capped shy of 30 for many of us and teens in the north.
Incredibly, it looks like enough milder air moves north into New England for rain showers, not snow, Wednesday afternoon, evening and night into Thursday, though Northern New England is still expected to be cold enough for a few inches of snow, at least. A shot of colder, drier air Friday and Saturday will set up an interesting weather pattern heading into Sunday through Tuesday of next week: cold air here at home, a series of very intense disturbances diving south through the nation’s mid-section and tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will all combine for what could be a very powerful East Coast Storm sometime between Sunday night and Tuesday – but it’s early and we’ll continue to monitor to see whether all of these players line up together.