Here's one shared by our senior staff reporter Frank Esposito, who is enjoying the beginning of a second week of sub-freezing temperatures in Akron, Ohio. Frank points out that the wind-chill formula, "the weatherman's favorite alarmist statistic," has a plastics angle! More than 60 years ago, Antarctic explorers Paul Siple and Charles Passel left plastic bottles of water outside in the wind and observed the rate at which they froze. Their equation used wind speed and air temperature to describe the rate at which the bottles gave off heat, expressed in watts per square meter. These days meteorologists use more complex formulas that, they believe, more accurately measure how wind speed and temperature feel to human skin. Still, the lead story on Slate.com today explores the "gaudy negative numbers" that result from calculating wind chills, and suggests that we stop trying to perfect the equation.
The old system might have overstated the numbers when it said that 5 degrees could feel like minus 40. But after three decades of practice, we all got pretty good at translating from the outrageous numbers in the weather reports to our own experience. When the weather service recalibrated the system in 2001, we had to start all over and rebuild our frame of reference from scratch. Rather than trying to patch up wind chill's inconsistencies, we should just dump it altogether. The best algorithm we'll ever have for determining how cold it feels comes from our own experience.I'm ready to chuck the equation, and the experience factor too, and spend the next couple of months in Florida. Can I get someone to shovel my sidewalk when I'm gone?