Windchill returns; 'extreme cold’ sent packing

  • Article by: ALEJANDRA MATOS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2012 - 6:22 AM

The National Weather Service dropped an experiment with warnings covering subzero weather but no wind.

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When Minnesota temperatures plummet into frigid territory this winter, the National Weather Service will no longer state the obvious: It's really cold outside.

The agency has decided to jettison the "extreme cold" warnings and advisories that it began testing in some Midwest cities last year -- opting instead to stick with its time-tested windchill warnings.

The Weather Service began experimenting with the new phrase because, if the forecast was wind-free but bone-freezing cold, the old system gave it no way of telling people that it was, as the warning would suggest, extremely cold outside.

"It's illogical to issue wind advisories when there is no wind," said John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"We had no product we could issue to raise awareness that if you go outside today your life could be at risk."

But the agency soon found that the new nomenclature was confusing people who were used to the windchill concept -- especially those living in border states or places where the agency wasn't using the new warnings yet.

"Weather is confusing enough," Martin said. "The last thing we want to do is add to that confusion. Some offices wanted to drop out of the experiment, [so] it was decided that we should just drop the whole thing for now."

But doesn't everyone understand that anything below zero is extremely cold?

Not necessarily, Martin said. People who are not from the Midwest, he noted, don't always understand what January in Fargo can mean.

"In North Dakota, we have thousands of new people coming into the state because of the oil boom," he said. "These are people, from places like the desert Southwest, who have never in their lives experienced these conditions. They do not know what to expect."

Someone from the deep South, for example, might think a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater and a peacoat would suffice for below-zero temperatures.

"If the temperature is 20 degrees below zero or ... 40 below because of the wind, it's the same advice," Martin said.

"You want to have minimal skin exposure."

The agency still will be able to issue special advisories telling people how to prepare for days when there is extraordinarily cold weather, sans wind.

In the meantime, it's OK to assume that anything below zero is extremely cold.

Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028 Twitter: @amatos12

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