When the weatherman refers to 'what the temperature feels like', what does this mean?

Above: Image © KariHoglund, iStockphoto.com


When the weatherman tells you the temperature, then 'what it feels like' outside, how do they determine 'what it feels like'? Also what is the point of telling people both?


When a weather forecaster tells you what it feels like outside, they're telling you... well... how warm or cold you will feel if you go outside. The thing is, how warm or cold we feel depends not only on the actual air temperature, but also on other things like wind and humidity. For example, imagine it's very cold outside... say the outside air temperature is -20oC. Your body temperature is much warmer (around 37oC), so if you go outside, heat will flow from your warm body to the cold air. The windier it is outside, the faster that heat will flow from your body to the air. So wind makes you feel colder because it makes you lose heat to the air more quickly. Humidity affects how you feel in a slightly different way. When it's hot outside, sweating will help you cool down, because when sweat evaporates, it draws heat away from your body. But when it is very humid outside (when there is lots of water vapour in the air), sweat will evaporate more slowly meaning that heat will be drawn away from your body more slowly, and you will therefore feel warmer than you would on a day with low humidity. So when a weather forecaster tells you what it feels like, they are telling you how warm or cold you will feel based not only on the temperature, but also on the humidity and wind speed. So why do they tell you both actual temperature and feels like temperature? I'm not really sure, but I would guess that it's because some people just like to have all the information! For example, on a cold and windy day, a person that was outside but sheltered from the wind might just want to know the regular temperature, but someone that was fully exposed to the wind would want to know how cold it feels after the wind is taken into account.

Answered By: Patrick Barks


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