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Cold weather and macho men

Feb 7, 2014 - By Chris Peck

Of course you aren't complaining about the cold weather.

Real Wyoming residents tough it out.

I used to do that.

In my first newspaper job just south of Sun Valley, Idaho, I took pride in not wearing a winter coat until Christmas.

No coat when it was 10 below? That's a Wyoming boy.

The proverb "Pride cometh before the fall'' comes to mind when I think of those days.

It took weeks to get the rattling cough out of my chest.

Years later, the sting of the frostbite still lingers on my fingertips.

Recently, I've been seriously addicted to the National Weather Service's reports from the Riverton office.

The NWS Web site puts the Weather Channel to shame.

Here's the terse, no-nonsense report that went out from the airport hill around noon this past Tuesday:

Urgent - Winter Weather Message

Bitter cold arctic air will bring dangerous wind chills of 25 below to 35 below across much of Central Wyoming tonight and Wednesday.

There are those who scoff at "wind chill."

I know. I was one.

Don't scoff.

Ralph Estell, a senior weather forecaster at the Riverton National Weather Service office, says we shouldn't.

"No, it's a real thing,'' Ralph said from the toasty comfort of his office as the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up outside.

"When it's zero you can go out and chop wood in a short-sleeved shirt,'' Ralph agreed. "But when that wind picks up, you're gonna feel it right away. And it gets dangerous for people and animals.''

Wind chill is a term used to describe the rate at which the human body starts to lose heat from the combined effect of low temperature and wind.

Think of blowing on a spoon of hot soup to cool it. That's wind chill.

As winds increase, heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, just like heat from that soup.

That lowers your skin's temperature and eventually your internal body temperature. Because your heat pump of a heart and blood can't keep up.

In severe conditions like those of the last few days where temperatures dip to ten below and winds hit 20 miles per hour, means that as little as 20 minutes of raw exposure to the wind chill could be curtains.

Cold is hard on a body.

Researchers now know that cold weather affects a person's well-being.

Honestly, cold-sensitive people get more irritable when temperatures drop. Their aches and pains are exacerbated. Anxiety, depression and fatigue all grow worse when it's freezing outside.

Sure, the severity of the symptoms will vary depending on your age, your overall health, and your strength. But weather-sensitive people truly feel it in their bones and their brains.

Here's some news that might warm you up.

The wind chill temperatures of these last few days, while frigid, aren't a record for Fremont County for early February.

"Not even close,'' said Ralph Estell of the NWS. "Lander had 35 degrees below zero on this week in 1899,'' he noted after looking back in his weather record book.

And Riverton's record low for Feb. 8? In 1936, it got to 45 below.

Add in the 20 mph winds of this week and the wind chill chart for 1899 in Lander would show W22;68.

I don't know if the wind was blowing on Feb. 8, 1936, in Riverton, but a 20 mph wind that would have brought a wind chill of W22;81.

On the other hand, in 1967, Fremont County enjoyed a record heat wave for this week: a high of 59. On Feb. 11, 1951, the high temperature was 71.

Who knows? Maybe next February will be cut-offs and T-shirt weather.

In the meantime, don't get all Wyoming macho about wind chill not being real.

Think of that spoonful of soup. Wear your hat and gloves outside.

Your ears and fingers will thank you later.

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