Friday, February 11, 2011

Minus something, only worse!

Ah, the good old days.

When I used to work in (what's now) Nunavut in the early 90's, temperatures were delivered straight up.  In fact, scratch that.  Back then, because everybody knew it was cold out, nobody said it was minus 37.  It was just 37.  You knew that the minus was implied, and you knew it was cold out.  You also knew that if it was windy, it was that much worse.

Problem was, people down south were getting their temperatures served up with enhancement.  Now, -20 is a decently cold day in southern Ontario, but that wasn't enough suffering.  It was "minus thirty-seven with the windchill".  Somewhere along the way, the real temperature got dropped, and only the inflated, more horrific one was available.

Friends started telling me that it was as cold in Ottawa as it was in the central arctic.  "It was minus forty in Ottawa today!"  No, it wasn't, and in fact it never is, but it was impossible to convince them that -20 with a wind is still way warmer than real -40, especially when we had wind in the arctic too, and in the central arctic, you can get a stiff wind with your low temperatures.

So now, in the arctic, they add "windchill" to their temps as well.  "It's -67 with the windchill".

I find the numbers expressing how cold it really is out there are becoming somewhat meaningless.  Real -37 is so much colder than -20 with wind.

I also find it amusing how we always magnify a temperature to it's more extreme version.  In summertime, 30 degrees will be "feels like 38 with the humidity", but never "only feels like 20 with the breeze".  Similarly, on those brilliant April days in the arctic, you don't hear -20 described as "only feels like -5 in the sun", even though sometimes it really does!

We're Canadians, dammit.  We're tough.  We've got the numbers to prove it, and we'll adjust them in any way we need to to.

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