A thin skim of ice formed on the Bras d’Or Lake this weekend, and the forecast week of bitter cold and light winds promises to deepen and strengthen its wintery cover. Forty years ago, this was an all-but-annual occurrence. In the middle decades of the 20th Century, Victoria County’s legendary physician C. Lamont MacMillan routinely crossed the lake in a homemade half-track to reach ill patients in the depths of winter. But as our climate has changed, the frozen lake has become a rarity.
Consider this a placeholder for a compilation, coming soon, of the outraged comments that flooded in from defenders of the “wind chill” notion, in response to Contrarian’s (and Scientific American’s) repudiation of the concept.
(I will just note in passing that it is an absence of significant wind, as much as extreme cold, that allows the Bras d’Or freeze over. Quelle ironie!)
Scientific American calls bullshit on wind chill:
[I]f the air temperature is, say, 15 degrees F, and a 20–mile per hour wind makes the wind chill –2 degrees F, would the temperature of your exposed skin drop to that temperature?
No. Your skin temperature cannot drop below the actual air temperature. The coldest your uncovered face could get would be 15 degrees F whether the wind is calm or howling at 40 mph….
Try an experiment: Put two thermometers outside, one in the wind and one shielded from it. When you return they will read the same. Or just ask yourself a simple question: If you are driving your car at 20 mph and you read the dashboard thermometer, then speed up to 60 mph, does the temperature drop? No. Because the air temperature has not changed. There is no wind chill for your car—even if you have given your vehicle a human name.
Wind chill is an artificial construct that makes temperatures sound worse than they are. A parallel set of fake numbers makes summer temperatures sound worse than they are. Both serve the interests of broadcasters who seek to exploit public fears about their personal safety by fanning them with constant hype and faked data like “wind chill.”
In case you missed it, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer’s attempt to enforce the journalistic requirement that survivors of natural disasters must thank God for the miracle of their escape (while avoiding mention of God’s responsibility for the deaths and injuries of those who did not) backfired in Moore, Oklahoma,
today yesterday, when survivor Rebecca Vitsmun politely declined to follow the script.
Vitsmun had planned to ride out the tornado with her 19-month-old son Anders by huddling in the bathtub of their home, but 10 minutes before the storm hit, she panicked and fled with with the boy in the family car. She and Anders survived unscathed; their house was flattened.
Encouraging survivors to praise the lord is standard reportorial malpractice in these stories, but the presumptuousness with which Blitzer thrust religion into the interview is arresting, and strikes a marked contrast with atheist Vitsmun’s gracious demurral.
Here’s the full interview via The Coast’s Tim Bousquet.
In response to this, this, this, and many other provocations, a particularly keen-eyed consumer of Contrarian arguments has graciously created the official Contrarian weather page. (Click the image to download a larger version.)
Contrarian reader Peter Barss waxes philosophical about the primal draw of radio-storms and weather-porn:
It ‘s exciting to sit in our warm, safe living rooms listening to dire warnings of impending weather doom. It’s even more of a thrill to turn on our flat screen TVs and watch weather gals and guys get whipped by wind-driven snow as they stand outside yelling into their microphones so they can be heard over the howling “weather bomb.”
We live in a society that is soft and luxurious. One of the luxuries we indulge is the illusion that if we just do everything right we can avoid all of life’s unpleasantries. Obey weather warnings and no one will be hurt on the highways. Wear pink T-shirts and bullying will go away. Warning your kid every ten minutes on her cell phone will keep her out of the clutches of the perverts hiding in the bushes.
While society at large presumes nothing bad will happen if we just do the right things, there’s something primal in us that needs a thrill, a threat of danger. We manufacture dangerous situations and enjoy them vicariously. After we’ve stocked up with groceries and turned up the heat, we can slump back in front of our TV and get our adrenaline rush without ever getting wet or cold.
After the storm we can watch hockey players beat each other up, race cars smashed to smithereens, and ordinary people humiliated on “reality shows.”
Exaggerated weather drama and all the rest of it satisfies our need to flee or fight while we snuggle under a warm blanket several steps removed from any real danger.
Most of the listeners who responded to my debate with CBC manager Andrew Cochran about the network’s (in my view) inflated coverage of weather are just fine with the CBC’s weather treatment.
This doesn’t surprise me. Some people like being frightened about weather, just as others like being frightened about crime. Lurid coverage of crime by some media has led to a sharp increase in the public perception of personal risk from crime even as crime rates have plummeted. I see a parallel with public perception of weather risk.
Two listeners added interesting points to the debate.
Geoffrey May of Margaree said forecasts have become more extreme because weather has become more extreme—a result of climate change. Maybe Geoff can supply confirming data, but my subjective impression supports his view. Let me be clear, however: It’s not detailed reporting of occasional serious storms that I object to; It’s inflated reporting of routine storms, as if they were serious. What Oran sports reporter Bill Dunphy deliciously termed, “radio storms.”
Rosemary Algar of Cape North, a listener who shares my annoyance at weather hyperbole, pointed out a subtle result of our current timorous approach. We are teaching our children, she said, that at the first sign of inconvenience, it’s OK to stay home and disregard our responsibilities to work and school.
Worse still, it’s school officials who are delivering that message.
What kind of day was it in Halifax? This kind of day.