In Defense of Wind Chill

During the recent cold snap, wind chill has taken some heat, notably from Daniel Engber at Slate, who castigates wind chill as the "weatherman's favorite alarmist statistic," serving as the "PR agent" for horrendous weather.

I know it's going to be 4 degrees outside, but what will that number really feel like?


To answer this question - of how humans perceive the weather - a fairly nebulous formula was developed by Antarctic explorers. The wind chill formula has evolved over time and was jointly recalibrated by the American and Canadian weather services in 2001. 

It's still far from perfect, and there are many misconceptions about what wind chill actually means. For the record, when wind hits exposed skin, it accelerates the rate of heat loss from the body. 

During the recent cold snap, wind chill has taken some heat, notably from Daniel Engber at Slate, who castigates wind chill as the "weatherman's favorite alarmist statistic," serving as the "PR agent" for horrendous weather.

Not only does the wind chill tend to scare us into believing that the weather is more horrible than it really is, Engber argues, it also leaves out important and obvious variables. For instance, what if a person is standing under direct sunlight? Attempts to develop a comprehensive wind chill factor - which include, for instance, factoring in an individual's height - only serve to underscore the fundamental incomprehensibility of this data point.

Fair enough. But Engber's assertion that "rather than trying to patch up wind chill's inconsistencies, we should just dump it altogether" made The Weather Geek chuckle. 

Engber claims that looking out the window provides "more than enough data" to determine the day's weather. "After all, our brains have been tallying up these variables for our entire lives," he points out. 

The Weather Geek wonders, however, if Engber has ever gone skiing. If one is getting dressed at the base of the mountain in the morning and looks out the window to observe "mountain weather," well, best of luck to you. 

Ancient humans used to make predictions based on what was available to them - the brain's ability to recognize patterns and weather lore - collective experiences that were passed down from generation to generation. That was the best and only way of forecasting the weather. But these ancient methods have proved unreliable. And so if you hear of a life-threatening wind chill warning from the Office of Emergency Management, take heed. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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