Take a closer look: why can the same temperature feel different somewhere else?

Why does the same temperature feel difference somewhere else?

An article written by Maggie Koerth for fiverthirtyeight.com takes a look at why the same termperature feels  different depending on your location.

Most of the time, when you check the daily weather report, you’re looking at the air temperature — a measurement of heat in the air around you. But that measurement doesn’t tell the whole story of human experience. What you feel like when you open the door — and how the situation you find outside affects your body — depends on more than temperature, said Margaret Sugg, a professor of geography and planning at Appalachian State University. Humidity, air speed and direction, how hot it usually is compared to right now, and even how much the air cooled during the previous night: These factors all play a role in determining whether 88 degrees Fahrenheit feels comfortable or crushing. How we talk about our thermal comfort is both cultural and scientific. 

For example, we use the heat index in the United States to measure the difference between real and perceived temperature. This is a formula that combines air temperature and humidity to give people a better indication of when they might be at risk of heat stroke. The heat index tells us that 88 degrees with 40 percent humidity feels like 88 degrees, and while there is risk there if you’re out in the sun being active for a long time, it’s not a huge deal. In contrast, 88 degrees with 90 percent humidity feels like 113 degrees — cramps and exhaustion are likely, and activity could put you on the path to heat stroke. 

But “there’s a ton of metrics out there, you could spend forever researching them,” Sugg said. Another researcher, Salman Shooshtarian, a design and social context lecturer at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, told me more than 116 different indices are used in different contexts. Heat index just happens to be one for which you can gather data cheaply, Sugg said. These indices can vary by country. Canada uses one called Humidex, which also combines temperature and humidity but uses a different formula and categorizes its results based on degree of comfort rather than risk of heat sickness. Another system, called the wet bulb globe temperature, takes many more factors into account, including cloud cover, wind speed and sun angle, and frames its results around how long you can work in direct sunlight before feeling ill and how long a break you need each hour. (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a big fan of that one.) There are even proprietary versions with secret math formulas, like AccuWeather’s “RealFeel.”

These different indices matter because they’re all telling you something slightly different and presenting their results in ways that leave you with different understandings of what’s at risk and what you should do about it. And studies have shown that they have to be recalibrated to correctly define “normal” and “safe” in different countries. The dangers of heat, in other words, are at least partially determined by culture. And that’s not the only way temperature — a thing that seems so basic, so absolute — can be pretty subjective.

Read the entire article HERE


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David Keech
Author: David Keech

David Keech is a math teacher in Wisconsin Rapids and public address announcer for Abbotsord High School. He officiates basketball, baseball, and softball in central Wisconsin. He has reported on amateur sports since 2011, known as 'KeechDaVoice.' David can be reached at [email protected]