STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — AccuWeather.com — Rumors have been spreading that the National Weather Service (NWS) is getting rid of wind chill values, which describe how cold it feels with wind factored in.
The truth is NWS offices in the Dakotas and Minnesota are not eliminating wind chills; they are changing the way they warn the public about extreme, dangerous cold.
In the past, the NWS issued Wind Chill Watches and Warnings when wind chill values were expected to fall below a certain level.
The problem the NWS encountered was when extreme cold was predicted in the absence of wind, it did not have a warning product that could be issued.
“On clear nights when the wind goes calm and we have deep snow cover, that is when we get our coldest temperatures in North Dakota. It can get down to minus 30 or minus 40,” said John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, N.D.
“We didn’t have a product for a warning for that,” Martin continued. “Now we’re using Extreme Cold Watches and Warnings instead, which are all-encompassing. If it’s 30 below or colder, either air temperature or wind chill, we’ll issue a warning.”
The NWS will still include wind chills in their reports and daily forecasts. However, in cases when dangerous cold is predicted, they will issue an Extreme Cold Watch or Warning rather than a Wind Chill Watch, Warning or Advisory.
The NWS Weather Forecast Office in Bismarck has more details on the changes and the new Extreme Cold Watches and Warnings.
“To me, as a meteorologist, if it’s 30 below, wind chill or air temperature, it’s dangerously cold, and a warning should be issued,” Martin stated. “People need to be aware of it.”
Another issue the Dakotas and Minnesota face is that they are some of the coldest states in the country and deal with subzero cold quite frequently throughout the winter.
“The problem is we tend to issue a lot of wind chill advisories,” explained Chris Franks, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. “The goal is to reduce the number of ‘cold headlines’ we have out and to make the product stronger so that if we do issue a warning, it will be for exceptional events… the most dangerous.”
Extreme Cold Watches and Warnings are Experimental
“It’s an experiment, and we’re looking for feedback,” said Martin. “Typically, experiments run for several years, but it depends on the feedback. My hope is that the feedback is positive, because this is the direction I think the National Weather Service needs to be moving in.”
Several NWS offices in Montana have expressed interest in switching over to Extreme Cold Watches and Warnings as well, but this change would not take effect until next winter at the earliest.
Criteria for the watches and warnings would vary region by region, depending on climatology. For example, states in the southern U.S. would likely have much lower criteria, perhaps zero or 10 degrees below zero, for a warning to be issued than northern states, where residents are more acclimated to extreme cold.
AccuWeather.com provides its own measure of how cold it feels with the wind factored in, and that is through AccuWeather.com RealFeel temperatures. RealFeel temperatures are given on our local forecast pages, which can be accessed by entering your city and state in the search box at the top of this page.
Story by Heather Buchman, AccuWeather.com Meteorologist.