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Wed January 29, 2014
Quick Question: Can It Feel Any Darn Colder?
When you leave the office to take a walk in this wicked wintry weather, it's 24 degrees Fahrenheit outside. You feel cold. As you stroll through the streets of Washington, you realize the temperature around you is dropping. To 22°F. To 20°F.
You are getting colder and you begin to wonder if there is a temperature at which the average human can no longer feel any "colder".
In other words, does 20°F – without wind — feel about the same as 10°F or 0°F, when it comes to how we sense the coldness?
So here is the Quick Question: At what point is the coldest point below which we do not and cannot feel any colder?
"It doesn't matter what the ambient temperature is," says Prof. Popsicle. "It's what the skin temperature is that matters."
Professor Popsicle is actually Gordon Giesbrecht, a cold weather specialist and professor at the University of Manitoba. He is the co-author of Hypothermia, Frostbite and Other Cold Injuries. Because of his cold-weather acumen, he was dubbed Prof. Popsicle by Outside Magazine.
As the skin receptors get colder, Giesbrecht says, "you will feel more cold. But then as the receptors and nerves get cold enough that they start to malfunction, you may start to feel pain and then numbness and then nothing just prior to the receptors in the skin getting cold enough to freeze."
Therefore at both 20°F and 0°F, Giesbrecht says, "you will continue to feel colder and colder. And then numb. And then nothing. The difference is that this process will happen quicker at 0 degrees than 20°F. But either way, once your skin temperature drops below about 40°F you will feel numb, and when it hits about 28°F your skin will freeze."
So our advice: Stay cool; keep warm.
The Protojournalist: A sandbox for reportorial innovation. @NPRtpj