Lynn Hall column: Scientific contemplation on the weather

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

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One morning recently, I did what I usually do when I wake up and before I head outside. I pulled out my phone and checked the weather app.

According to the app, the local temperature was 28 degrees, but my phone display informed me that it feels like 29.

Wow! That was helpful.

Imagine if I’d gotten all bundled up for 28 degrees only to discover once I stepped outside that it felt like 29. Disaster!

Who wants to be wearing long-underwear, jacket, hat, gloves and a scarf, only to discover that the scarf was totally unnecessary? I can’t help but think about our poor ancestors who didn’t have cell phones and weather apps. For that matter, we didn’t have those all that long ago either. We’ve been over- or under-dressing for literally centuries.

Which brings me to my second issue. How does one determine — in a way that can be measured in concrete terms — what 28 degrees feels like versus 29? As a layperson, I simply stick my head out the front door and yell, “Yikes, it’s freezing out here!”

Hardly scientific, admittedly.

And if the thermometer read 33, 37 or even 39, I’d probably still be yelling, “Yikes, it’s freezing out here,” which, if nothing else, would certainly highlight my lack of attention to scientific detail, because I do know anything above 32 isn’t freezing, it’s just freaking cold.

But back to science: By what means do professional meteorologists assign a description for what it feels like to be standing outside in a specific temperature? Is there a separate thermometer on which the readings are based, not on what the temperature is, but what someone has decided it feels like? Was this person menopausal or were they running a temperature when standards were set?

Or is it a formula? If everyone experienced 60 degrees in the same way, there wouldn’t be so many arguments over the thermostat. I have two friends who come to my house and one is always hot and the other always cold. If it weren’t true that people felt heat or cold differently, why are there dual controls in our automobiles? I can have the vents blowing heat at 66 degrees on my side of the car and my passenger can have it blowing at 74. Of course, in a very short time those streams of warm air will mingle and we’ll end up with an average temperature of 70 to 71 and the person in the backseat will still be complaining about it being too hot or too cold.

I shared my confusion with a friend, who laughed of course, and said I was being way too concerned about something that didn’t matter. “How often are you going to see a one-degree discrepancy anyway?” he asked.

Actually, fairly often. Several days later, I checked and it was 42, but felt like 41. It was also going to stop raining in eight minutes. Now I’m in a dilemma. Do I wear a heavier coat with a rain poncho, or just wait at the front door for eight minutes?

I know there are people who will agree with my friend that I’m making too much of a slight variance, but I once heard Ellen Degeneres talking about airplane seats. As she pointed out — and we can all attest — the seats recline an inch, at the most.  During take-off and landing we are instructed to have our seats in the upright position. So as Ellen noted — an inch back is death, an inch forward is life. Pretty darn important inch, right?

Anyway, all this scientific contemplation is starting to upset my stomach and give me a headache. Where’s my phone? I need to download that calming app.