This talk of wind chill puts folks in a cold sweat

January 12, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

WHEN THE GREAT Tom Tasselmyer came on the other night, his face a study in concentration as he stood before the wind-chill-readings map, I knew it was going to be bad.

On the other TV stations, coverage of the cold snap was already at DefCon 4 levels.

Shivering reporters, bundled up as if they were covering the Iditarod race, stood on frozen street corners delivering live updates, clouds of steam billowing from their mouths.

There were reports on how the cold would affect the homeless, senior citizens, pets, motor vehicles and, most importantly, the NFL playoffs, because God forbid that the cold should inconvenience professional athletes making millions of dollars and their fans.

But it was not until the great Tasselmyer, WBAL's crack chief meteorologist, confirmed that single-digit low temperatures were coming, that I swung into action.

Regular readers will recall that the great Tasselmyer became a favorite in the Cowherd household during last year's brutal winter.

In fact, my family and I were so impressed with his weather reports - calm, yet impassioned; caring, but not preachy - that we erected a small, but tasteful, shrine to the man in our home.

Oh, I wish you could see it now.

Two skylights were recently cut into the ceiling, and when the sun shines through and glints off the incense holders and velvet kneelers, the effect is dazzling.

There is also a nice oak bench in there, if you prefer to sit. My wife thinks the bench is too "bus-stoppy," but I think it looks fine.

It's really a very peaceful place, and we go there often to gaze at the life-size Francesco Scavullo photo of Tom that hangs on one wall, illuminated by a single GE 120-watt spotlight.

Anyway, after the great Tasselmyer told his viewing audience that, yes, it was going to get colder than Saddam's heart, and that a wind-chill advisory was in effect, I rushed to the phone.

Quickly, I dialed each of the four TV stations in town.

And as soon as someone picked up, I barked "No wind chill factors!" and hung up.

This is because, for many years now, I've waged a personal campaign to abolish the wind-chill factor from weather reports, even those done by the great Tasselmyer himself.

The main reason behind my campaign is this: Wind-chill factors scare the hell out of everyone.

Mention to your average citizen that we're in a Code Orange terrorist alert and nobody bats an eye.

People jump on planes, go shopping, play outdoors, you name it.

But mention that the wind-chill factor is 18 degrees and people freak out.

Suddenly they won't leave the house.

I'm not going out there, they think. Didn't you hear about the wind-chill factor?!

And I'll tell you who it really scares: old people.

People like my mother, who has the Weather Channel on 24 hours a day and knows the forecast for every region of the country.

"The wind-chill factor in Duluth, Minn., is minus 40," she'll say when I call. "Can you imagine what those poor people are going through?"

Mom, I say, don't worry about them. They're all inside.

And the ones that are outside love this stuff. They're half-lit, sitting over a hole on a frozen lake somewhere, fishing.

But this is a woman who, if you tell her you're coming to visit next month, starts worrying about what the weather will be like for your drive up.

Does she really need the pressure of dealing with wind-chill factors, too?

According to the National Weather Service, wind-chill factor is a measure of how cold people and animals feel when outside.

It's based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold, figured from a complicated formula that would stagger an MIT professor.

Terrific.

But do we really need to know that it feels colder outside than it actually is?

If it's 30 degrees with a 10-mph wind, isn't that enough information for the average person?

Does it help Joe or Jane Sixpack to know it feels like 16 degrees?

Isn't a windy 30 degrees cold enough for most of us?

Anyway, as the weekend went on and Baltimore remained in a deep freeze, I made a mental note to bring all this up with the great Tom Tasselmyer the next time I saw him.

Plans are also afoot to have him visit the shrine soon, to autograph the life-size photo, although I don't want to get anyone's hope up just yet.

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