Feels Like Temperatures

Several years ago, Lewis Grizzard used to make fun of television folks that covered the weather. He’d discuss color weather radar and how blips were nothing more than “ground clutter.” Grizzard suggested that a weather dog be used instead. The dog was sent outside; if it came in wet, rain was falling. If the dog didn’t come back, Grizzard said it was windy. These days, I’ve got another gripe for meteorologists. It’s about “feels like weather.”

Amy and I spent a few days at Myrtle Beach, SC not long ago. Rain fell on the afternoon that we arrived, but then clear skies arrived for the rest of the time. In fact, the sun broke through with vengeance. When we got up in the mornings, temperatures already were hovering around 80. At the hottest parts, those numbers had gone up to the mid-90’s or higher. However, that was no problem with an umbrella, beach chairs, the Atlantic Ocean, a pool, and room air conditioning.

What confused me was what the television guys referred to as the heat index. According to them, the temperature might have been 95, but the “feel like” temperature was 110. Huh? I don’t get it. If the thermometer reads, 95, then it feels like that. Okay, maybe the humidity is high so that the air needs to be cut with a knife. Perhaps the humidity is low and 95 degrees isn’t so sweltering. In either case, 95 is 95, not 110.

In a time before all homes had air conditioning, we weren’t ever cautioned about the heat index. No one ever said, “Be careful because it feels like 120 degrees although the real temperature is only a toasty 98.” Our parents told us to find some shade and take it easy. At night we lay under a window and prayed for a breeze to cool us. One large box fan was used to cool the entire house. If we ever fell asleep, the perspiration on the sheets cooled us a bit.

It’s the same thing in winter. The temperature is never simply the number on the thermometer. The wind chill has to be calculated in order to give a correct reading. That always drops things at least a couple degrees. Supposedly, the wind makes the temperatures lower because it feels different on our skins. I hate to sound like a broken record, but 20 degrees is 20 degrees. Wind just makes the conditions more miserable.

In the “old days,” we never heard about wind chill temperatures. Oh, it was plenty cold, but on blustery days, a “brass monkey” alert was issued between friends, and everyone knew what that meant. We put on plenty of layers of clothing before going out to play in the snow, we drank hot chocolate, and the entire family huddled around the warm morning stove that burned hunks of coal. One of the greatest days in our family’s life came when Jim and I were seven or eight. Daddy had a basement dug so that a coal-burning furnace could be installed. Our house was warm, even though we arose each morning, grabbed a Kleenex, and blew the pitch dust from our noses. Sure, occasionally smoke escaped through the floor registers and left a haze in the house. The house was dry, so much in fact, that headaches sometimes arose with the morning sun.

Modern technology gives us new toys to redefine most every condition. Heat indexes and wind chills are a couple of examples. I ignore that stuff for the most part. It’s cold outside or it’s hot. I have the thermometer that once hung in our kitchen. It hangs over the desk in my office. I read the numbers to find out how cool or hot it is. The rest of the analyses of condition are for younger folks. The truth is that I still go outside and work or run errands without much concern about the “feels like” temperatures.

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