Environment Canada’s wind chill warning revamp will better protect against extreme cold

Environment Canada and Health Canada are teaming up to provide Canadians with better protection against severe winter cold.

Cold weather is just a fact of life for Canadian winters, and depending on where you live in the country, typical winter chills can plummet to some pretty scary extremes. A few weeks ago, the prairie provinces experienced a deep freeze that saw temperatures drop to -30 degrees Celsius or lower, with the winds making those -30s feel more like -40s. At those extremes, exposed skin can freeze in just a few minutes and anyone outside for extended periods of time without adequate protection runs the risk of suffering hypothermia. In this case, wind chill warnings were applicable and were issued across the area. However, had it been -30°C or lower, with calm or very light winds, no warning would have been called, even though those conditions can still put someone at risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

That's about to change, though. Environment Canada and Health Canada are working together to revamp the Wind Chill Warning System into the Extreme Cold Warning System. This likely won't change or remove wind chill values from current conditions and forecasts, since those are still very useful. However, official warnings issued to advise Canadians about dangerously cold weather will switch from wind chill to extreme cold, and will factor in any cold weather that can be dangerous — windy or not.

"When the program is implemented, the new Extreme Cold Warning will be issued in situations of cold temperature and light winds to allow Canadians to take necessary steps to protect their health," Blair Morrow, an Environment Canada meteorologist, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

According to Morrow, this new warning system will likely be rolled out early in 2014.

[ More Geekquinox: Blowing snow, extreme wind chills blast across southern Manitoba ]

A similar system to this was implemented by the US National Weather Service, on a trial basis, back in the winter of 2011. Extreme cold warnings were issued in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, when temperatures dropped to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34°C), and wind speeds were very light. However, although there were no particular flaws in the system itself, it was scrapped after only one year. One of the main issues was the mild weather that year, meaning that there were only a few opportunities to test it out. Another was the confusion that was caused because some regions were involved in the test, but larger population centres were still using the wind chill warning system.

The new Extreme Cold Warning System shouldn't suffer the same problems here in Canada. With this Canadian winter being far more standard than the past few ones and the entire country switching over to the new warnings at once, it should have plenty of opportunities to be implemented and should avoid any potential confusion.

(Photo courtesy: The Canadian Press)

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