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A Paddleboarders Guide to Wind Chill - What is it and How Does it Work?

Wind chill, a term familiar to any paddleboarder, is an essential concept to understand for those keen on navigating the waters, regardless of the weather. But what is it exactly, and how does it impact your paddleboarding experience? This guide aims to illuminate the mystery behind wind chill, demonstrate how it works, and provide practical tips for paddleboarders to mitigate its effects. So, whether you're a seasoned paddleboarder or a beginner, read on to equip yourself with the knowledge to brave the elements with confidence.

paddleboarding in windy conditions

What is Wind Chill?

Wind chill is a term used to describe the perceived decrease in air temperature felt by the body on exposed skin due to the flow of air. It basically measures how cold it feels when the wind is factored in along with the actual air temperature.

How Does Wind Chill Work?

Wind chill increases the rate of heat loss from the body to the environment, acting as a cooling effect on a warm object. Our bodies are constantly generating heat to maintain a normal temperature, especially in colder weather when heat loss to the surrounding environment is more prevalent. Under normal conditions, our bodies naturally warm up a thin layer of air close to our skin, forming an insulating barrier that helps slow down this heat loss. But the presence of wind disrupts this process. The wind sweeps away the insulating layer of warm air around our bodies, causing our bodies to continuously generate warmth for new layers of air.

Why does wind chill make you feel colder?

When the wind removes the warm insulating layer of air around our bodies, it results in an increased rate of heat loss. As the wind speed escalates, this rate of heat loss intensifies even more. This causes us to feel colder than the actual air temperature, a phenomenon known as the wind chill effect. Hence, the temperature we perceive, which takes into account the wind chill, is often referred to as the "feels-like" temperature. The wind chill effect is why wind makes us feel colder than the actual air temperature.

Why is wind chill dangerous?

Wind chill can be dangerous because it increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia, both of which are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions.

Frostbite is a condition where skin and underlying tissues freeze. It typically affects extremities like fingers, toes, ears, and the nose, which are farthest from the body's core and hence less insulated. When wind chill values fall below freezing, exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes.

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, leading to a dangerously low body temperature. This can affect the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. In severe cases, it can interfere with the heart rate and breathing, and can eventually lead to death.

The risk of both these conditions increases significantly in cold, windy weather due to the wind chill factor. The wind strips away the thin layer of warm air that usually sits on your skin, forcing your body to work harder to maintain its normal temperature.

That's why it's so important to dress appropriately for the weather conditions, covering all exposed skin when wind chills are severe, and avoid staying outside for extended periods during extreme cold.

So, now that we understand what wind chill is and how it affects our bodies, let's talk about how this hazard gets exponentially worse when out on the water.

If you would like to learn more about wind chill and its effects read this paper by the Government of Canada.

Why is Wind Chill More Dangerous on the Water?

When you're out on the water, the impact of wind chill is significantly amplified. This phenomenon occurs as a result of various contributing factors which we will cover below.

Heat Transfer

Water has a remarkable ability to transfer heat, around 25 times faster than air. Hence, if you find yourself drenched while out on the water, your body will rapidly lose heat, emphasizing the importance of keeping dry in such situations.

Water Spray

Wind not only removes the insulating air surrounding your body, but it also generates spray that can make staying dry without appropriate gear nearly impossible.

Lack of shelter

Out on the open water, the availability of shelter is drastically reduced. Unlike on land, where buildings, trees, or other structures can offer some protection from the wind, those on water bodies have nowhere to shelter. This lack of shelter means the full force of the wind is felt, exacerbating the effects of wind chill.

Decreased Performance

If you start feeling cold while out on the water, it's important to make your way towards the shore. The longer you stay in the cold, the more difficult it becomes to return to safety as your muscles may begin to weaken. Additionally, if the wind picks up and makes it too challenging to stand and paddle, you'll only get colder if you resort to kneeling or using a front crawl technique to paddle your board towards the shore.

Now that we understand the increased risk of wind chill on water, let's discuss ways to mitigate this danger and how to accurately assess the outdoor temperature considering the wind.

If you would like to learn more about the effects of being wet and heat loss read this article by the University of Princeton.

Ways to Mitigate Wind Chill Effects

There are only 3 ways to mitigate the effects of wind chill while out on water.

Option 1: Dress appropriately

Wearing the proper gear and going out prepared is your best option if you wish to paddleboard in colder winder environments. This could involve wearing proper insulation layers such as Marino wool baselayers and fleece mid-layers. Additionally, investing in splash gear such as a drysuit or wetsuit can help keep you warm and protected from water spray.

If you would like to learn more about how to dress while paddleboarding, read our post " What to Wear While Paddleboarding"

Option 2: Limit your exposure to wind

Planning your route and avoiding areas with higher wind speeds can significantly reduce the effects of wind chill. Keeping away from open areas, staying close to shorelines, or using natural wind barriers such as islands or cliffs can help mitigate the impact of wind chill.

Option 3: Know when to stay on land

There are times when it's best to avoid paddleboarding altogether, like during extreme cold weather conditions. It's important to pay attention to weather forecasts and wind speeds before heading out on the water. If you're not sure about the conditions, it's best to err on the side of caution and stay on land.

How to Accurately Assess Outdoor Temperature Considering Wind Chill

When determining if the conditions are suitable for paddleboarding, it's essential to consider not just the air temperature but also the wind chill factor. You can use a wind chill calculator or chart (like the one below) to get an accurate estimation of how cold it is outside, but, note that these charts only work for temperatures of 10°C or colder.

How to dress for different wind conditions in different temperatures

To assist you in deciding the appropriate attire for different weather conditions while paddleboarding, we have created a helpful graphic. This visual guide will provide you with insights into what clothing is suitable for specific temperatures and wind speeds.

What to wear Paddleboarding

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