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Thermal Sensation: the Perception of Cold and Heat

Thermal sensation: the perception of cold and heat

Wind chill is a concept we've all experienced at some point, but what does it really mean? How is it calculated and why is it important?

In this article, we will explain in detail the wind chill, a climatic phenomenon that goes beyond the temperature shown by thermometers.

Definition: What Is Wind Chill?

Wind chill, also known as the wind chill index or "wind chill" in English, is a measurement that represents how we perceive air temperature. In other words, it is the way the human body interprets cold or heat based on various climatic factors. People often associate it with the feeling of cold they experience on cold, windy days or the feeling of sweltering heat on hot, humid days. But what elements contribute to this perception?

The Causes: Components of Thermal Sensation

The thermal sensation depends primarily on the air temperature, but is also influenced by other climatic factors. Below we list all of these key factors:

  • Air temperature: This is the starting point. Air temperature is a primary factor in determining thermal sensation. The colder the air temperature, the colder we will feel, and vice versa in hot conditions.

  • Wind speed: Wind has a significant impact on how we perceive temperature. On windy days, the air moves faster and can therefore remove heat from our body more efficiently. This makes us feel colder than the thermometer indicates.

  • Relative humidity: The amount of humidity in the air also influences the thermal sensation. In high humidity conditions, the sweat on our skin does not evaporate as quickly, causing us to feel hotter on hot, humid days.

  • Sun exposure: Exposure to direct sun can increase the sensation of heat. In contrast, shade can make us feel cooler on a warm day.

Formulas to Calculate Thermal Sensation

Calculating wind chill is not as simple as taking the air temperature and adjusting it for wind speed and humidity. Specific formulas are used to determine this index.

One of the best-known formulas is the Wind Chill Index formula for cold and the Heat Index formula for heat.

Calculation for the Cold: Thermal Sensation of the Wind

Thermal sensation: the perception of cold and heatIn cold conditions, wind chill is calculated using the wind chill formula, which takes into account air temperature and wind speed.

The most used formula for calculating cold wind chill was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA). The formula is the following:

St = 13.12 + 0.6215 * T - 11.37 * v0.16 + 0.3965 * T * v0.16


  • St is the thermal sensation (°C)
  • T is the air temperature (°C)
  • v is the wind speed (km/h)

This formula takes into consideration the air temperature in degrees Celsius and the wind speed in kilometers per hour. The final result is an estimate of the thermal sensation in degrees Celsius.

Calculation for Heat: Heat Index Formula

In hot conditions, the most common formula for calculating thermal sensation in heat is the heat index, developed by NOAA. The formula is the following:

Ic = -42.379 + 2.04901523 * T + 10.14333127 * h - 0.22475541 * T * h - 6.83783 * 10-3 * T2 - 5.481717 * 10-2 * h2 + 1.22874 * 10-3 * T2 * h + 8.5282 * 10-4 * T * h2 - 1.99 * 10-6 * T2 * h2


  • Ic is the Heat Index (°C)
  • T is the air temperature (°C)
  • h is the relative humidity (%)

This formula takes into account the air temperature in degrees Celsius and the relative humidity in percentage. The result is an estimate of the thermal sensation in heat, also in degrees Celsius.

Importance of Thermal Sensation

The wind chill is not just a meteorological curiosity; It has important implications for our daily lives and security. Here are some reasons why it is important:

Outdoor Safety

Thermal sensation: the perception of cold and heatWind chill is essential for safety in outdoor activities. In winter, cold temperatures and wind can increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite, especially if people are not adequately prepared. Knowing the wind chill helps you make informed decisions about how long you can stay outside and what clothing is necessary.

In summer, high thermal sensations can lead to heat stroke and dehydration, which can be dangerous, especially for risk groups, such as children, the elderly, and people with medical conditions.

Trip Planning

Wind chill is an important factor to consider when planning trips. Not only does it affect what clothes we should pack, but it can also influence whether we should postpone a trip due to dangerous weather conditions.

Energy Efficiency

In cold climates, wind chill can have a significant impact on energy efficiency. Businesses and homes must heat their buildings to keep people comfortable. When wind chill is low due to wind, heat loss is greater, which can increase heating costs. Therefore, understanding thermal sensation is relevant for energy management.

Agriculture and Livestock

The wind chill also affects agriculture and livestock. Cold temperatures and reduced wind chill can damage crops and livestock, while high wind chills can cause heat stress in animals and affect agricultural production.


Published: August 28, 2017
Last review: October 24, 2023