Editorial: Long-winded winter wisdom

Ask someone how cold it was on a certain day, and you're likely to get the broadest range of answers possible.

Of all the information-gathering challenges presented to journalists in a small newsroom, one of the most daunting is to get an accurate read on the actual temperature outside.

Oh, sure: we face gatekeepers and “spokespeople” on a regular basis, and are required to dance around the formalities until we can glean the knowledge we’re actually seeking. We get stonewalled on a regular basis when trying to follow the money to a logical conclusion.

But ask someone how cold it was on a certain day, and you’re likely to get the broadest range of answers possible.

When it’s frigid, Canadian pride tends to obscure logic as we ignore the effects of wind chill and our own lack of proper clothing to describe just how unbelievably cold it was or will be.

A few weeks ago, common exaggeration was plumetting the culturally-accepted temperature outside to “almost -40 C”. Never mind that Environment Canada — who measure temperature the proper way, in a wind-and-sun-free environment one metre off the ground — were posting temperatures in the low -20 C range instead.

Aside from Environment Canada’s Weatheroffice site, virtually every weather information source casually factors in the improper science of wind chill , as outlined in a recent Globe and Mail story, into the weather calculations to make as big or small a number as possible.

How warm or cold it is has an important bearing on what we do at this time of year, and how we do it. For instance, the early season chill that converted the surface of Lake Windermere into a 15-inch-thick natural skating rink has drawn skaters to the lake like religious pilgrims to Mecca. It’s been truly remarkable to see just how well used this natural asset has been since Christmas.

Don’t miss your chance to experience it because of some cold-weather hype.