When I think of temperature, I usually think of two things. I think of temperature as it relates to weather and I think of temperature as it relates to my health. I’m sure I’m not alone in those thoughts. We look at temperature measurements everyday. Anytime you turn on the TV or radio to find figure out how to dress appropriately, I would assume the air temperature has a big affect on your decision. The importance of knowing what temperature is, what it measures, and how it affects us isn’t limited to our daily fashion decisions.
First, what are we measuring when we measure temperature? Temperature really is a measurement of energy. Heat is a result of the amount of energy that is in the particles of a substance. Does that make sense? In other words, in a particular substance, like air, there are tiny particles that are moving and bouncing off each other. The more energy that is in the substance, the more these particles move and bounce, giving off heat. When you think of the term “cold” don’t think of it as the opposite of heat, think of it as a lack of heat, or lack of energy in a substance. A piece of ice has a lot less heat energy stored in the particles than boiling water does. After all, to boil water, don’t you add energy to it?
So, now that we barely scratched the surface of what temperature is measuring ( energy ), we can look at what methods are used to measure it. In the U.S. we typically use Fahrenheit as the standard temperature measurement system. We also use the Metric standard of Celsius, or Centigrade. Most of the world uses the Metric standard. In science, the use of Kelvin as a temperature standard is sometimes used, but is used typically for very cold measurements.
Sometimes, we will adjust our view of temperature from what the measurement actually is, to what it “feels” like. When we use temperature to estimate our comfort level for outdoor activities, we often times will adjust for other factors that can affect how the temperature feels. An example of one of these adjustments is the wind chill factor. When the wind is blowing across our bodies, it can make the outside air temperature seem much cooler than the actual temperature. In fact, the air movement helps to dissipate heat from our body, aiding in the cooling affect. Another example on the opposite side of the spectrum is the heat index. When there are high levels of moisture in the atmosphere the air surrounding our body isn’t able to absorb as much of the heat energy within our bodies and we tend to feel warmer than the actual outdoor temperature readings may show.
It is important to know some of the math behind these temperature readings and how the wind chill and heat indices work. For more information on how to convert temperatures and how we adjust these measurements to determine our comfort levels, try some of these online calculators.