It's hot, but it "feels like" it's hotter

3 min

When we’re experiencing those scorching days across Australia, sometimes it can feel even hotter than it actually is. That’s why the “feels like” climate calculation is significant.

Australians are obsessed about the weather, no more so than in the south east where conditions can be extremely changeable – many Melbournians have a jacket, umbrella and SPF 50 on hand at all times! In January, when many eastern states are prone to experiencing major heat events (such as this week and last week), our preoccupation with the weather seems justified.

To accurately measure the weather, however, is a complicated process. Our strategic partners at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) look at a number of variables in order to determine both the ambient temperature and the “feels like” component. Air temperature is actually measured in the shade, using thermometers sheltered from sun and wind, thus can at times be less representative of how the temperature “feels like” outside.

If you’re out in the midday sun in Australia, that can increase the apparent temperature by about 8°C. At high temperatures, our bodies produce sweat so that it can evaporate in order to cool us down. However, if humidity in the air is high, the rate at which our sweat evaporates slows down, making the temperature “feel” warmer - there have been examples where air temperature is 29°C, but “feels like” 38°C.

It’s the same for the converse because at low temperatures, the layer of warmer air around our bodies insulates us from the cooler surrounding air. If the wind is strong, this layer of warmer air is stripped away, making the temperature “feel” colder so the air temperature is 22°C, it can “feel like” 15°C. Therefore, “feels like” temperature is calculated by taking humidity and wind chill/speed into account

Apparent Temperature doesn’t just affect people, it affects the electricity system too! Air-conditioners put in overtime when it’s humid and solar radiation bakes buildings, causing air-conditioners to work harder – architects refer to this as solar gain. The graph below shows the difference in demand on two days with the same temperature – one humid and one dry.

The Bureau website lists weather observations from stations around the country, including ambient and apparent temperature, relative humidity and wind speeds. To check the latest apparent temperature for a given location, open their page for your State/Territory and under ‘Observations’ choose ‘Latest Observations’.

So, if you’re planning to be working, socialising or exercising outside this week, make sure to check the “feels like” temperature on your preferred weather provider and take appropriate measures to help prevent heat stress.

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