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Good Question: Why Do Temps In The 50s Feel So Cool In The Fall?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
Heather Brown loves to put her innate curiosity to work to answer yo...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There’s nothing unusual about a cool, wet October week. For example, Wednesday’s high only climbed to the mid 50s – the same temperatures that feel so warm to us in early April.

“If it was 52 degrees in January, we’d be wearing shorts and T-shirt,” said Dan Cowan of Andover as he sat under a blanket for his son’s high school football game on Wednesday night.

That phenomenon had Katie from Plymouth wondering: Why do the same temperatures feel so much cooler in the fall?

“It’s not in your head,” says Dr. Paul Mellick, a professor of physiology at the University of St. Thomas.

“If my skin receptors are used to 80 degrees and sunny, 50 degrees feels pretty cold,” he says. “In January, it’s the exact opposite. If my skins receptors are used to 20 degrees, 50 degrees feels pretty warm.”

He says our body interprets outside temperature when the touch receptors in our skin send a signal to our brain. And, for months, our skin has felt warmth.

“It’s just like anything else, if I keep sending the same signal to my brain over and over, eventually I kind of dumb back my response because it’s happening all the time,” Mellick says.

He says a simple experiment conducted in elementary schools explains the phenomenon.

“If you stick your hand in a bowl of hot water and a bowl of cold water, then put them both in lukewarm water, the hot feels cold and the cold feels hot,” he says. “That’s kind of what your body is doing the whole time.”

Mellick says it takes people between six weeks and two months to adjust to the warmer or cooler weather. He also says people can generally handle to cold weather adjustment more easily than when it turns hot because we have more ways of heating ourselves through increased metabolism and adding fat. In the summer, though, the best way to get rid of the heat is to sweat and our bodies can only do so much of that.

Or, as Katie put it, “In the winter, you can layer and layer, but, in the summer, there’s only so much you can take off without getting arrested.”

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