University of Rochester

Zeroing in on the Real Wind Chill: Engineering Students Find How Cold Winter Really Is

December 7, 2000

Rochester's winters are cold enough without a gust of bitter wind-but just how bitter is that wind chill? Engineering students at the University of Rochester are looking to answer that question by building a refrigerated wind tunnel. Their aim is to improve upon the first experiment that determined wind chill more than half a century ago. The students will be performing final tests and taking readings from their refrigerator-like contraption today between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

The three seniors are trying to replicate a 1940s experiment that was done in the Antarctic. Scientists laid out cans of water and measured the wind speed to see what effect it had on freezing the water. Unfortunately, says Paul Funkenbusch, associate professor of mechanical engineering and teacher of the students, there were some flaws in the experiment. For instance, the can of water sat at ground level while the wind speed was measured several meters in the air.

"For decades, meteorologists have used this old data, even though it isn't very accurate," says Funkenbusch. "Now people are taking a fresh look, based in part on modeling which suggests the older results overestimate the wind chill. Our students are out to double-check these results experimentally."

The students are looking to reduce error by creating a wind tunnel inside a freezer, thereby controlling all aspects of the experiment. They will be collecting data in their final class session on Thursday, and will process the data and present it to their classmates Friday, December 15.