If the wind chill was -80° back then, why is the all-time record still -54°?

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Before you argue with your parents or grandparents about them living through worse weather, listen up. They're not wrong. But they're not entirely right, either. The record low wind chill is -54° in the Quad Cities but it was in the -70s back in the 1970s.

But how is that possible?

First, let's look at the history of the wind chill factor. Wind chill is not something that's measurable with a weather instrument. It's a derived number, based on temperature and wind velocity. First developed by explorers Siple and Passel who were traversing Antarctica in 1939. They wanted to a factor to quantify the wind's effect on the body. The "feels like" or wind chill took off in the 1960s and 1970s with the advent of the television weather broadcast. At the same time, scientific discoveries were made concerning heat transfer from the human body during times of cold and windy weather.

In 2001, the National Weather Service implemented a "new and improved" index.

The modern wind chill utilizes an adjustment for calculating wind chill at ground level, instead of 33 feet, takes into account heat loss from the body, lowers the calm wind threshold from 4 mph to 3 mph and in 2002 began accounting for the effects of sunshine.

Leon Walschaert saved this January 28, 1977 edition of The Moline Daily Dispatch with the headline "80-below wind chill closes area schools." Taking those numbers and putting them into the modern wind chill criteria, they still don't stack up to the worst the Quad Cities has ever seen at -54°. The morning of January 10, 1982 still stands as the worst wind chill we've ever seen.

That could be challenged with the cold weather and wind Wednesday morning.

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen

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