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Throw winter myths on the fire

As you sit in your homes huddled against the week's weather — and by that we mean picking off January bargains at the mall and scoring movies at the RedBox kiosk while the kids are out of school &mdash take comfort in this debunking of some noted winter propaganda.

Wind chill doesn't mean all that much

Wind mixed with the cold makes the outdoors seem extra-cold on your skin, but the idea that you're going to get frostbite because of a mathematical formula is off-base.

The online magazine Slate.com blew the lid off the wind-chill public relations machine earlier this week, with science reporter Daniel Engber calling it "the weatherman's favorite alarmist statistic."

Wind blows at different speeds during different times of day, and windbreaks such as buildings block gusts. Wind chill, Engber writes, only reflects the rate at which your skin will reach the air temperature, "but your skin can freeze only if the air temperature is below freezing."

Wind chill affects only you and animals; it doesn't affect inanimate objects. The National Weather Service says that if the temperature outside is minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill temperature is minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit, then your car's radiator will not drop lower than minus 5 degrees.

Black ice is not really black

"Black ice" is thus termed because it lacks bubbles and usually is not noticed on roadways, where its colorless appearance may make the black road look merely wet. Black ice is really no blacker than the cubes in your Coke glass.

Don't blame it all on Alberta Clippers

An Alberta clipper, named for a Canadian province, can also be known as a Canadian Clipper. It's a fast-moving low-pressure system that moves quickly on a track from the prairies to south of the Great Lakes, often bringing snow.

The "clipper" part is a colorful but archaic designation involving fast-moving ships.

People to the west of us fear "Colorado Clippers," although those weather systems are also more prosaically called "Colorado Lows."

The milk and bread syndrome

Kroger's big sellers this week have been chili fixings, soup, cereals, chicken breasts and ready-to-eat sandwiches, says chain spokesman Tim McGurk. Also a big mover: videos.

It's not 'death snow' until it hits the ground

Much of Kentucky was buried under snow in February 1998 when a local forecaster called for a "dusting." In Lexington, a record 17.4 inches fell in three days. Did forecasters see it coming? They did not.

Despite all the advanced technological gewgaws, the weather does not necessarily follow predictable rules. Hence Thursday: The snow was coming, then it wasn't, then it fell in great feathery clumps late in the day.

Weather is an evolving daily process. Bob Henrick of Lexington, a retired weather specialist with the National Weather Service, says it's difficult to ascertain the exact path a storm will take: "Twenty to 40 miles can make all the difference between getting 6 to 8 inches, 3 to 4 inches or just a dusting."

He said that during a 1994 storm Berea got 2 inches of snow, while Lexington, less than 40 miles away, got 22 inches: "The track of the storm, that can make all the difference."

This isn't the worst weather by a long shot

In Lexington in 1978, snow covered the ground from Jan. 9 to March 11. Snow fell daily from Jan. 12 until Jan. 21. It reached 14 inches on Jan. 20.

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