The effects of humidity in cold weather: How the cold can impact your health

Weather Blog

There’s more to the cold weather than getting in on more snow. Besides the nuisance of having to shovel out the driveway or adding the extra layers before heading outside, the cold air can cause issues to our health, and it all starts with humidity.  

During the winter we keep all the doors and windows shut, turn the heaters on, and settle in for the long haul. While doing all of this, it only helps create the dry conditions we can sometimes get inside the home which can lead to dry and irritated skin.

The reason it gets so much drier in the winter is because cold air isn’t able to hold in as much moisture as warm air can. This makes it more likely for any moisture on your skin to quickly evaporate back into the air, which leaves your skin feeling drier during the winter months. Plus, cold enough air can pull moisture away not only from your skin, but from your mouth and nose too, leaving your nasal passages and throat dried out. This can leave room for more illness since there’s less in the way preventing bacteria and germs from getting inside the nose.

Dry air can cause health issues that include:

  • Dry or irritated skin
  • Dry eyes or lips
  • Increased chances for bloody nose
  • Itchy throat, allergies, and other respiratory problems 

A few tips you can follow to try and prevent the above include staying hydrated, using a humidifier, sealing off your home from the outside, and moisturizing. Having just the right temperature and humidity inside the house can also make us feel better both mentally and physically when we’re feeling our best.

According to North Dakota State University, the ideal relative humidity for indoors is ~30 – 40%.

Check out our very own current conditions monitor we have in the weather center, showing our studio at a perfect 37% humidity. No dry hands here!

OTHER FACTS TO KNOW

Humidity is defined as the amount of water vapor or moisture present in the air. Relative humidity tells us how much water vapor there is in the air, relative to how much it can actually hold. It’s expressed as a ratio or percentage. 

Having 100% relative humidity in colder temperatures doesn’t necessarily mean it feels humid and uncomfortable, because cold air can’t hold as much moisture as warm air. If you want to know how the air actually feels you have to look at the dew point. The closer the dew point is to the actual air temp, the more uncomfortable and sticky the air feels. 

MoreDew Point and Relative Humidity defined: Different ways of measuring moisture

Check out the Relative humidity (RH) for 2 different days out of the year below:

The cups filled with blue water represent how much moisture the air can hold. The air during the cold, winter day can hold a much smaller amount of moisture than the air on the warm, summer day. 

This is why the relative humidity, or RH can be much higher in the cold than the warm, simply because the air is at a higher holding capacity, where the warm air has much more room to hold even more moisture. In other words, it takes less moisture for cold air to become saturated than warm air, which is why there can be a higher RH during a cold day. Remember, higher humidity doesn’t necessarily equate to how humid it feels outside.

As soon as that same air is heated back up to room temperature inside your home the RH drops significantly. The lower the RH, the more moisture the air can hold, which is why moisture can easily evaporate off your body and back into the air inside your home, where the humidity falls once temperatures rise. 

During the winter months cold, dry air from the outside can get inside the house. Since we heat our homes in the winter, that cold, dry air will often settle into low areas of the house while the warm air rises above it. This is what can cause the house to feel dry too.

. . .

The belief also exists that changes in air pressure can make your joints hurt. It’s said that the lower the air pressure, the more they can hurt. Some say it’s just a myth, but others say it holds true, saying that lower pressure allows more room for tissues inside the body to expand, and therefore put pressure on your joints causing you pain.

This is why some say that they know when it’s going to rain when they feel their joints begin to ache, or maybe it’s just a superstition. Does this happen to you? If so, give us a call. You’re hired.

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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