Physics of winter - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Physics of winter

(Source: Stock image/Pixabay) (Source: Stock image/Pixabay)
(KFVS) -

Ever notice that certain things seem to happen only in the winter? Like those cold mornings when you can see your breath. Or those dry winter days when you get shocked every time you touch something metal.

We went to our "go-to" physics expert, Southeast Missouri State University professor Dr. Peggy Hill, for an explanation. 

When you can see your breath on cold, humid winter mornings you’re actually seeing a miniature "mixing cloud." Your breath is warm and humid. When you exhale into the cold air, the water vapor in your breath condenses into actual water droplets and become visible.

Similarly, often when you first start your car on cold mornings you can see mixing clouds coming out of your tailpipe, at least at first. Eventually, when your car’s engine and tailpipe warm up, the relative humidity decreases and the exhaust is no longer visible.

And who hasn’t been shocked (and even inadvertently shut down a computer) on a cold, dry day?

Dr. Hill said that when you walk around your home or office you can build up a static charge in your body, especially on carpet. And when you touch something metal, that charge is released.

Interestingly, the water vapor in the humid air acts to dissipate those electrical charges, so you’re less likely to get shocked, although you might if you live in a more desert climate. However, dry air is a better insulator so you’re more likely to get shocked in the winter when the humidity is lower. 

By the way, if you’re intrigued by the "physics of winter," I have a great book that I found years ago entitled “Clouds in a Glass of Beer,” by Craig Bohren, meteorology professor at Penn State.

He explained in simple terms the science behind some interesting things that most of us take for granted, like why my grandfather used to put salt in his beer and it had nothing to do with taste.

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