NBC2 Animation: What determines when you can see your breath when it’s cold outside

When you watch the Winter Olympics on NBC2 this weekend, you can observe the athletes’ breathing while outdoors. Sometimes in competition, you’ll see an athlete’s breath cloudy when they’re outside in the cold, while other times it’s not. If this seems strange because the air temperature has always been cold enough since the opening ceremony, there is actually a very simple reason why.

When it comes to your breath, it’s not just the temperature that matters. It also matters how much moisture is in the air in the form of humidity.

Seeing your breath in winter happens when you exhale. If you imagine that you could shrink it small enough to fit inside your lung, you’ll notice that once inside, it feels warm and moist. As you exhale, warm air rich in water vapor moves from your lungs into the air around you. In cold climates like match venues, the exhaled air is significantly warmer than the air around athletes, so it rapidly cools and condenses to form a small cloud. appear as you breathe.

However, when the air is very dry (which can easily happen in winter when temperatures drop), it can be very difficult to see your breath, because the moisture you put into the air evaporates so quickly. In the example below, the air temperature is 30 degrees but accompanied by very dry air with minimal humidity. This means that the breath cloud will not be visible when the Winter Olympic athletes compete outside.


Now consider a setup like the one below where the air temperature doesn’t change (it’s still 30 degrees outside) but, you have more relative humidity in the air than our first example I. In this case, you’ll see your breath outside because that air has a chance to cool and condense into a small cloud before evaporating away.


So the next time you watch the Olympics and you see someone’s breathing or the next time you go on a ski trip with your kids and they get excited when they first notice your breath. yourself, now you will know how and why.

https://nbc-2.com/weather/weather-blog/2022/02/11/nbc2-animation-what-determines-when-you-can-see-your-breath-when-its-cold-outside/ NBC2 Animation: What determines when you can see your breath when it’s cold outside

Tom Vazquez

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