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I sometimes hear stories where people compare their feelings in winter in different places in the world.

It goes like

in city X the temperature was the same as in city Y, but the humidity made me feel much colder...

or

oh well, -20°C would be cold, but the humidity was low, so it felt OK

so it implies that humidity somehow makes it feel colder. I am talking about temperatures below freezing (-30...0°C).

Does this have any physical explanation, or is it some sort of psychological phenomenon?

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2 Answers

Higher humidity means that their is a larger concentration of water in the air. Water has a higher specific heat compared to oxygen gas, thus it is able to more easily give off heat (or take it away in the case of something feeling cold).

An everyday example of this is how diving into a pool that's just above 0 degrees Celcius feels much much colder than being outside in 0 degrees. Similarly cold air with high humidity will reduce the temperature of our body's faster than air with low humidity. And, hot air with high humidity will increase the temperature of our body's faster than air with low humidity.

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water (liquid or vapor) also has higher thermal conductivity than air –  user31748 Feb 5 at 16:29
    
It seems that for 100% humidity there is about 3% water vapor in the air; it has about twice the heat capacity of air - does 3% difference in heat capacity really make such a difference? Or do we have to take thermal conductivity into account too? –  user27542 Feb 6 at 10:06
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a lot of humidity means a lot of water vapors in air and water has a lot of thermal capacity(heat needed to raise 1'C of substance) compared to air.This means that surrounding air will take more heat to warm up and therefore will make you feel cooler.

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