If You Can’t Under”stand” the Heat, It’s Probably Celsius

Austalia's metric conversion stamp

Part of Australia’s conversation information

I really like the metric system except for one thing: Celsius. The rest of the day-to-day mental adjustments are pretty easy. A yard plus three inches is a meter, a pound is roughly a half a kilogram and I don’t go that many places that I don’t know how far away they are (plus I can read whatever dial in the car is called for). The one thing I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is the Celsius system. I haven’t talked about temperature measurements much in this blog, now is the time.

Celsius thermometer

Celsius thermometer

When I spoke to my daughter (who spent almost a year in Japan) I asked her how difficult it was to adopt the metric system since that is what’s used there (and 95 percent of the rest of the world, for that matter). She said it very easy with the exception of the temperature system. I’m starting to see what she means.

Try a phone app

A couple of weeks ago I converted my weather phone app over to Celsius and I’m still having a little trouble figuring out just how hot or cold it is outside but I’m getting better.

Under the Fahrenheit system, 32 degrees is freezing and 211 degrees is hot enough to boil water (unless you live at my altitude, in which case it boils at a lower temperature, really). Under the Celsius system (and yes, Celsius should be capitalized, since it’s named after Anders Celsius), 0 degrees is freezing and 100 degrees boils water. (It’s more complicated than that but that’s the easy version.) That’s quite a change for someone who’s grown up with the Fahrenheit system.

Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius

What that means to me that while I find the metric system usually more precise and easy to picture in my head, that all breaks down with temperatures for since one degree in Celsius is equal to approximately 1.8 degrees in Fahrenheit. To me that’s less precise.

Apparently, in some parts of the world (so I’ve been told) to make up somewhat for this lesser specificity, they report the temperature with decimals, as in 22.3 oC. “And where does Centigrade enter into this?,” I hear you ask. The important thing to know is that the word Celsius has pretty much supplanted the older term of Centigrade. If you’re new to all of this, learn the term Celsius and you’ll be golden.

A mnemonic device

Temperature comparisons

Temperature comparisons

A while ago I wrote a blog on the above transitional conversions and David Pearl (aka Metric Pioneer), a metric system advocate, commented with the following to help people (myself included) grasp some temperature context.

Thirty is warm;
twenty is nice;
ten is cold;
zero is ice.

Interestingly, I found the same rhyme (but in reverse order) on the Weather Channel’s site. (Of course, if you go there, it has some “cool” projects, like how to make your own thermometer. Check it out.)

Of course, I can already hear some people advocating that even if we convert our other measures over to metric, we should really hold on to our Fahrenheit units “because they’re easier.” Yeah, I’ll admit that it might be a little more work to make the adjustment but let’s just suck it up and do a full conversion so we’re no longer out of step with the rest of the world. I’m sure we’ll “warm” to it.

With all that said,  I’m willing to bet that most people with more than two I.Q. points to rub together and a little effort can learn the metric system easily—all of it.


Note: The title references the old saying “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” It’s attributed to Harry S. Truman, former president of the United States. Seems appropriate to use it in this context.