16 is 60: Celsius to Fahrenheit and Back Again

It’s cold. How cold? Well, it’s below freezing, but that’s not exactly a number, and usually when people talk about temperature, we talk numbers. Math might be a universal language, but my blood still flows at 98.6 °F, and I’m trying to get it to 37 °C.

There’s a big difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit. While, they’re both made up, one makes significantly more sense, except when you grew up most of your life in a numerically illogical measurement system. (Dear America: Canada and Australia switched from imperial to metric measurement nearly 50 years ago, and we can, too!)

When Europeans rave about their mid-winter getaway, it’s something like, “we had 28 degrees every day!” And this, to an American, doesn’t sound all that appealing. 28 Fahrenheit is the below-freezing-skeleton that I’m trying to stuff back into the closet in anticipation of warm spring days. The daylight hours are noticeably brighter and longer, but Berlin is fighting one final (I hope) cold front. 

I’m smart enough that I know the equation for converting temperatures: it’s roughly Celsius-times-2-plus-30-equals-Fahrenheit, and it’s precisely Celsius-times-9/5-plus-32-equals-Fahrenheit. I can do it in my head, but I don’t want to. I want to know the temperature when I step outside without feeling like my brain is doing foreign math, and to be able to answer without hesitating when a colleague asks me the temperature in Spain when I went swimming in February. Answer: the air hit 15 °C (58 °F) but the sunshine made it feel oh-so-much-warmer.

Every mobile weather application and website gives the option to switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit, so I can certainly check for myself – and feel incompetent. Initially, I ideated an app that showed two measurements side-by-side. With this, any time I checked the weather, I could know what it meant to me – which jacket, shoes, gloves, etc to wear – and also know the number that everyone else would chat about. I want to learn so that I simply know.

I found a better way. I’m learning to tell the temperature using references that mean something to me, and here are some examples:

  • Below freezing is below freezing. People usually stay indoors. I’ll add references if I go on any winter mountaineering adventures in the metric world.
  • 0 °C is 32 °F. This is the freezing point of water, of course.
  • 5 °C is 41 °F. It makes sense that 5 is half way between 0 and 10, and 41 is halfway between 32 and 50. Not all of the conversions are so sensible.
  • 10 °C is roughly when you can switch to a lighter jacket. This is 50 °F. 
  • 16 °C is 60 °F. Sixteen. Sixty. Easy to remember. I realized the ease of this conversion when we were surprised with a warm Sunday afternoon this past weekend. Tempelhof (Berlin’s abandoned-airport-turned-public-park) was swarming with post-winter-pedestrians.
  • 20 °C is 68 °F. Room temperature-ish! Also probably a comfortable temperature to consider wearing shorts.
  • 28 °C is 82 °F. I think that we can all agree above 80 is “warm,” so this is worth remembering. It’s also the temp from most of my days in Thailand, so easy to “feel” from recent memory.
  • 35 °C is 95 °C. That has a ring to it, no?
  • 37 °C is 98.6 °F. Feeling sick? Take your temperature. Average human body temperature is important to know, and relevant for the weather, too!
  • 175 °C is 347 °F. This is important for using an oven. It’s almost exactly half/twice, and the starting place for many recipes.
  • 200 °C is 392 °F. Also almost half/twice, and worth knowing in the kitchen.

Have you struggled with similar temperature conversations? Do you have another meaningful reference for me to know? Leave an idea in the comments below!

One thought on “16 is 60: Celsius to Fahrenheit and Back Again

  1. Nice thing about 28 and 82 is that they are mirror images and easy to remember. Hope it warms up soon.


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