The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying: Best Practices

Step into the magical world of woodworking, where craftsmanship meets nature’s wonders. As woodworking enthusiasts, we understand that the drying process plays a pivotal role in transforming raw lumber into exquisite creations.

Today, we embark on a journey to unravel the enigma of lumber drying, focusing specifically on one crucial element: temperature.

Prepare to be captivated as we delve into the fascinating realm of The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying, exploring the impact it has on the wood’s moisture content, stability, and overall quality.

Best Practices on The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying:

  • Gradual temperature increase: Starting with a lower temperature and gradually raising it can help prevent surface checking and ensure even drying throughout the wood.
  • Ideal temperature ranges: Different wood species have varying ideal temperature ranges for drying. Familiarize yourself with these ranges to optimize the drying process and achieve the desired moisture content.
  • Moisture content equilibrium: Maintaining a proper balance between the wood’s moisture level and the surrounding environment is crucial. Temperature control is vital in achieving this equilibrium and preventing shrinkage or warping.
  • Proper ventilation: Adequate airflow during the drying process aids in moisture removal and prevents the formation of mold or fungus. Consider using fans or vents to promote efficient airflow.
  • Monitoring and adjustment: Regularly monitoring the temperature during the drying process is essential. Make adjustments as needed to ensure consistent drying and prevent potential damage to the wood.

While these bullet points offer a glimpse into the world of temperature’s influence on lumber drying, our adventure doesn’t end here. The complete article holds a treasure trove of valuable information that will help you unlock the full potential of your woodworking workshop.

Whether you are a professional woodworker or in the early stages of your craft, peruse this article for invaluable advice that will hone your skillset and galvanize your bond with wood’s enduring beauty. Let us embark on this captivating exploration together!

Disclosure: At zero cost to you, I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I earn from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate. Products featured are selected based on quality, performance, and reputation, regardless of affiliate relationships.

The Importance of Temperature in Lumber Drying

The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying - Close up of a thermometer

Lumber drying is an essential process that involves removing moisture from harvested wood to make it suitable for construction and manufacturing.

The process reduces the weight, prevents decay, and enhances the durability of wood products. However, lumber drying requires careful consideration of several factors to achieve optimal results.

Temperature plays a decisive role in determining the speed at which moisture is extracted from wood, thereby influencing the quality of lumber produced.

In general, two principal drying methods can be employed for lumber: high-temperature kiln drying and low-temperature air-drying.

Kiln drying involves placing lumber in a heated chamber where hot air circulates around it, causing moisture to evaporate quickly.

Air-drying involves stacking lumbers outdoors or in a well-ventilated structure where natural air circulation removes moisture gradually over time.

Understanding how temperature affects lumber drying is essential for producing high-quality products consistently.

This is due to the distinction in densities between various types of wood which necessitates an adjustment of the heat-exposure level during drying.

For instance, some species such as oak and hickory have dense cells that require high temperatures to dry effectively without warping or cracking.

Furthermore, understanding climate effects can help manufacturers reduce energy costs by optimizing production processes while minimizing environmental impacts associated with excessive energy consumption.

With this knowledge, they can choose between low-temperature air-drying or high-temperature kiln-drying methods that suit specific projects’ requirements.

Controlling temperature during lumber drying is crucial for achieving quality results while reducing production costs and environmental impacts associated with excessive energy consumption through optimization of production processes.

In subsequent sections, we will delve deeper into how different temperatures affect lumber during the drying process to understand what factors influence optimal temperatures for various types of woods while also discussing the science behind temperature effects on lumber.

Also read my article 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Drying Lumber to Preserve Wood Quality.

The Science Behind Temperature and Lumber Drying

Temperature’s Impact on Moisture Content in Wood

Have you ever exposed a piece of wood to the sun’s rays, only to find it more dehydrated than when you commenced?

This is because temperature plays a significant role in moisture levels within wood. As temperatures soar, the rate of water evaporating from the wood rises in direct proportion.

This is due to increased molecular activity at higher temperatures, leading to faster moisture loss. However, if temperatures are too extreme, the wood can dry swiftly and unevenly, resulting in suboptimal quality.

For more information on how to dry lumber fast, go to my article 4 Correct ways to dry lumber fast | Complete wood drying guide to see more.

This can lead to warping or cracking, both of which can ruin the final product’s quality. Therefore, determining optimal drying temperatures is essential for achieving high-quality lumber.

The Role of Humidity and Air Circulation

While temperature plays an important role in lumber drying, humidity and air circulation are also crucial. The air’s relative humidity affects the moisture levels within the wood by creating a gradient between wet and dry areas.

When there is a difference between wet and dry areas within the lumber pile, moisture moves from one area to another until equilibrium is reached. Airflow also influences lumber drying by removing moist air from around the wood surface.

As this happens, fresh air replaces it, carrying away additional water vapor that has evaporated from inside of the wood fibers.

By regulating airflow through proper ventilation systems or fans placed strategically throughout drying spaces like kilns or sheds where lumber is stored after sawing or milling operations are completed before selling them on markets like Home Depot online store that offer lots of variety at affordable prices.
Related article: How To Store Dried Lumber To Prevent Reabsorption Of Moisture.

Understanding how all three factors interact with each other in lumber drying helps us create effective strategies for correcting any potential issues that could arise during this process.

By controlling each variable’s level according to specific species’ needs when dealing with different types of woods like oak or pine tree woods used for construction, we can ensure that the wood dries evenly and thoroughly, resulting in high-quality lumber.

Ebook part 1 woodworking basics

Optimal Temperatures for Lumber Drying

Ideal temperature ranges for different types of wood

When it comes to lumber drying, each type of wood has its ideal temperature range. The cause behind this is the diverse properties of various types of wood, ranging from density and moisture level to grain pattern.

Softwood selections such as spruce or pine demand lower temperatures in comparison to harder woods like oak and maple.

Optimally, softwoods flourish in temperatures between 60-80°F (15-27°C), while hardwoods prefer a temperature range of 90-110°F (32-43°C). Though not definitive, these values are effective guides to follow.

If the temperature is insufficient, the drying process of lumber will be prolonged and can result in fungal growth and discoloration. Conversely, excessively high temperatures can detrimentally affect the wood fiber structure, thus producing an inferior finished product.

Related article: The 3 Fastest Drying Lumber Species for Quick Woodworking Projects.

Factors that influence optimal temperatures

Several factors influence optimal drying temperatures; some are intrinsic to the type of wood being dried while others depend on external conditions. One critical factor is moisture content.

If you’re drying green lumber with a higher moisture level than air-dried lumber (18% or higher), you need higher temperatures because more energy is required to evaporate excess water.

Another factor that influences optimal drying temperatures is air circulation. Proper air circulation ensures even distribution of heat throughout the pile or kiln chamber.

If air doesn’t circulate correctly, hot spots can form within the pile where excessive heat causes over-drying in one area while under-drying in another area.

Additionally, humidity levels affect optimal drying temperatures because high humidity slows down evaporation rates and extends drying times considerably.

Ideally, relative humidity should be around 50% during drying operations. Other factors influencing optimal temperatures include the type of drying method (air-drying or kiln-drying), size of the lumber, and desired final moisture level.

Understanding optimal temperatures for lumber drying is crucial for achieving high-quality final products. Different types of wood require different temperature ranges because of their unique characteristics, while other factors such as moisture level, air circulation, and humidity influence optimal temperatures.

Overview of Air-Drying Process: The Old-School Method

The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying - Air-Drying Process

For those who prefer more traditional practices, air-drying is the ideal option for drying at low temperatures. It’s the slowest method of drying but requires no special equipment, making it a cost-effective option.

Air-drying involves stacking green lumber outside and exposing it to natural air circulation, sunlight, and wind.

This lengthy process, taking anywhere from six months to multiple years depending on the wood type and thickness, starts with the wood’s moisture level rapidly evaporating. From there, air-drying commences.

The changing climate leads to a myriad of natural elements influencing our environment, including the intensity of sunlight, wind speed, temperature fluctuation, and humidity.

As the moisture from the wood’s surface dissipates, it generates a disparity in the moisture level between its exterior and interior layers which subsequently evens out over time.

The Pros of Air-Drying:

Air-drying offers a superior advantage when it comes to producing high-grade lumber with fewer faults than alternative drying techniques. The slow drying process reduces stress on the wood fibers which translates into less warping or cracking during drying.

Also, since no artificial heat source is used for drying, there’s less chance of over-dried or under-dried wood. Another benefit is that there’s no need for an expensive kiln or specialized equipment which makes this method accessible to anyone who has enough space outside their home or workshop.

The Cons of Air-Drying:

The biggest downside to air-drying is the extended duration required in comparison to other approaches such as kiln drying or vacuum drying. If you’re in a rush to complete your project, the length of time it takes for your lumber to be ready for use––which can span months to years––can prove to be a challenge. Additionally, since piles of lumber require open spaces, you may need to consider acquiring additional outdoor or storage space to accommodate them.

This can pose a major problem for those who possess minimal space. Since the process is weather-dependent, lumber may become susceptible to mold growth and insect infestation in prolonged humid conditions.

Related article: How to Prevent Insect Infestations During Lumber Drying (7 best tips).

Kiln Drying: Efficient and Controlled Moisture Removal

The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying - Kiln
Kiln (picture by novadrykiln)

While air-drying offers a cost-effective and traditional approach to wood drying, kiln drying provides a more efficient and controlled alternative. Kiln drying involves the use of specialized chambers designed to accelerate the drying process by manipulating temperature, humidity, and airflow.

If you need to quickly dry a small volume of wood, you can conveniently achieve this utilizing a conventional oven. Check out my article Can You Dry Wood in an Oven (A Clear Answer + How to Guide) to learn all about it.

The Kiln Drying Process:

In kiln drying, freshly cut lumber is placed inside a sealed chamber where temperature and humidity levels can be regulated.

The process begins by gradually increasing the temperature to remove excess moisture from the wood. This initial stage, known as the “pre-drying” phase, helps to prevent checking and cracking by slowly evaporating surface moisture.

Once the pre-drying phase is complete, the temperature is raised further to accelerate the moisture removal process. This stage, termed the “conditioning” phase, lowers the wood’s moisture level to the appropriate level for its desired use.

Throughout the entire process, airflow is carefully controlled to ensure even drying and minimize the risk of defects.

The pros of Kiln Drying:

Kiln drying offers several advantages over air-drying, making it a preferred choice for many woodworkers and commercial operations. One significant benefit is the reduced drying time.

Kiln drying drastically reduces the time frame of the drying period to a matter of days or weeks, depending on the species and thickness of the wood, compared to air-drying which can take a significantly longer duration.

This rapid drying allows for quicker access to ready-to-use lumber, making it ideal for projects with tight deadlines.

Additionally, the carefully managed environment of a kiln drastically reduces the chances of mold and insect infestation, along with other forms of deterioration that can occur during long-term air drying.

The controlled temperatures and carefully regulated humidity levels create an inhospitable environment for pests and fungi, ensuring the quality and longevity of the wood.

Furthermore, kiln drying enables the production of lumber with more consistent moisture level.

This uniformity reduces the chances of warping, shrinking, or splitting, resulting in higher-quality and more stable wood for construction or woodworking projects.

The cons of Kiln Drying:

While kiln drying offers numerous benefits, there are some drawbacks to consider. One primary concern is the cost associated with kiln drying equipment and energy consumption.

Kilns can be expensive to purchase, operate, and maintain, making it a more significant investment compared to air-drying, especially for individual woodworkers or hobbyists.

Moreover, the accelerated drying process of kiln drying can potentially lead to increased internal stresses within the wood. If not properly managed, these stresses can result in internal checking or case-hardening, compromising the quality and structural integrity of the lumber.

If you’re not sure yet how to dry wood best, and you doutb between Air-drying and kiln-drying, then you need to take a look at my article Air Drying vs Kiln Drying: Battle of Wood-Drying Methods. In there, I go much deeper into this knowledge.

The Rise of Solar Kiln Drying

The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying - Solar Kiln Drying
Solar Kiln Drying (picture by notechmagazine)

Solar kiln drying is a hybrid method that combines traditional air-drying with an artificial heat source. As the name suggests, it harnesses the power of the sun to create temperature-controlled environments for drying green lumber.

The solar kiln consists of four walls covered in clear plastic or glass that traps sunlight and converts it into heat energy. Inside the kiln, there’s ample space for stacking lumber, and vents allow for proper air circulation and moisture control during the drying process.

The Pros of Solar Kilns:

One of the key benefits of solar kilns is their economical cost for construction and upkeep, compared to conventional electric-powered kilns. It’s an eco-friendly method that uses renewable energy sources reducing carbon emissions contributing toward sustainable development.

Another benefit is faster drying times compared to air-drying methods while still retaining good wood quality with fewer defects. It also offers flexibility in moisture level control by enabling adjustment of temperature settings accordingly.

The Cons of Solar Kilns:

One significant disadvantage with solar kilns is that they’re contingent on good weather conditions making them less predictable than traditional electric-powered dryers.

Ineffective insulation can also lead to slower drying times or even complete failure at times. Additionally, as with any form of artificial heating element used in wood drying processes, there’s always a risk associated with over-drying or under-drying wood; therefore precise monitoring during this process becomes important.

Low-temperature drying methods like air-drying and solar-kiln provide more natural alternatives compared to high-temperature methods like electric-powered kilns.

Ultimately, which software to choose boils down to one’s personal preference and the project’s needs. Both have their respective pros and cons, so careful consideration should be given.

The Effects of Temperature on Lumber Drying on Lumber Quality

Temperature and Moisture Content

To ensure consistent drying, it is essential to keep the temperature steady during lumber drying. Any irregular fluctuations in temperature can cause an uneven moisture level in the wood, leading to buckling and splitting.

This is especially vital with rapid drying methods such as kiln drying, where the surface of the wood can dry out abruptly.

On the other hand, low temperature drying methods like air drying can lead to slower and more even moisture removal from the wood. This can result in less warping and cracking overall. Related article: The Pros and Cons of Air Drying Lumber – Important Information to Know.

The Effects of Temperature on lumber Drying – Warping and Cracking

Warping and cracking are common drying defects that arise during lumber drying, regardless of temperature.

However, high temperatures can exacerbate these issues by causing rapid moisture loss from the wood. This is why kiln-dried lumber often has more visible cracks compared to air-dried lumber.

In contrast, air-dried lumber tends to have fewer visible cracks because it dries more slowly over time. That said, air-drying does increase the risk of fungal growth due to prolonged exposure to humidity.

Warping: Warping refers to the deformation or distortion of wood that occurs when it undergoes changes in moisture level or uneven drying.

Woodworking regularly incurs a universal problem that can have far-reaching repercussions on the aesthetics, structural soundness, and usefulness of wooden products.

Warping may manifest in various manifestations such as bowing (curving the lengthwise direction of the board), cupping (curving crosswise the width of the board), twisting (curling along its longitudinal axis), or bending in multiple directions.

These deformations can make the wood difficult to work with, compromise its strength, and result in gaps or misalignments in assembled pieces.

Preventing or minimizing warping is a key consideration in woodworking and requires careful attention to moisture control and drying techniques.

For more information: How to Dry Wood Without Warping: 7 Tips for Perfect Results.

Cracking: Cracking, in the context of woodworking and materials, refers to the formation of splits or fractures in wood or other materials. The material’s susceptibility to fissures, or “fracture,” is an outcome of too much pressure or stress.

This cracking can be induced by factors such as moisture level shifts, temperature variation, hurried drying, or inherent structural fragility. Wood cracks can vary in size and severity, from small hairline cracks to larger, more significant splits that can compromise the integrity and functionality of the material.

Cracking is a common concern in woodworking, and preventing or addressing it requires proper moisture management, appropriate drying techniques, and using suitable materials and construction methods.

For more information, check out my article How to Dry Wood Without Cracking – 3 Clever Tricks.


The strength of dried lumber is also affected by temperature during the drying process. High-temperature kiln drying may cause some weakening of the wood due to potential heat damage or splitting/cracking caused by rapid water removal from within cells – though this effect is generally not significant enough for most applications.

Low-temperature air dried lumber typically retains more strength than kiln dried lumber because it hasn’t experienced sudden changes in moisture levels that could weaken wood structure.

Comparison between high and low temperature drying methods

While both low-temperature air curing and high-temperature kiln curing have their advantages depending on application (such as speed or production volume), there are clear tradeoffs when it comes to lumber quality.

Kiln-dried lumber is more likely to display cracks, warping, and weaker structures than air-dried lumber.

Alternatively, kiln-dried lumber can be ready in a fraction of the time – in some instances, it is extensively dried within days rather than months.

Air-drying is slower and can take longer to remove moisture from the wood. However, this slower drying process leads to fewer issues with warping and cracking and better overall strength retention.


Overall, temperature plays a significant role in the quality of dried lumber. High temperature drying methods are faster but carry greater risks for issues like warping and cracking.

Low temperature drying methods take longer but generally result in stronger wood with fewer visible defects. Ultimately, the choice between high-temperature kiln drying or low-temperature air drying will depend on your specific needs – speed vs quality – but recognizing how each technique impacts the standard of your finished product can assist in making educated decisions that best suit you.

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Environmental Impact

The Energy Consumption of High Temperature Drying Methods

When it comes to lumber drying, high temperature methods such as kiln drying are often the go-to option for many manufacturers. However, these methods come with a significant environmental cost.

The expenditure of energy required to heat furnaces and keep elevated temperatures for extended intervals can be considerable. US Department of Energy figures demonstrate that lumber drying makes up to 15% of the total energy consumption in the wood products industry.

The energy consumption of high temperature drying methods is not just an environmental concern, but a financial one as well. The cost of fuel required to power conventional kilns can be a significant expense for manufacturers, especially smaller ones with limited resources.

The Environmental Impact of High Temperature Drying Methods

The environmental impact of high temperature drying methods goes beyond just energy consumption. Kiln-drying produces greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels like natural gas or propane used as fuel sources in the process.

These harmful effusions contribute to climate deterioration and air contamination. Additionally, high-temperature drying can lead to increased waste and water usage due to higher rates of defects in the lumber that requires additional processing or disposal.

This results in additional resources being used throughout production processes. To minimize the environmental cost of high-temperature drying processes, using renewable sources of energy or optimizing kiln design and operation for optimal efficiency are viable approaches.

Nevertheless, low temperature drying remains the most sustainable option.

Low Temperature Drying Methods: A More Sustainable Option

Compared to high-temperature methods like kiln-drying, low temperature options like air-drying require significantly less energy consumption and produce fewer emissions in their process.

Since air-drying relies on natural ventilation and moisture evaporation from open-air conditions rather than forced hot air/steam being pushed through stacks within closed chambers, it consumes much less energy.

While air-drying takes longer than high-temperature drying methods (up to a year or more in some cases), the traditional method has been used for centuries and can produce beautiful, well-crafted lumber with unique character and grain patterns naturally developed over time.

Additionally, using low temperature drying methods often results in lumber with lower moisture level and fewer internal drying stresses, making it stronger and more durable over time.


The energy consumption and environmental impact of high-temperature lumber drying methods are significant concerns that cannot be ignored.

However, by adopting alternative sustainable options like low-temperature air-drying methods can help reduce these impacts while still producing quality lumber products.

With continued innovation in processes and technologies, we believe it’s possible to move toward greater sustainability across the wood products industry while still meeting the demands of manufacturers worldwide.

The Effects of Temperature on lumber Drying – Conclusion

After examining the effect of temperature on wood drying, it is clear that understanding this process is crucial for anyone involved in the woodworking industry. The intricate science behind understanding temperature and moisture level within wood can be simplified into a few essential points.

At first, higher temperatures can accelerate wood drying as warm air can absorb a greater amount of moisture. However, there are also risks associated with high temperature drying methods, such as warping and cracking.

When drying wood, it is essential to acknowledge that optimal temperatures differ based on the type of wood as well as factors such as humidity and air circulation. For instance, hardwoods typically require lower temperatures than softwoods in order to protect them from harm.

When comparing drying techniques, there are both advantages and disadvantages to low and high temperature mechanisms. Air-drying may be more environmentally friendly and cheaper in terms of energy consumption, but it can take much longer than kilning.

Kiln drying may be faster and more efficient, but it may also have negative impacts on the environment. The essential conclusion from this dialogue is the considerable influence of temperature on lumber quality.

When done correctly, lumber drying can result in high-quality materials with minimal warping or cracking. However, if temperature levels are excessive or inadequate or if other environmental conditions such as humidity are disregarded, lumber quality can be adversely affected.

Overall, understanding the effects of temperature on lumber drying requires a balance between science and experience. By paying attention to optimal temperature ranges for specific types of wood and being mindful of potential risks associated with different drying methods, those involved in woodworking can produce high-quality products while minimizing waste and negative impacts on the environment.

Now that you know the effect of temperature on wood drying, the next thing you need to know is the time it takes for the wood to dry.

To help you understand how long to air-dry lumber, I wrote my article How to Calculate Wood Drying Time for Different Thicknesses of Wood which can serve as a kind of wood drying time calculator to estimate rough cut lumber drying time

Frequently Asked Questions

How does temperature affect the drying process?

As the temperature rises, moisture is rapidly evaporated from the wood, significantly shortening the drying time. Conversely, lower temperatures slow down the evaporation rate.

What is the best temperature for drying lumber?

The optimal temperature for drying lumber depends on factors such as wood species and thickness. Generally, kiln drying wood necessitates adhering to a temperature range between 120°F and 160°F (49°C to 71°C).

What factors affect the process of drying wood?

Several factors influence the wood drying process. These include temperature, humidity, airflow, wood thickness, wood species, initial moisture level, and the drying method employed (air-drying or kiln drying).

What are the two most common methods to dry lumber?

The two most common methods to dry lumber are air-drying and kiln drying. Air-drying involves exposing the wood to natural environmental conditions, such as air circulation, sunlight, wind, and temperature fluctuations. Kiln drying, on the other hand, utilizes specialized chambers where temperature, humidity, and airflow are controlled to accelerate the drying process.

What happens to wood at high temperatures?

At extreme temperatures, wood begins to degrade thermally. Its lignin and hemicellulose components start to disintegrate, causing discoloration, charring, and a diminution in its structural stability.

At what temperature does wood fail?

The temperature at which wood fails or undergoes significant structural degradation varies depending on multiple factors, including wood species and moisture level. However, the majority of common wood species have a failure temperature that falls between 400°F and 600°F (204°C to 316°C).

What is the best moisture content for lumber?

Generally, for interior applications, it is suggested to maintain a moisture content of 6% to 8%. For exterior use, where wood is exposed to higher humidity or moisture, a moisture level of 12% to 15% is more suitable.

Can you over-dry lumber?

Yes, it is possible to over-dry lumber. Over-drying occurs when the moisture level of the wood falls below the equilibrium moisture content (EMC) required for its specific application or environment. Over-dried wood can become brittle, prone to cracking, and may not perform well in certain applications.

Can you sun dry lumber?

Sun drying, also known as solar drying, is a form of air-drying where wood is exposed to the sun’s heat and natural airflow. It can be an effective method in certain climates and conditions. However, it is important to note that sun drying may not provide consistent or controlled drying conditions like those achieved with kiln drying, and the process can take significantly longer.

How do you know if lumber is dry enough?

Determining if lumber is dry enough involves measuring its moisture level. Various moisture meters are available that can provide accurate readings.
Additionally, visual indicators such as checking, weight loss, and the wood’s overall appearance can provide clues about its dryness.
Consulting moisture level guidelines specific to the wood species and application is recommended.

Does wood shrink with temperature?

Yes, wood experiences dimensional changes with fluctuations in temperature. As temperature increases, wood expands, and as it decreases, wood contracts.
These dimensional changes are influenced by the wood species, moisture level, and the direction of the wood grain.

Does heat make wood stronger?

Excessive heat does not make wood stronger, but instead weakens its structural integrity. High temperatures can cause thermal degradation and lead to a reduction in strength and stiffness.
Heat should be carefully controlled during the drying process to prevent detrimental effects on the wood’s strength.

At what temperature does wood evaporate?

Wood does not evaporate like a liquid. Whenever the temperature increases, the wood’s moisture is released in the form of vapor, evaporating from its structure. The evaporation of moisture is a key process during wood drying.

What happens to wood in extreme cold?

In extreme cold temperatures, wood can undergo freezing, which can affect its physical properties. Moisture within the wood can freeze, leading to increased internal stresses and potential damage, such as cracking or splitting. Wood, being a natural insulator, can withstand cold temperatures to a certain degree depending on the duration and severity of the chill.

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