Winter is full of dangers, from black ice and wind shear to impaired driving and fruitcake-related indigestion. Among these dangers are frostbite and hypothermia, conditions associated with sub-freezing temperatures. In order to protect yourself from the extreme cold, we offer a few preventative measures. Stay safe this winter by staying informed and staying warm.
Catastrophic Cold: Frostbite and Hypothermia
To protect yourself from the extreme cold, it is important to understand what to expect when temperatures plummet. The two extreme consequences of cold exposure are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is a condition which most commonly affects the extremities, the fingers, toes, ears, nose, and lips.
In cases of frostbite, the skin and underlying tissue in the concerned area start to freeze. The condition is so-named because the area becomes white, hard, and numb as it frosts over. Symptoms are not always so romantic. Sometimes the discoloration is more gray or yellow, and the skin tends to look waxy. It is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately if any of these symptoms begin to manifest otherwise you risk losing the affected body parts.
Hypothermia is defined as the state in which the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, when the body’s normal temperature falls below 95°F (35°C). When this happens, vital systems such as the nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems as well as other organs can’t work properly. Untreated hypothermia can lead to complete heart failure and death.
While hypothermia is most commonly associated with submersion in cold water, it can also be contracted when dry in extreme cold. In cases where hypothermia threatens, the first step is to warm the person up before seeking emergency medical attention. Remove any wet clothing and try to warm the person up immediately using layers of dry clothing and blankets, external heat sources, and warm fluids. Still better, avoid the danger and protect yourself from the extreme cold in the first place.
Proceed with Caution
The extreme cold is more likely to inflict harm on those who spend a lot of time in it, people like skiers and ice skaters, outdoor workers, or unhoused individuals. Its symptoms also affect young children and infants, seniors, and people with asthma more severely. Even circumstances or the quality of home construction can increase the risk of exposure. If a home loses power or has particularly bad insulation, occupants may be at-risk. If you fall into one of these demographics, it is even more important that you protect yourself from the extreme cold.
Strategies to Protect Yourself from the Extreme Cold
Even if you never reach hypothermic or frostbitten conditions, the cold weather can still be terribly dangerous. The best way to protect yourself from the extreme cold is to be prepared. Here are a few fundamental precautions you should take:
Follow the Forecast
Be hyper-aware of the forecasted weather conditions for your area. This will allow you to plan ahead. Weather services will send out warnings for extreme cold or wind chill, and if they do, stay inside as much as possible. Windchill is especially dangerous, and strong winds can pull the heat right out of a body. If the wind chill falls to -30°C, most people will start to feel frostbite’s effects after only 30 minutes.
If you must be outside in the cold, dress in layers, preferably with an outer layer that is wind-resistant. Carefully cover all exposed skin by wearing additional clothing like hats, gloves, and scarves. Hats reduce heat loss through the head, which can account for up to 40% of heat loss, and a scarf can protect your neck, chin, lips, and cheeks. Be aware that it is common to feel extremely hot even as body temperature is dropping, so do not be fooled.
Drink Warm Fluids
Warm fluids like soups and ciders can warm a body from the inside-out. Use wisdom in this method as well by avoiding alcoholic beverages. These give a false sense of warmth even as the body temperature drops. Caffeinated drinks contribute to dehydration, so avoid these as well.
Extreme cold does strange things to the body, making a person feel tired or clumsy. When the temperature drops, keep moving to help your body stay warm and to reach a place of warmth.
The best way to protect yourself from the extreme cold is to stay out of it. Limit the time you spend outside and find shelter from the wind to reduce wind exposure. If the wind chill is –28°C or more, or if temperatures fall below –25°C, keep the kiddos indoors.
Prepare Your Home
Make your home an adequate sanctuary from the cold before the winter weather hits. Fix any roof leaks and clear out the gutters and prune back overhanging tree limbs so no further leaks can arise. Keep extra blankets in your home and go one step further: equip your home with an emergency supply kit. In addition to battery-operated radios and flashlights, this should have food supplies and measures to keep you and your family warm.
Much cold exposure follows car difficulties since people can be careless and assume they will only be in the car a short while. When the weather is extreme (whether there is snowfall or not) drive only when you must. Keep your gas tank full and keep an emergency kit with blankets and hand-warmers in your car just in case.