Cold Weather Safety
Extremely cold air comes every winter in at least part of the world and affects millions of people. The arctic air, together with brisk winds, can lead to dangerously cold wind chill values. People exposed to extreme cold are susceptible to frostbite in a matter of minutes. Areas most prone to frostbite are uncovered skin and the extremities, such as hands and feet. Hypothermia is another threat during extreme cold. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce.
How to Prepare for Cold Weather
The way to avoid frostbite and hypothermia is to plan for extreme cold before it arrives. Don't get caught unprepared.
Check the Forecast at your favorite weather app, station, etc.: Make checking the forecast part of your regular routine so you'll know when to expect cold weather.
Adjust Your Schedule: If possible, adjust your schedule to avoid being outside during the coldest part of the day, typically the early morning. Try to find a warm spot for your children while waiting for the school bus outside.
Protect Your Pets, Livestock and other Property: If you have pets or farm animals, make sure they have plenty of food and water, and are not overly exposed to extreme cold. Take precautions to ensure your water pipes do not freeze. Know the temperature thresholds of your plants and crops.
Fill up the Tank: Make sure your car or vehicle has at least a half a tank of gas during extreme cold situations so that you can stay warm if you become stranded.
Dress for the outdoors even if you don't think you'll be out much.
Update Your Winter Car Survival Kit: Useful inspiration to be found here.
During Extreme Cold
If you or someone you care about must venture outdoors during extreme cold this winter, dress in layers. Cover exposed skin to reduce your risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Try to seek shelter from the wind as much as possible while outside. Once inside again, change into dry clothing immediately if you are wet. Understand and watch for frostbite and hypothermia.
Watch for Frostbite
Frostbite can happen in minutes, especially on the extremities such as fingers, toes, nose and ears but can affect any area of exposed skin.If you suspect frostbite, immediately move inside to a heated location and begin warming the affected areas using warm water or body heat. Do not use hot water or radiant heat such as a fireplace since affected areas can be easily burned. Seek medical attention for severe frostbite.
Frostbite happens when the body's survival mechanisms kick in during extremely cold weather. To protect the vital inner organs, the body cuts circulation to your extremities: feet, hands, nose, etc., which eventually freeze. To avoid frostbite, stay inside during severe cold, especially when the windchill is -50°F (-45°C) or below. If you must go out, try to cover every part of your body: ears, nose, toes and fingers, etc. Mittens are better than gloves. Keep your skin dry. Stay out of the wind when possible. Drink plenty of fluids since hydration increases the blood's volume, which helps prevent frostbite. Avoid caffeine, alchohol and cigarette. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, preventing warming of your extremities. Alcohol reduces shivering, which helps keep you warm. Cigarettes shut off the blood flow to your hands. Below are indicators of frostbite:
First degree: Ice crystals are forming on your skin.
Second degree: Skin begins to feel warm even though it is not yet defrosted.
Third degree: Skin turns red, pale or white.
Fourth degree: Pain lasts for more than a few hours and skin may develop dark blue or black. See a doctor immediately if these symptoms arise. Gangrene is a real threat.
Beware of Hypothermia
When your body temperature sinks below 96°F (35,5°C), you have hypothermia, a serious health hazard that occurs when body temperature is lowered too much. Get medical attention immediately. Move the victim inside to a heated location and begin warming the center of the body first. If the person is unconscious, administer CPR.
Hypothermia can occur in temperatures as warm as 60°F (15,5°C), particularly in water or if you are outside a long time and not dressed for the weather. Of the approximately 1,300 people the CDCP lists as being killed by hypothermia each year, most are seniors, according to the National Institute of Aging, but some are children and young adults. Everyone needs to be careful. Some medicines, problems with circulation, and certain illnesses may reduce your ability to resist hypothermia. As you age, your body becomes less efficient at letting you know when you are too cold. In addition, older people tend not to shiver effectively, one of the ways the body warms itself up.
Find the tips to help prevent hypothermia here.
If you are trying to help someone who may have hypothermia, first call an ambulance. Then lie close to the person and cover both of you with thick blankets. The hotter you get, the more warmth you can give the other person. Don't rub the person or handle him or her roughly.
Essential Tasks After it Warms Up
Check Your Pipes: Your pipes may be frozen. Water pipes on exterior walls and in places that are subject to cold, like in the basement, attic, and under kitchen cabinets, freeze most often. Water expands as it freezes, causing pipes to burst. If they are frozen, first turn on the faucet. Water will drip as you warm the pipes. Heat the pipes using a space heater, heating pad, electric hair dryer, or hot water on a cloth. Never use an open flame. Continue until water pressure returns to normal or call a plumber if you have more issues.
Salt Your Walkways: Once it warms up enough to out, it's important to shovel the snow from your sidewalks and driveway or sprinkle salt if there is ice.. If there is a thick layer of snow on the ground you cannot move, salt the area so that the snow melts. You should also put down salt if there is ice on your stairs leading into your house-less than a quarter inch of ice can be dangerous!
Call Your Neighbors: Check to see that your neighbors are okay after the storm, particularly seniors, disabled persons or others living alone. Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms, particularly when there are power outages. Cases of frostbite and hypothermia are also common for elderly people who were stuck in their homes.
Refill Your Supplies: This storm may be over, but there might be another one soon. Every storm is different, so it is important to always be prepared.