How to Stay Safe in Extreme Cold

Posted by Andrew on 2/1/2019 to Emergency Care
How to Stay Safe in Extreme Cold

As the polar vortex wreaks havoc, follow these tips to stay warm

It's been dangerously cold in much of the United States this week, with temperatures dropping to near-record lows in Chicago and much of the Midwest. With wind chills in the -30s, this polar vortex has already claimed the lives of 12 people while the cold stretches on.

Facts about the cold:

  • Humans can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes while standing outside in these conditions.
  • Frostbite can occur on any exposed skin, including fingers, ears, cheeks, nose, and chin. In addition to being cold and numb, frostbite causes a discoloration of the damaged skin. If caught early you can prevent damage, so seek professional medical assistance right away.
  • Hypothermia is an internal reaction to a significant drop in body temperature. Exposure to cold can make you shiver, but after hypothermia kicks in your body's response to the cold weakens and you'll actually stop shivering.
  • Your body moves slower, your mind thinks slower, and your heart moves slower. As time goes on, you won't be able to think clearly. Eventually, hypothermia can lead to coma or death.

How to Prepare:

Stay inside if possible. Yes, this seems obvious. I know people have to get out for various reasons, but if there is any alternative—working from home, eating in, or putting errands off—than you should stay home until the temperature returns to a more humane level.

Dress for the weather. While it may seem impractical, it is recommended that your inner layer of clothing be loose and lightweight. That way the air trapped between the layers can insulate you. Your outer layer should be tight and hooded. It's important to wear a hat and cover your mouth to protect your lungs. Mittens are better than gloves especially if they're tight at the wrist. Whatever you're wearing, be sure it's water repellent.

Don't forget about your pets. The rule is, "If it's too cold for you, it's too cold for them." When outside with your pets in the cold, be sure they're covered up. Dogs will often shiver when they're cold, which is a good sign they need to go inside and warm up. Shorthaired breeds have virtually no way of shielding themselves from the cold, so take extra precautions with them.

Stay fed and hydrated. You may not feel hungry or thirsty, but that's because your body is more focused on staying warm. It's important to have proper nourishment and drink plenty of water or other hydrating liquids to compensate for the energy you're losing while braving the elements.

Be prepared on the roads. No one expects their car to break down, but it happens. One of the worst times it can happen is in frigid temperatures with no cell phone service. If you have to drive a vehicle during extreme weather, make a plan. Packing an emergency kit can be a simple lifesaver in a crisis situation. Some essentials to have packed in your car: jumper cables, warm clothes, boots, blankets, and a flashlight with extra batteries. Also be sure your cell phone is charged and use it only when necessary to preserve battery life.


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