Severe winter weather, extreme cold safety concerns addressed

| February 18, 2015

COSHOCTON – Baby it’s cold outside and we want you to stay safe. Here is some helpful information and tips on how to do that from Christy Mosier, emergency preparedness coordinator and public information officer for the Coshocton County Health Department.

What Is Extreme Cold?

What constitutes extreme cold and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered extreme cold. Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can leave your body more rapidly. These weather-related conditions may lead to serious health problems such as hypothermia. Extreme cold is a dangerous situation that can bring on health emergencies in those who are susceptible, such as people without shelter, people who are stranded, or people who live in a home that is poorly insulated or without heat.


Hypothermia can occur at any temperature lower than normal body temperature. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Hypothermia means abnormally low body temperature that fall below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Other factors like body fat, age, alcohol consumption, and especially wetness can affect how long hypothermia takes to strike.

Hypothermia can kill you. Symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

Who is most at risk for hypothermia?

Victims of hypothermia are most often: Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating, babies sleeping in cold bedrooms, children left unattended, adults under the influence of alcohol, mentally ill individuals, people who remain outdoors for long periods — the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.

Warning signs for hypothermia

Adults: shivering/exhaustion, confusion/fumbling hands, memory loss/slurred speech, drowsiness

Infants: bright red, cold skin, very low energy

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

What are the warning signs of frostbite?

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: A white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, numbness

Note: A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What is the wind chill effect?

Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. At 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a 30-mile wind, the cooling effect is equal to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.

Why are infants and older people most at risk for cold-related illness?

Infants lose body heat more easily than adults; additionally, infants can’t make enough body heat by shivering. Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room. Provide warm clothing and a blanket for infants and try to maintain a warm indoor temperature. If the temperature cannot be maintained, make temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere. In an emergency, you can keep an infant warm using your own body heat. If you must sleep, take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering; remove them from the area near the baby.

Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. If you are more than 65 years of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather.

 Other cold related health risks

Overexertion and Heart Problems

Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) when they’re in cold weather. Harsh winter weather may increase a person’s risk of heart attack due to overexertion. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Otherwise, if you have to do heavy outdoor chores dress warmly and work slowly. Remember, your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so don’t overdo it.

Drinking Alcohol

People who drink alcoholic beverages before going outdoors or when outside are also at risk in cold weather. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, because blood vessels in the skin expand. Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs.


Walking on ice is extremely dangerous. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways and porches. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.

What is the best clothing for cold weather?

To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf. Heat can be lost through your head. Ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.

Adults and children should wear: A hat; a scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth; sleeves that are snug at the wrist; mittens (they are warmer than gloves); water-resistant coat and shoes; several layers of loose-fitting clothing

Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body.

Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Prepare your car for winter

You can avoid many dangerous winter travel problems by planning ahead. Maintain service on your car and prepare for winter driving by doing the following:

  • – Have the radiator system serviced or check the antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze as needed.
  • – Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
  • – Replace any worn tires, make sure the tires have adequate tread, and check the air pressure in the tires.
  • – Keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.

Car and emergency checklist

Minimize travel, but if travel is necessary, keep the following in your vehicle: Cell phone, portable charger, and extra batteries; shovel; windshield scraper; battery-powered radio with extra batteries; flashlight with extra batteries; water; snack food; extra hats, coats, and mittens; warm, waterproof boots; blankets; chains or rope; tire chains; canned compressed air with sealant for emergency tire repair; road salt and sand; booster cables; emergency flares; bright colored flag or help signs; first aid kit; tool kit; road maps; compass; waterproof matches and a can to melt snow for water; paper towels



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