Spend more than a few minutes outside and you’ll agree that it’s not easy staying warm during winter.
Thanks to the wind, sleet, and snow, our our bodies begin to lose heat faster than it can be produced. In fact, prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy.
The result is hypothermia, or very low body temperature.
Truth is, body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
OUTDOOR SAFETY QUICK TIPS
• Dress warmly and stay dry.
• Wear a hat, scarf, and mittens.
• Avoid frostbite.
• If you have to do heavy outdoor chores, dress warmly and work slowly.
• Be mindful of walking on ice or getting wet.
• Notify friends and family where you will be before you go hiking, camping, or skiing.
• Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges if at all possible.
• If you are stranded, it is safest to stay in your car.
When the weather is extremely cold, and especially if there are high winds, try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible, and remember these tips below to protect your health and safety.
DRESS WARMLY AND STAY DRY
• Wear a hat.
• Bring a scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth.
• Make sure your sleeves that are snug at the wrist.
• Invest in mittens (they are warmer than gloves).
• Bring water-resistant coat and boots.
• Add several layers of loose-fitting clothing.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven and preferably wind resistant. Wool, silk, or polypropylene layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton.
Remember to stay dry—wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Even excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
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.
Also remember: do not ignore shivering! It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart.
If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other outdoor activities. Otherwise dress warmly and work slowly if you have to do heavy outdoor chores.
Your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so don’t overdo it.
UNDERSTAND WIND CHILL
The Wind Chill index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed.
It is calculated based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop.
Weather-related health problems are more likely when there are high winds, even when temperatures are mild.
Walking on ice is extremely dangerous.
In particular, most cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways, and porches. Use rock salt to keep your steps and walkways free of ice. If the salt is not strong enough, consider other chemical de-icing compounds.
Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping. Check out this blog for Snow Shoveling tips.
BE SAFE DURING RECREATION
Notify friends and family where you will be before you go hiking, camping, or skiing.
Also, do not leave areas of the skin exposed to the cold and avoid perspiring or becoming overtired.
Be prepared to take emergency shelter. In fact, pack dry clothing, a two-wave radio, waterproof matches and paraffin fire starters with you.
Do not use alcohol and other mood altering substances, and avoid caffeinated beverages. Also avoid walking on ice or getting wet.
Carefully watch for signs of cold-weather health problems.
BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT TRAVEL
• Listen for radio or television reports of travel advisories.
• Do not travel in low visibility conditions.
• Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges.
• Use tire chains if possible and take a mobile phone with you.
• Let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify authorities if you are late.
• Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car before you leave.
• Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow; shattering may occur.
• Don’t rely on a car to provide sufficient heat; the car may break down.
• Always carry additional warm clothing appropriate for the winter conditions.
STAYING WARM DURING WINTER IF YOU GET STRANDED
According to experts, staying in your vehicle is often the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered. Make sure to follow these tips if you ever find yourself in a dire winter emergency:
• Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers and raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing).
• Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
• Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
• Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
• Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe—this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
• As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
Also remember not to eat snow as it will lower your body temperature. Alternatively, huddling with other people is one of the best ways to preserve (and share) your body heat.
For more information on cold weather safety tips, check out this article from the CDC.