When we talk about winter safety, it's usually focused on snow, but the cold can cause major health concerns too.
Wind chill is a term we hear often in the winter. Basically, wind chill is how cold you feel outside. It is based on the heat your skin looses when exposed to wind and cold.
When the cold gets extreme, two main threats are hypothermia and frostbite. One of the things you will notice on the Wind Chill chart is the different colors. The shading indicates how quickly frostbite can occur to exposed skin-depending on the wind chill. Say it's down to 0-5 degrees outside with blustery 20-25mph winds. In 30 minutes time you may develop frostbite. If temperatures are below freezing already, any breeze will shorten the amount of time before frostbite sets in. Now, most of us hear it's that cold outside, we stay in. But if you have to go to the store or to work, you are likely not going to wear a ski mask right? Your nose, ears, fingers, toes, etc. need to be covered in this kind of cold.
Signs of frostbite include: burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations in the affected areas. In deep frostbite, there is an initial decrease in sensation that is eventually completely lost. Swelling and blood-filled blisters are noted over white or yellowish skin that looks waxy and turns a purplish blue as it re-warms. The area is hard, has no resistance when pressed on, and may even appear blackened and dead.
Hypothermia is when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees F. While people don't tend to die of frostbite, hypothermia does cause death and is the most common winter killer. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination, confusion, apathy, irrational behavior, and drowsiness. Hypothermia is not something that has to occur in below freezing temperatures either. Wet clothing and prolonged exposure to temperatures in the 30's and 40's, even 50's can kill. A person experiencing the onset of hypothermia needs shelter, warm & dry clothing, warm fluids-especially sugary ones like Tang or Jello. Avoid any caffeine or alcohol. Also, small movement helps, but nothing strenuous.
Back to the winter travel kits… this is why having blankets, drinks, even a sleeping bag is a good idea. Most people who are dealing with the risk of frostbite or hypothermia are hikers, skiers, or anyone working outdoors. But, say there is a major snowstorm and your car goes off the road. You need to be prepared. Stay in your car, hang a brightly colored cloth on the antenna, raise the hood, turn the engine on for 10 minutes, once an hour, try to keep your exhaust pipe clear of snow, and most importantly keep aware of any hypothermia/frostbite symptoms. You can even use travel maps to wrap yourself in along with blankets and sleeping bags. Be safe & smart this winter.