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PostHeaderIcon How to handle the cold weather

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From global warming to frosty forecasts, the year of the Horse has galloped the gamut of weather conditions to a most unpredictable spread of unseasonable temperatures across the planet.  2015 embarks upon a continuation of inclement conditions and related advisories as we open the cover of the calendar.

In sunny California, the news of cold extremes likely to affect nearly 50 percent of the Northern hemisphere’s total landmass, classified as a cold region, at some point in the year, is reason to take action.  The seriousness of freezing temps is relative to associated environmental influences, such as wet or dry conditions and wind chill factors.  Wet freezes, where temperatures rise to at least 50* F during a 24 hour period, will thaw.  On the contrary, a dry freeze below 14*F will not thaw out.   Wind chill factor, the effect of moving air on exposed skin, together with wet weather, drains body heat faster, accounting for greater total heat loss.

According to U.C. Berkeley News, cold weather impacts lives directly and indirectly, by snow and ice-related accidents, house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning from burning oil lamps and gas heaters in improperly ventilated closed areas.  The frail and elderly are most vulnerable and women account for 2/3 of cold-related fatalities.

Although this year end brutal cold front, referred to as the Polar Vortex, a rotating pool of cold dense air from the North Pole, descending from the Arctic of Alaska, spreading from Chicago to Tulsa and even south to Miami, has shuttered schools, halted transit lines and impeded daily work schedules, the National Weather Service reports that temps have been dropping since the 1930s; the winter of 1932 was so cold that Niagara Falls froze completely solid.

Translated from the original Latin term, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”, simply stated, this means knowledge of imminent danger can prepare one to overcome danger.  Prevention by preparation and protecting yourself are paramount.  The National Safety Council outlines facts and tips for surviving frigid conditions and names the three significant health risks to avoid with sensible protection:  hypothermia, frostbite and windburn.

Steps for staying warm definitely begin with dressing properly to insulate and shield the body with multiple layers of loose-fitting clothes, trapping warm, dry air inside.  Wool and polypropylene fabrics are best as they wick, and do not retain moisture as cotton does.  A wind and waterproof outer layer is ideal, since wet-cold and wind-chill factors together intensify risk of skin freeze in less than 5 minutes of exposure.  Special attention to areas of the body in need of protection due to major heat loss are the head and neck and most susceptible to frostbite are fingers and toes, cheeks, ears and nose.

Appropriate wearing apparel in snowy or frigid weather is a must and should include a hat, scarf, high neck sweater, insulated jacket, mittens and waterproof boots.  A heavy sleeping bag can be a life-saver.  Heightened awareness of the risks of overexposure to unrelenting cold weather is key and should be tempered with understanding to stay indoors whenever possible, according to storm advisories.  Conventional wisdom dictates against consuming alcohol in freezing weather for more than one reason:  it impairs sensitivity to decreases in temperature and there is greater heat loss from dilatation of skin blood vessels. Staying hydrated, by other means, is essential since imperceptible water loss takes place from breathing, sweating and more frequent urination in cold climate.

Should overexposure to cold occur, such as involving fingers or toes, rewarming in lukewarm water, not hot, for 20 -25 minutes, without rubbing or applying external heat, is the best therapy.  Hypothermia sets in when the body loses more heat than is produced and changes in physiologic as well as mental status will be present.  Irregular heartbeat and breathing will advance to a decreased level of consciousness and requires immediate medical help.  Stumbling, mumbling, fumbling and grumbling are evident, even to the point of the affected person being uncooperative.

Quick action to remove the person from the source of exposure to a reclining position under shelter and adding insulating blankets, towels, newspapers or any available layers of protection is the first line of defense.  A snow cave or bunker is an effective shelter, as snow insulates and blocks the wind.  Seek medical responders, treat the person gently and build a fire with caution.

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and regular contributor to allnewsnoblues.com.

Last Updated (Monday, 12 January 2015 15:49)



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