As the holiday season has come and gone, this is the time of year when children hope every day is a snow day and the harshest part of the winter season is upon us. Winter can be an exciting, yet hazardous time of the year with the threat of winter weather and the dangers it can bring with it. Here are a few wintertime safety tips to keep your family safe and warm during the coldest time of the year.
- When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia 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. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. In infants, they include bright red and cold skin and very low energy. If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95°F (35°C), the situation is an emergency — get medical attention immediately.
- 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. 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, and numbness. A victim of frostbite is often unaware of it until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
Cold Weather Clothing
- One of the best ways to keep your family warm and healthy is by wearing appropriate clothing when going outdoors and into the cold. 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 or gloves, water-resistant coat and shoes, and several layers of loose-fitting clothing. Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven and 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. Try to stay dry, as wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
Winter Storm Preparation
- Be prepared for bad weather and winter storms by having a winter emergency kit ready. Before winter approaches, add the following supplies to your emergency kit: Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways, sand to improve traction, snow shovels or other snow removal equipment, sufficient heating fuel, and adequate clothing and blankets to keep your family warm. Make a Family Communications Plan, in case your family is not together when disaster strikes, so you will know how to contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency. Listen to weather radio or other local news channels for critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS) and be alert to changing weather conditions. Take your car in for a tune up and have a mechanic be sure all parts of your vehicle are in working order. Prepare a winter emergency kit for your car as well.
- If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful and always follow proper instructions for the equipment. Store a multipurpose, dry chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated. Do not burn paper in a fireplace. Ensure adequate ventilation by opening an interior door or slightly opening a window if you must use a kerosene heater. Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don't substitute. If your heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, don't use it. Use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space. Make sure chimneys and flues are cleaned periodically. Do not place a space heater near things that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding.
Sources: Center for Disease Control, FEMA