By Adrian Sparrow
The winter months bring a new set of weather-related challenges. Cold temperatures can cause damage to both property and people without adequate preparation. Stay safe in the cold this winter with these tips.
Dress warmly in layers of wool or other warm fabrics. Avoid cotton clothing, including denim, as it retains moisture and draws heat away from the body. Wear gloves or mittens, a scarf, a hat, and waterproof boots with warm socks. Wear a water- and wind-resistant coat or jacket. Finally, although it seems counterintuitive, apply sunscreen. Snow can reflect up to 85% of the sun’s UV rays and cause sunburn.
Make sure your tires are properly aired and in good condition before winter. As the temperature drops, gasses contract, and the pressure in your tires can drop unexpectedly. Bring a spare tire, snow shovel, sand or cat litter (for traction), and a windshield ice scraper with a brush (or broom). Carry everyday road emergency needs such as jumper cables, traffic flares, extra windshield fluid, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and essentials like food, water, boots, and warm clothing/blankets. Always keep your vehicle’s fuel tank more than half full or charged if you get stranded or stuck behind an accident.
Driving on snow and ice can be tricky if you’re not practiced. Layers of snow and ice make the roads treacherous even for the most experienced drivers. Slow down and lag behind other cars, so you have plenty of time to stop. When driving on an icy, snowy, or generally slick road, gently pump the brakes to slow the vehicle to a complete stop. Don’t slam on the brakes, and avoid sharp turns. If your vehicle begins to skid (also known as ‘fishtailing’), let off the pedals, gently steer into the skid and turn the wheels the way you want to go. Don’t steer too aggressively, or you risk further skidding.
Playing in the snow might sound soft and cushioning, but injuries from cold-weather activities can be very serious. As with any sport, make sure you and your kids have the appropriate gear. Ice skates should fit snugly, and helmets should be worn when skating, playing ice hockey, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Check gear and equipment every year and replace anything that’s damaged or doesn’t fit anymore.
When sledding, choose a hill pointed away from busy roads and free of trees and rocks. When skating, rinks are always safer than natural bodies of water. If you do intend to skate on a pond or lake, check the thickness of the ice- at least 3”- and watch out for cracks or moving water.
Frostbite happens when you’re exposed to low temperatures and tissues freeze. The best way to prevent frostbite is to dress warmly and avoid spending too long outside in freezing temperatures. When exposed to the cold for an extended period, the blood vessels in your arms and legs constrict so that more blood flows to vital organs, and less is exposed to the cold through your extremities. When your body temperature drops below 98.6, the affected blood vessels are permanently constricted to prevent them from sending cold blood to the internal organs, which also prevents oxygen reaching the area.
Symptoms of frostbite include numbness, tingling, itching, and especially pale skin. More severe symptoms include a decrease in sensation, swelling, and blood-filled blisters, and the affected area may be thick and hard and appear white, yellow, waxy, or even black. Pain is expected as the person recovers and the sensation returns to the affected area.
Call for help if you suspect frostbite and move to a warm area. Remove any wet clothing. Keep the affected area elevated to reduce swelling. People who suffer from frostbite may also be experiencing hypothermia, which is a medical emergency. Raise the core temperature with warm fluids and keep warm and dry until you can get medical attention.