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Winter Weather Awareness: Cold Emergencies

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November 9-14th is Winter Weather Awareness week for Pennsylvania.  The National Weather service will be issuing daily messages to help you prepare for the upcoming winter season.

Friday’s message is about frostbite and hypothermia.  The following is the message from our partners at the National Weather Service in State College, PA.

Very cold weather can be a health hazard.  However, by dressing properly you can safely spend time outdoors enjoying what the area has to offer in the form of winter recreation, whether it be skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, or just taking in the winter scenery.

Very cold temperatures can rob your body of life sustaining warmth, especially when combined with a strong wind.  The combination of cold temperatures and wind is known as the wind chill.

The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin.  As the wind speed increases, the rate of heat loss from your body also increases. A temperature of 20° with a wind can feel like a bitter cold 6° when the wind blows at 15mph.

Frostbite can occur when your fingers, cheeks, ears, toes or even the tip of your nose is exposed to sub-freezing temperatures for a prolonged period of time.  If any portion of your body becomes numb due to the cold, go indoors immediately and slowly warm the affected area to avoid tissue or nerve damage.

Hypothermia is potentially even more dangerous. This health hazard is defined as the lowering of the body temperature below 95 degrees.  Warning signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, slurred speech, and disorientation.  If not treated immediately by keeping the person warm and seeking medical help, hypothermia can be fatal.

Hypothermia can affect anyone, but the elderly are the most susceptible. Over half the fatalities due to exposure from the cold occur to people over sixty. Young children are also susceptible.

Be sure to dress properly for the cold. Always wear several layers of warm, loose fitting clothing.  These layers help to retain your body heat better than one heavy layer, and they can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill.  The outer layer of clothes should also be water repellent.

Don’t forget to wear a hat since a significant loss of body heat occurs through your head.  Also, mittens are better than gloves at protecting your fingers from the extreme cold.