May 29, 2017

Brrr Its Cold Outside

Brrr Its Cold Outside

In the last week or so, we have seen record low temperatures across most of America. I may be a week late, but I thought I would give a reminder about cold weather preparedness. Here in Minnesota temps are hovering around zero with wind chill around -20, but we’re used to it. I have seen reports of snow and ice in Texas and other southern states that might not get to 0, but that is still far colder than they are used to. Here are some things for you to keep in mind no matter where you live.

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can create it. Normal body temperature is 98.6 and hypothermia sets in when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees. It is most often caused by exposure to cold air, water or even cold wind. Many people have a misconception that it needs to be frigidly cold to get hypothermia, but it can happen from long exposure to temperatures of less than 50 degrees as well. The elderly and infirm are more susceptible to hypothermia indoors at cold temperatures than younger and healthier people.

Some of the symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Shivering ; constant shivering is a key sign of hypothermia
  • Clumsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Apathy; lack of concern for one’s condition
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Drowsiness

The treatment for hypothermia depends on the severity of it. For mild cases of hypothermia getting out of the cold environment and using blankets and heaters to raise the body’s temperature can be effective. Moderate to severe hypothermia is best treated in the hospital where special treatments can be used to warm the body’s core temperature.
Dress in Layers

The reason one dresses in layers when out in cold temperatures is to make sure you’re warm enough and to give you the option of removing layers if you begin to sweat. For example, here in Minnesota the temps can get to -20, not including wind-chill. If I have to go out to shovel, I’ll normally wear a white t-shirt, thin long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt and my winter coat, along with long underwear and jeans, wool socks and good winter boots. I’ll also wear a hat, the hood of the coat and a scarf. Even though I’m not in a survival situation, shoveling Minnesota snow can be a workout. If I start to sweat, I’ll take off the sweat shirt and put the jacket back on and maybe lower the hood. I think you get the idea. If you are in a survival situation in cold weather and are sweating, you are in danger and are increasing the odds of hypothermia. Take off a layer or two and give yourself a rest.
Cotton Kills

This is often mentioned in forums. What it means is that cotton wicks your body’s heat away from you when it’s wet. Wool on the other hand will retain your body’s heat even while wet. If you live where it gets cold, having some good wool winter gear is a good idea. Since cotton wicks away your body’s heat, it may be preferable in hot climates.
Driving in Snow and Ice

Here in Minnesota, we can have snow 5+ months out of the year. People still forget how to drive in it, so I can imagine what it must be like in places where you don’t frequently get it. Here are just a few tips that may help keep you safe.

  • Have a car kit. Follow the link to see what is in mine.
  • Leave with plenty of time to get to your destinations. During a snow storm here, it can take 2-3 times longer to travel.
  • Don’t make fast corrections. Don’t slam on the brakes, brake slowly. Before anti-lock brakes, we were taught to pump them. Don’t pump anti-lock brakes.
  • Don’t make sudden turns.
  • If you happen to get stuck, coarse kitty litter or sand can be poured under tires to give some traction.
  • Have the number for a tow truck or AAA in your phone.

If you have any other tips, please add them to the comment section. Stay warm everyone!


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  1. I think in terms of base, mid and shell layering in all synthetics, with the exception of wool as you mentioned. Fleece is your friend. I am also fond of the balaclava to keep my neck covered , warm, and out of the wind, as well as wool glove liners.
    Get this gear now if you don’t have it. Around here by mid-February places are running out of this type of stuff, especially in common sizes.

  2. Good info. Especially like you said, for those of us not accustomed to sever cold. I never really thought about hypothermia in 50 degree weather…but for the elderly most of all, makes sence. Winter hasn’t even officially started!, so I don’t think your good information is late at all. Thank you, Nancy

  3. David Fisher says:

    Good info. Don’t forget people with diabetes. I have to dress in layers and use battery powered clothing due to the poor circulation.

    • Good point, thanks for making it David.

    • What is “battery-powered clothing?”

      I’ve learned that if I keep my head covered, it really does keep my body warmer. Same applies to other extremities like hands.

      • I know there are battery powered sox, there might be some other items.

        I can’t remember the exact number, but I think it was that one loses roughly 12% of the body heat through the head. So keeping it covered is a good way to retain heat.

  4. Chris B in Idaho says:

    I’ll bike commute to work some days where the temps are as low as 10degF here in Idaho. Toes, ears, fingertips, are the things to worry about. I also XC ski in pretty frigid temps, and once you get going, you start shedding layers, but toes and fingers are always an issue. That’s why…..—->

    We use chemical hand and toe warmers here in Idaho quite a bit. I gave a few to my brother in law from L.A. for his Antarctica cruise, and he was warmer than anybody.

    Also, regarding winter driving and the risk of getting stranded in freezing conditions, the best winter preparedness kit I’ve found, after driving NW mountain passes for almost 40 years, is a well maintained vehicle that has at least FWD with studs all around, or 4WD with good tires. Then having a tow strap to help others get out trouble is good, too.

    • Good tips. I drove through the mountains in Idaho and Montana during a blizzard in my twenties, chains almost weren’t enough. Of course I was in a front wheel drive sports car.

  5. Very timely article, Chris. We here in E Okla are recovering from ICE-MEGGEDON last THurs night. Worst ice storm here in decades, or ever, according to native old-timers. I think it has lots of potential to increase the number of people preparing for future winter storms. About half the ppl in our area were without electricity for 2-5 days, & some still don’t have it. Hear of ppl camping out in their living room in front of the fireplace/ gas log fireplace, or woodstove. Or even spending nights in their heated cars.

    We here in the South don’t get nearly as much cold weather as ya’ll up north, but everything in this article applies to us whenever it does get cold.

    • I know the ice storms hit a lot of people in the south hard. I think this type of info is just as important for them as for those of us in the frozen tundra.

  6. Awesome post! Time to bring out our thermals, fleece lined jeans, leg warmers, jackets gloves, scarves, beanies and a good shoes with excellent grip for icy and slippery conditions. Also, we should be prepared for all conditions. Try to be prepared for all cold rain conditions, like rain or snow. Keep an umbrella and thick coat with you.

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