*Safety And Survival In Cold Weather*
27 February 2011
Cold weather is one of the most difficult environments for safety and survival. It is an adversary that can be as dangerous as any enemy1 . Venture into the cold and you are exposing yourself to one of the most challenging of environments. Utilizing adequate planning, thinking and appropriate equipment, you can overcome the elements. Cold decreases your ability to think and can compromise your will to do anything except to get warm. Cold is a sinister adversary; as it deadens the mind and body and it suppresses the will to survive.
Dress in the right layers. Dress in a fabric that will wick sweat away from your body and layer with something that is light weight and warm, such as wool or fleece. Wear an outer layer that is waterproof and windproof.
Cover your head, and everywhere else. Recent studies2 have debunked the myth that more heat is lost through the head than other parts of the body. Any exposed part of the body causes heat loss.
Protect your hands. Wear warm gloves or mittens at all times. Be sure the outer shell of your mittens or gloves is waterproof.
Keep feet warm and dry. The feet are a common area for frostbite. Wear warm socks made of a fabric such as polypropylene, which will prevent feet from getting wet with sweat. Be sure that your boots are waterproof.
Use warmers. Disposable toe and hand warmers can be placed in mittens, shoes, and pockets to contribute heat. Often cold exposure can be unexpected, but in situations where you can prepare; hunting trips, hiking or camping in the cold months they can be a useful and inexpensive way to help keep warm.
Cover your mouth. In extreme cold conditions, use a scarf or face mask to cover your mouth to warm the air before breathing it. Be especially mindful of this if breathing cold air causes chest pain or if you are prone to upper respiratory problems.
Keep clothing dry. Clothing that is damp or wet from perspiration or precipitation significantly increases body-heat loss.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration affects your body's ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. Fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. Avoid consuming alcohol or beverages containing caffeine, because these items are dehydrating.
Avoid Alcohol. Alcohol dilates blood vessels, which increases heat loss. Alcohol can also impair judgment and sensation, slowing or lowering the trigger telling you that your body is experiencing extreme cold. Do not consume alcohol or caffeine if experiencing frostbite or hypothermia, as both can worsen the condition.
Help Others. This kind of goes without saying, especially when talking about your own... but when you are cold, sometimes it's difficult to see beyond your own misery. You must remember to consciously consider the following: Infants, children and the elderly are at increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Check on vulnerable team members, relatives and neighbors to ensure they are adequately protected from the cold.
Be aware of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. As we all are well aware, cold weather can often lead to power outages. It is important to never use generators in your home, your basement or your garage as they could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Learn the warning signs of common cold-weather ailments:
Hypothermia - Prolonged exposure to cold means that heat will leave your body more quickly and can eventually use up your body's stored energy which results in hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Low body temperature affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Warnings signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. For infants, symptoms include bright red, cold skin and very low energy.
Frostbite - Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. It causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas and most commonly affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The first sign of frostbite is redness or pain in any skin area. If you experience this, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin. Additional symptoms include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. You can start warming the frostbitten parts using body heat, for example sticking it in a warm armpit, or submerging in warm (not hot!) water.
All of these conditions can take place in two types of cold weather environments - wet or dry.
In wet-cold weather environments, the characteristics are of freezing during the colder night hours and thawing during the day. Although the temperatures are warmer, the terrain is usually wet due to slush and mud. Concentrate on protecting yourself from the wet ground and from freezing rain or wet snow.
In dry-cold weather conditions, even though the temperatures are much lower than normal, you do not have to contend with freezing and thawing fluctuations. In these conditions, you need the layers of clothing discussed above but be prepared to protect yourself from temperatures as low as -20 degrees F. Conditions will be extremely hazardous when wind and low temperature combine.
The Wind-chill factor. Wind-chill increases your hazards in the cold. Wind-chill is the effect of moving air on exposed flesh. For instance, a 15-knot wind and a temperature of 14 degrees F, the equivalent wind-chill temperature is -9 degrees F.
Here is a good wind-chill factor chart3 for various temperatures and wind speeds.
Remember; stay warm, seek shelter, keep your family and your team warm. There is nothing comfortable about the cold, but it is survivable. Be safe.
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