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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winter Safety

Winter is here and the weather has been pretty nasty in many parts of the country. With winter, come many health and safety challenges. These challenges include:

Cold related health problems, including frostbite and hypothermia
Household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning from space heaters and fireplaces
Unsafe driving conditions from icy roads
Power failures
Floods after snow and ice melt

I’ve seen on the news a number of times where people get trapped in their cars for long periods of time when heavy snow or a blizzard hits. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has some great tips to follow in case you get stuck. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, you should print out these tips and keep them in your car:

- Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.

- Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow.

- Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open an upwind window slightly for ventilation. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe.

- Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.

- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for res-cue crews.

- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.

- Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs - the use of lights, heat, and radio - with supply.

- Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.

- If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.

- Leave the car and proceed on foot - if necessary - once the blizzard passes

Source: http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/winter.shtm

(Check out the above link for more information on winter storms and extreme cold.)

When nasty winter weather arrives, you often hear all kinds of terms like sleet, freezing rain, snow showers, and snow squalls. Well, what do all those terms actually mean? For a great explanation of all kinds of winter weather terms, along with some great graphics, check out this link from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Severe Weather Primer: Questions and Answers about Winter Weather

Here’s a great winter weather tip from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Did you know that alcoholic or caffeinated beverages cause your body to lose heat more rapidly? To help maintain your body temperature in cold weather, drink warm, sweet beverages and broth, and eat a well-balanced diet.

For more great information from the CDC on winter weather, check out this link: Winter Weather

Another great resource from the CDC in a PDF is Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety


I wanted to provide a little information on hypothermia, since it is a potentially fatal condition that can happen in the winter. Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature. In cold weather, your body loses heat faster than it makes it, so it is important to be properly prepared when going out in the winter.

A person who is experiencing hypothermia may not realize it since it happens gradually and can cause confusion, sleepiness, and clumsiness. Anyone who spends much time outdoors in the winter can get hypothermia. You can also get it if you get wet when it’s cold or if you are in cold water too long.

When your body becomes too cold and hypothermia sets in (body temperature below 95) your heart, nervous system and other organs cannot work properly. If left untreated, it will lead to death.

Here are some symptoms of hypothermia:

- Shivering
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Stumbling
- Confusion or difficulty thinking
- Poor decision making, such as trying to remove warm clothes
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Apathy, or lack of concern about one's condition
- Progressive loss of consciousness
- Weak pulse
- Shallow breathing


Here are some tips from the CDC for the treatment of hypothermia:

If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

- Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.

- If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.

- Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.

- Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do NOT give alcoholic beverages.

- Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.

- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.

- Get medical attention as soon as possible.

For more information, check out this link: Winter Weather FAQ (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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