Winter safety tips while out in the cold

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Extreme cold can take its toll during the winter months. The National Weather Service reminds people to be prepared if they have to venture outdoors.

The NWS says extremely cold air comes every winter in at least part of the country. This, combined with brisk winds, can cause dangerously cold wind chills.

Extreme cold can lead to frostbite and hypothermia If people are caught unprepared. To prepare for the cold, the NWS says people should:

  • check the forecast to know when to expect cold weather
  • adjust their schedule if possible to stay out of the cold
  • make sure pets have plenty of food and are not overly exposed to extreme cold
  • Fill up the tank in the car to make sure they can stay warm if stranded
  • Take precautions to make sure their water pipes don’t freeze
  • Dress for the outdoors even if they don’t expect to be out much
  • update their winter survival kit for their home and car.

During the cold, the NWS says people should be on the lookout for frostbite and hypothermia by knowing the signs to look out for.

Frostbite can happen within minutes. If people suspect frostbite, they should head to a heated location and begin warming up using warm water or body heat, seeking medical attention for severe frostbite. Indicators for frostbite include

  • First degree: Ice crystals are forming on your skin.
  • Second degree: Skin begins to feel warm even though it is not yet defrosted.
  • Third degree: Skin turns red, pale or white.
  • Fourth degree: Pain lasts for more than a few hours and skin may develop dark blue or black. See a doctor immediately if these symptoms arise. Gangrene is a real threat.

Hypothermia can happen even in temperatures as warm as 60° F, particularly in water if outside for a long time not dressed for the weather. The NWS says hypothermia kills about 1,300 people every year. To prevent hypothermia, the NWS suggests the following tips:

  • Dress in layers.
  • Wrap up well when going outside in the cold.
  • Avoid breezes and drafts indoors.
  • Eat nutritious food and wear warm clothes to ward off winter chill.
  • Wear a warm hat in the winter.
  • Eat hot foods and drink warm drinks several times during the day.
  • If you live alone, ask a family member or neighbor to check on you daily or have a camera installed that a family member can view on their computer.
  • Ask your doctor if any medicine you’re taking increases your risk of hypothermia. Drugs that may cause a problem include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, chlorpromazine, reserpine, and tricyclic antidepressants.

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