Cold weather can lead to frostbite, hypothermia: What you need to know

Weather News

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – With “Old Man Winter” making early appearances in Siouxland throughout the fall season, it is important to know how to stay safe in bitter cold temperatures.

Winter is fast approaching in the Siouxland area and knowing how to stay safe in cold weather could even save lives.

As cooler temperatures move in, so do the precautions associated with cooler temperatures, like frostbite, windchills, snow, and more.

When temperatures drop, wind chill becomes more prominent, and frostbite becomes a concern.

The wind chill is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss from the human body resulting from the combined effect of low temperature and winds, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

The NWS states that as the winds increase, heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, decreasing both the skin and eventually internal body temperature.

The wind chill is also known as the “real feel” temperature outside.

According to the NWS, the Wind Chill Temperature (WCT) index uses advances in science, technology, and computer modeling to provide an accurate, understandable, and useful formula for calculating the dangers from winter winds and freezing temperatures.

Courtesy of the National Weather Service

The WCT index:

  • Calculates wind speed at an average height of five feet, which is the typical height of an adult human face, based on the readings from the national standard height of 33 feet, which is the typical height of an anemometer.
  • Is based on human face model.
  • Incorporates heat transfer theory based on heat loss from the body to its surroundings, during cold and breezy/windy days.
  • Uses a consistent standard for skin tissue resistance.
  • Assumes no impact from the sun (for example, a clear night sky).

To read the chart, all folks need to know are the wind speeds and temperatures. Once those are known, find the temperature along the top of the chart and the wind speed on the left side of the chart. Once the temperature and wind speed are found, see where they meet. Where they meet is what the projected wind chill would be.

For example, today’s afternoon high is looking to be around 32 degrees, with winds around 15 mph. Based on the WCT index, the wind chill this afternoon would be around 19 degrees. The low for tomorrow morning is projected to be about 14 degrees with winds around 10 mph, which gives a wind chill of 3 degrees.

With temperatures dipping and wind chill being taken into account, it is important to know the warning signs of frostbite and/or hypothermia.

Frostbite is the freezing of skin and the body tissue just beneath it, according to the NWS.

To minimize frostbite, folks should make sure all body parts are well covered.

Warning signs and symptoms of frostbite:

  • A white greyish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

According to the CDC, a person who has frostbite may not know they have it until someone else points it out because the frozen parts of their body are numb.

If any of these signs or symptoms are noticable, the CDC recommends:

  • Getting the person into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Do not walk on feet or toes that show signs of frostbite as that could increase the damage, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Put the areas affected in warm (not hot) water. The water should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected body parts).
  • If warm water is not available, warm the affected area by using body heat.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature and is the most common winter weather killer, according to the NWS.

Warnings and symptoms of hypothermia include:

In adults:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

In babies:

  • Bright, red, cold skin
  • Very low energy

If any of these signs or symptoms are noticable, the CDC recommends:

  • Get the person or baby into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove any wet clothing the person may be wearing.
  • Warm the center of the person’s body (chest, neck, head, and groin) using an electric blanket, if available. Skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets can also help.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.
  • Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.

The CDC also says that a person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. The CDC recommends handling the person gently and getting emergency assistance immediately.

If the person has a case of severe hypothermia, the CDC said to perform CPR, even if the person appears to be dead. CPR should continue until the person responds or medical aid becomes available. Keep warming the person while performing CPR, and in some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.


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