My freshman year in college, I moved across the country with my
California wardrobe (which did not include a coat). Much to the
amusement of my friends who had grown up in areas where temperatures
around 40 degrees Fahrenheit were not considered bone chilling,
I learned to cope and dress for the weather. Cold days did not lead
to cancelled classes. The ice storm that hit the morning of mid-terms
did not close the school. Who knew that people functioned under
I had a lot to learn. Where
to even start?
This past week, some parts
of the country have had to deal with real cold. Wind chills have
been closer to minus 40 degrees F. Schools and parents have had
to think about how to keep students safe.
"Schools closed, including
hundreds of districts and private schools in Massachusetts, where
some children had suffered frostbite symptoms and the authorities
feared that more would be stricken walking to school or waiting
for the bus....
"Worcester's superintendent, James Caradonio, said the district's
26,000 students either walk to school or take the bus, and weather
forecasters were saying that frostbite could occur in 10 minutes.
'There's a very slim margin of error,' he said. 'If you don't do
it right, you're frostbitten.'...
"One of the few districts that stayed open was Wayland, an
affluent suburb west of Boston...[the superintendent, Gary A. Burton]
said. 'It is New England, it is going to snow, it is going to get
cold. While we are concerned about the safety of children, we also
expect parents to know how to dress children so that they can go
out in the cold....'"
New York Times
Learning to dress for the
weather is one thing, but there was more to figuring out cold weather
than just getting (and wearing) a coat.
"WHAT IS WIND CHILL?"
"You wouldn't "take a shower, and then run out the front door
and around the block... Water evaporating off of your body cools
your skin. That's why you feel chilled when you step out of the
shower or bath. There is always a thin layer of perspiration on
your skin. The stronger the wind, the greater the evaporation of
sweat off of your face, hands, and toes, and the colder you feel.
A wind chill of -20° means that the wind is helping to move
heat away from your body at the same rate as if it were -20°
with no wind. For example, a snowmobiler moving along at sixty miles
per hour on a calm day has a 'wind' of sixty miles an hour and needs
to dress accordingly...."
It's no fun to be cold, but where does it cross the line from just
being annoying to becoming a health risk?
"THE PERILS OF WINTER
"Frost Nip The cold stops blood flow to your fingers,
toes, ears and nose. These extremities begin to tingle and hurt.
"Frost Bite This
is more serious than frost nip. When frost bite setsin, the pain
and tingling go away and tissue damage begins. Damage can be on
the surface or deep within. See a doctor right away for treatment....
The most severe winter injury. Hypothermia victims are freezing
to death and are either groggy or unconscious. Wrap the victim in
blankets immediately, and get to a hospital."
A little more about frostbite...
"Frostbite is an injury
to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss
of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the
nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently
damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation....
"note: A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone
else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb."
"When exposed to cold
temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be
produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.
Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim
unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly
dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won't
be able to do anything about it. Hypothermia occurs most commonly
at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool
temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain,
sweat, or submersion in cold water."
Visit the "extreme
cold Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)" for more information...
..And some would say that
this information is just a bit of what you need to know to exist
in the snow and cold. What about traveling? Driving? Skiing? Sledding?
Ice skating? Thin ice? Snow shoveling? More?
Questions of the Week:
What basic knowledge about safety in cold and snow should all people
have no matter where they live? What about someone who lives in
a place where cold weather is rarely, if ever, an issue? Why would
someone in a warm climate need this information? How do you need
to prepare and plan differently for snow versus severe cold and/or
wind chill? What do you need to know if your time in the snow and/or
cold involves basic daily activities? What if your day of winter
weather involves more than just walking to school or the bus stop?
Where can you find trustworthy information that will help you get
safely through your day of cold or snow--whatever your situation?
Please share ideas and
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum