January 29, 2008
It's the middle of winter. For many, that means cold.
Sadly, this has led to some tragic stories.
January 21, 2008:
"Mary Labounty was found Sunday near her back door, said
John Sullivan, chief deputy coroner for LaPorte County.
Labounty's body was discovered by a friend who often took
her on errands, he said. It appeared she had been dead for
less than 24 hours, he said. Labounty apparently locked
herself out of her house and when she tried the latch on
the back door, it snapped, probably from the cold, and cut
her hand, Sullivan said. She then lay down next to her
golden retriever, likely in an effort to keep warm..."
Mary Labounty's nearest neighbor lived a mile away. She was
Just one day earlier, another death made headlines.
"The freezing weather sliding through Wisconsin can be
deadly, and it may have already claimed the life of one
woman from Cudahy. Kristine Colla, who was 54, was found
dead on her front steps on Saturday. The Milwaukee County
Medical Examiner's office says she was frozen to death, but
since her body was frozen, they'll have to wait a day or
two to perform an autopsy. Colla was found with no shoes on
and a lighter by her side."
That same week:
"The practice of turning off the heat to save on utility
bills apparently cost a Chicago area woman her life. The
frozen body of Stella Chambers, 61, of Michigan City was
discovered about 5 p.m. Monday under the covers in her bed,
according to LaPorte County Deputy Coroner Mark Huffman.
Police said Chambers had a hat and several layers of
clothing on. ... Some of the windows inside the residence
were iced over and the water in the toilet was frozen
solid, police said. Investigators discovered the pilot
light on her furnace was burning. However, the thermostat
was turned off. ... Huffman ruled hypothermia as the cause
of death from exposure to the bitter cold inside the
For those who don't live in parts of the country where high
temperatures can sit below freezing for weeks on end, these
stories may seem like they come from a far-off world where
cold rules and people really aught to be prepared for such
"Although hypothermia-related deaths are prevalent during
the winter in states that have moderately cold (e.g.,
Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania) to severely cold
(e.g., Alaska and North Dakota) winters and in states with
mountainous or desert terrain (e.g., Arizona, Montana, and
New Mexico), hypothermia-related deaths also occur in
states with milder climates (e.g., Georgia, Mississippi,
and South Carolina), where weather systems can cause rapid
changes in temperature."
While not everyone who lives in (or visits) a moderately to
severely cold climate is always prepared, those in milder
climates are often surprised that hypothermia can be an
issue where they are.
"[T]emperatures need not be at freezing, or even very low,
for hypothermia to occur. Most cases occur in air
temperatures of 30 to 50 degrees. But people can succumb to
overexposure even at 60 or 70 degrees. ... People are
warm-blooded animals that must generate their own body heat
and, unless something goes wrong, maintain a core
temperature of about 98 degrees. But when the body begins
to lose heat faster than it can be produced, the risk of
hypothermia sets in. Even a drop in core temperature of two
or three degrees can have devastating consequences."
While lower temperatures are a factor that can lead to
hypothermia, it is important to remember that it is just
"Three factors are major causal factors in hypothermia:
cold, water, and wind.
1) In a cold environment, the body must work harder to
regulate heat; contact with cold air, water, snow, ground
or clothing will cause heat losses due to conduction.
2) If a person is submersed in water, heat will be lost due
to conduction and convection. ... Loss of heat by
evaporation is a major contributor also. Wet skin or
clothing will cool of the body quickly, especially if it is
windy and/or cold.
3) Wind will cause heat loss due to convection, and will
accelerate heat loss due to evaporation.
4) Hypothermia occurs much more quickly in the elderly and
As temperatures drop, wind speeds pick up, or a cold rain
is added to the equation, it is important for people in all
parts of the country to be prepared.
"Before you or your children step out into cold air,
remember the advice that follows with the simple acronym
C for cover: Wear a hat or other protective covering to
prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and
neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves.
Mittens are more effective than gloves because mittens keep
your fingers in closer contact with one another.
O for overexertion: Avoid activities that would cause you
to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold
weather can give you chills.
L for layers: Wear loose fitting, layered, lightweight
clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven,
water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool,
silk or polypropylene inner layers hold more body heat than
D for dry: Stay as dry as possible. In the winter, pay
special attention to places where snow can enter, such as
in loose mittens or snow boots."
Preparing for the cold by dressing appropriately for the
weather is something many people take the time to do every
day. Many of those same people, however, have not taken a
few minutes on any one given day to put together an
emergency supply kit for their car.
"During cold-weather months, keep emergency supplies in
your car in case you get stranded. Supplies may include
several blankets, matches, candles and some foodstuffs,
such as granola bars or crackers. A cell phone also can
come in handy. If your car is stuck in a snowbank, be
careful about leaving the engine running, because
infiltration of carbon monoxide inside the car may pose a
Having necessary supplies in the car will make being
stranded more tolerable. It can also make it so that people
are less anxious to leave their car to find help or
supplies when it is not safe to do so.
"The first rule of survival when you become stuck and
stranded in your car is to STAY WITH THE CAR! The only time
you should dare to venture away from the vehicle is after
the storm has gone down and you can easily see an occupied
house. ... Soft snow is one of the most difficult materials
to walk in. A snow depth of more than 4 inches will cause a
person to walk in an unnatural, bent-over position. This
position, along with the effort of lifting the feet much
more than usual to clear the snow, will fatigue a person
very quickly. The cold and wind also accelerate the loss of
energy. Very quickly, the body cannot expend enough energy
to maintain strength and internal body heat. Hypothermia
develops quickly. The distance you can cover on a good day
is impossible while attempting to walk in a storm. It is
always better to stay in the vehicle where you are
protected from the wind and cold. It requires much less
energy consumption to stay with the car and minimize
activity. Many more storm survivors are found alive and
well in their car than are found walking around in the
snow, wind and cold. Those who leave their vehicle are
usually found frozen in a snowbank or draped over a fence,
dead. Stay in the car and survive!"
Questions of the Week:
What do you think are common misconceptions about
hypothermia? What do you and your peers need to know about
hypothermia where you live? In what ways would this
information be different (and in what ways the same) if you
were traveling to a different part of the country? How can
you prepare yourself on a daily (and on a seasonal) basis
to protect yourself against hypothermia?
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