Winter is here – are you prepared for cold weather injuries and travel?

Thursday, December 03, 2015 by

( Being holed up in your cozy apartment or suburban home for the winter months, venturing out only when you need to go to work or hit up a retail or grocery store, is normal. Few humans really like extreme cold weather, and as it happens, as a species we’re not independently adaptable to it.

As such, it is necessary for us to protect ourselves from the harshness of winter where, in some parts of the country, the temps can dip well below zero and, aided by wind chill, remain there for days or weeks at a time.

But even in warmer parts of the country temperatures generally fall over the winter months to depths that, if you’re ever caught out in the open without a means of shielding yourself, could kill you.

That said, it’s important to be able to recognize and then treat cold weather injuries, and this primer aims to point you down the right path towards both preventative action and treatment should you or someone in your party be injured by cold weather.

Getting ready

Though it’s only early December, temperatures have already fallen to dangerous levels in many parts of the United States. So, perhaps the best way to prepare yourself for this dramatic temperature shift is by wearing the proper clothing. A heavy winter coat is a must, but you should augment your jacket with the following items:

— A set of heavy winter gloves

— Heavy socks that are moisture-wicking

— Stocking cap

— A good pair of rubber overshoes, to help keep your feet dry and warm (this is vital, as, in cold conditions, your feet can easily become frostbitten, causing you to lose toes and perhaps even risk a follow-on infection).

These items should be readily available to you at all times, meaning, if you have to travel at all for any reason (work, shopping, picking up kids, etc.) during harsh winter conditions you need to pack them in your vehicle. When you’re at home your car/truck will always be close so can leave them in your car if you want, retrieving them when you need them around the house.

Also, several layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing keeps heat in more so than one layer of heavy clothing. And here’s another prepper tip: Foot and hand warmers in your bugout kit.

Spotting hypothermia

Here is a great chart from Princeton University that discusses the physiology behind hypothermia. It also lists the environmental factors that contribute to cooling. Also, WebMD lists the most common signs and symptoms of hypothermia:

  • Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses (shivering is actually a good sign that a person’s heat regulation systems are still active. )
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Slurred or mumbled speech
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps
  • A slow, weak pulse

In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse.

Best treatment practices

Once you identify hypothermia it’s imperative you initiate some treatment quickly, so as to prevent loss of extremities or even death. If medical care is not readily available, WebMD suggests these treatments:

  • Remove any wet clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, and socks.
  • Protect the person against wind, drafts, and further heat loss with warm, dry clothes and blankets.
  • Move gently to a warm, dry shelter as soon as possible.
  • Begin rewarming the person with extra clothing. Use warm blankets. Other helpful items for warming are: an electric blanket to the torso area and hot packs and heating pad on the torso, armpits, neck, and groin; however, these can cause burns to the skin. Use your own body heat if nothing else is available.
  • Take the person’s temperature if a thermometer is available.
  • Offer warm liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which speed up heat loss. Don’t try to give fluids to an unconscious person.

In an emergency and once you find some decent shelter, hypothermic persons can also be rewarmed by you – that is, by removing much of your own clothing and wrapping up in a sleeping bag or blankets with the affected person. Don’t worry about modesty; you’re trying to save life and limb, literally.

Some winter travel tips

The Federal Emergency Management Agency makes these suggestions if, for any number of reasons, you find yourself forced to travel during a winter storm event and you become trapped in your vehicle (for which you should have a bugout kit already):

  • Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
  • Remain in your vehicle. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Understand that distances are distorted by blowing snow; a building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow (what are you currently doing to stay in shape?).
  • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • 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 keep lookout and ensure that everyone else is not in trouble.
  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat, and radio – with supply.
  • Leave the car and proceed on foot – if necessary – once the blizzard passes.

As always, these are tips and suggestions. You should keep an open mind and do additional research, as well as engage in personal training, to be as prepared as possible if SHTF during the winter months.

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