RALEIGH — Shortly after noon Monday, Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency for the entirety of North Carolina in order to mobilize all the resources necessary to contend with both the anticipated snow and ice as well as the anticipated record-breaking cold.
By the time this paper goes to press, it will be too late to prepare for the extreme cold, as everyone will be hunkered down in the middle of it.
There are, however, important safety precautions to keep in mind. As McCrory pointed out in his press conference, as a rule more people die after a storm here in North Carolina, than in the middle of one.
A deceptive killer
Each year, dozens of Americans die due to exposure to cold. Add to that number, vehicle accidents and fatalities, fires due to dangerous use of heaters and other winter weather fatalities and you have a significant threat.
Threats, such as hypothermia and frostbite, can lead to loss of fingers and toes or cause permanent kidney, pancreas and liver injury and even death. People must prepare properly to avoid these extreme dangers. You also need to know what to do if you see symptoms of these threats.
People can become trapped at home or in a car, without utilities or other assistance. Even attempting to walk for help in a winter storm can be a deadly decision.
Exposure to cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and become life-threatening. Infants and elderly people are most susceptible.
What constitutes extreme cold varies in different parts of the country. In the South, near freezing temperatures are considered extreme cold. Pipes may freeze and burst in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat.
Wind chill is not the actual temperature but rather how wind and cold feel on exposed skin. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature.
Animals are also affected by wind chill; however, cars, plants and other objects are not.
Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20° Fahrenheit (F) will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately. If you must wait for help, slowly rewarm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.
Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. It can kill.
For those who survive, there are likely to be lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems.
Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.
Take the victim’s temperature. If below 95°F, seek medical care immediately. If medical care is not available, warm the person slowly, starting with the body core. Warming the arms and legs first drives cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.
If necessary, use your body heat to help. Get the person into dry clothing and wrap in a warm blanket covering the head and neck.
Do not give the sufferer alcohol, drugs, coffee or any hot beverage or food. Warm broth is the first food to offer.
Heat your home safely
If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these safety tips:
•Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
•Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
•Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
•Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use— don’t substitute.
•Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.
•Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
•Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
•Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
•Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
•If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
•Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
•Protect yourself from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by installing a battery-operated CO detector and never using generators, grills, camp stoves, or similar devices indoors. Light and Cook Safely If there is a power failure:
•Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles, if possible.
•Never leave lit candles unattended.
•Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors — the fumes are deadly. Never use an electric generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your house because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:
•Plug in appliances to the generator using individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords.
•Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet because of the risk of electrocution.
•Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite.
If you get stranded
Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered. These steps will increase your safety when stranded:
•Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers and raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing).
•Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
•Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
•Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
•Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe—this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
•As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
•Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature.
•Huddle with other people for warmth.
(The above recommendations come from the CDC’s Extreme Cold guide and A Preparedness Guide by the American Red Cross)