By Clellie Allen
IT’S BEEN A WHILE since we’ve had a wind chill advisory here in the central part of the state. But we have one scheduled from about midnight tonight through noon tomorrow (Tuesday).
A wind chill advisory is a little more serious than just saying, “Gee, it’s going to be really cold and if you’re having to walk facing the wind, you’re going to hate life.”
Wind chill advisories are issued when the wind chill (the effect of the cold plus wind together) is low enough that it becomes potentially hazardous. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the particulars vary from state to state.
For example, to get a wind chill advisory in Grand Forks, N.D., the wind chill has to be -25˚ F or lower for more than one hour. In Miami, the wind chill only needs to be +35˚ F for at least three hours.
The NWS has a cool (pun intended) windchill calculator at nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill/index.shtml. By it’s tabulation, based on forecasted temps/winds, of 29ºF with a 19-mile-per-hour wind by 8 p.m. tonight, the wind chill will be 16ºF.
By midnight, the temperature should be about 21ºF with 18-mph winds. That’s a windchill of 6ºF.
It gets better.
By 7 a.m., some forecasts have the temperature falling to a low of 9ºF with winds at 10 mph. That’s a wind chill of -5º. And that’s in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Regardless of where you’re used to living, that’s just plain cold.
What’s the danger?
Wind chill is serious because heat is carried away faster from the skin, driving down body temperature. This can lead to frostbite or hypothermia (low body temperature)
Warning signs of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.
To determine if hypothermia is affecting someone, take the person’s body temperature. If it is below 95°F (35°C), get immediate medical help.
Frostbite or frostnip can happen with or without hypothermia and usually affects more exposed areas like fingers, toes, nose, ears, checks and chin. If your skin is feeling numb, then you might not know frostbite is happening.
Frostnip is the first stage of frostbite. The skin turns bright red and feels very cold. Prickling and numbness can take place. When you get back into warmth, the area may feel painful and tingle. Frostnip does not cause permanent damage.
Frostbite, however, can quickly follow frostnip and is a medical emergency. It is a lot like getting a second or third degree burn, except from cold. Skin and tissue are killed in frostbite.
At first, the skin will go from red to white or very pale. The skin may remain soft, but ice crystals begin to form in the tissue. The area may actually feel warm to touch. This is a bad sign. If warmed or thawed at this stage, the skin may appear blue or purple and mottled. Fluid-filled blisters may form within 1-2 days.
If untreated, the freezing will continue through all layers of the skin and into the muscle or other tissue below. Complete numbness can set in. Joints and muscles can stop working. Large blisters will form after the tissue is warmed back up and turn black as the tissue is actually dead. There are some really gross photos available on the Internet — a brief search will convince you of how serious this medical condition is.
Gradually warming of exposed areas is key to treating both frostnip and frostbite. The old wives tale of rubbing the area with snow is absolutely the wrong thing to do.
The best response is to first get out of the cold. If just frostnip is suspected, put affected areas in warm, never hot, water and allow to slowly warm up. Tingling and burning sensations should be expected to gradually diminish. Don’t use direct heat like a heating pad or hold area near a stove or fire as burns can happen.
If frostbite is suspected, get emergency medical care. If blisters form later where frostnip was observed, seek medical attention as well.
Layers, layers, layers
Some obvious points in dressing for brutally cold weather are to stay warm and dry. Layering clothes is essential. Think three layers: underwear, insulation and outer shell.
Underwear: Provides basic insulation and moves moisture away from skin. Long underwear, or thin, snug-fitting pants with a long-sleeved T-shirt or turtleneck are some choices.
Insulation: Use one or more layers, depending on conditions. Sweaters, sweatshirts and other similar garments are good insulators.
Outer Shell: Choose garments that are windproof, and preferably waterproof, such as those made of coated nylon or polyester. Many shells, such as ski-style jackets or parkas, combine the outer and insulating layers. A good fit is crucial. If the shell is too big, heat loss can occur rapidly. If it is too small, you may not have enough room for insulating layers.
Plan from head to toe. Wear a hat, which can save half your body heat loss. If needed, wear layers of pants to keep your legs warm. Gloves, and especially mittens, with warm socks help protect fingers and toes.
Back up heating
As most of us were warmly ensconced in our offices or homes this morning, more than 1,000 Duke Energy Progress customers in Raleigh were without power for about three hours.
We’ll be honest — we have no idea how long it takes for the average home to drop in temperature during a power outage. There are so many variables — type of house, level of insulation, number of windows, foundation type, etc. Some of us have lived in a trailer, including during the massive ice storms and power outages of 2006. We can at least say those types of homes get cold really quickly. And we mean quickly.
Possessing a safe, second source of heat is vital in the winter, more so if you live in a home that rapidly loses heat if the main source is lost.
Methods of heating that are not safe, under any circumstance, include:
•Ovens: Lighting a gas oven and leaving the door open can lead to fire or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
•Grills: Lighting a grill of any kind inside is deadly dangerous because of CO poisoning.
•Boiling water: Yes, folks have tried to heat homes by boiling water. It doesn’t really work and if you let the pot boil dry, you can start a fire.
•Inside fires, not in a fire place: Without adequate ventilation through a chimney, fires can lead to CO build up.
•Sitting in a car with heat running: Getting in a car and running the heat can be extremely dangerous if anything occludes the exhaust pipe or it is done in an enclosed area like a garage. CO will quickly build up. It would be better to drive to a friend’s house or shelter than sit in a running car.
Potentially dangerous ways to heat a home include:
•Space heaters: While space heaters can be used safely, they are one of the most common causes of house fires in winter months because people put them too close to materials that can catch fire. Also, folks often use extension cords which can overheat themselves and cause a fire.
•Kerosene heaters: when kerosene heaters are well-maintained and well-placed, they have the ability to be a solid source of home heat. However, rusted heat exchangers can lead to carbon monoxide off-gassing. You should never sleep in the same room with an unvented gas or kerosene heater. Also, kids running around kerosene heaters is dangerous as is putting the heater near combustible materials. And if the heater is ever filled with something other than approved kerosene, an explosion and fire are the likely outcomes.
•Generators: Using generators for backup power is a great idea unless you place the generator in a garage or too near a heat pump unit where the CO can get sucked into the house ventilation system.
•Unvented gas fireplace: If the gas fireplace in your home is really for decorative purposes, then it could be dangerous to operate for longer than about four hours.
What is carbon monoxide and what to do if exposed
The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu but without the fever. They include, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, disorientation, and eventually loss of consciousness.
In more technical terms, CO bonds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells, preventing them from carrying oxygen throughout the body. It’s like slowly smothering to death.
Because CO is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that is quickly absorbed by the body and the symptoms often resemble other illnesses, it is often known as the “silent killer.”
If you or a family member experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances (don’t forget gas hot water heaters!), and leave the house. Call 911. Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning.
If CO poisoning has occurred, it often can be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure. CO poisoning is always an emergency. Even mild exposure should be evaluated by medical professionals.
•NC Cooperative Extension
•Colorado State University Extension
•National Weather Service
•NC Emergency Management
•Cumberland County Emergency Management