Unless you live in the tropics, winter is likely to bring uncertain weather, including bone-chilling temperatures, severe winds, freezing rain and significant snowfall. Needless to say, such conditions are not much fun under the best of circumstances. If there is no power and no heat, the effects of winter are magnified, especially for those that have failed to prepare for extreme weather events.
Being prepared for winter weather conditions is not rocket science and there is much you can do to insure the safety of your home and family during the winter storm season. Having an alternate heat source is a good start as is plenty of warm blankets and clothing. Even with these precautions. it is still likely that the cold will get to you, especially if you have to spend time outdoors clearing debris, shoveling snow, or simply walking your dog.
Hypothermia can be deadly so the more we know about it the better. Of course educating yourself regarding the effects of extremely cold weather on the human body is an important step to take before the icy cold weather sets in. That said, it is never to late to become informed, even if you are currently in the midst of a snow storm of blizzard.
Today it is my pleasure to share an article written by Joe Alton, M.D., who, with his wife Amy, share their extensive medical knowledge at their Doom and Bloom website. As licensed health care practitioners, when they have something to say about survival medicine, I listen.
I Live in a Warm Climate – Why Do I Need to Learn This Stuff?
If you think that hypothermia and cold weather preparedness is someone else’s problem, think again. I asked Joe the following question:
Gaye: I understand the dangers of hypothermia for those that live in colder climates. But what about everyone else? Why should they pay attention and be concerned as well?
Joe: Few people realize that they are in danger of becoming hypothermic anytime a large percentage of their body’s surface area comes in contact with temperatures lower than the body core. If you fell off a boat in the Bahamas into 82 degree F water, you would eventually succumb to hypothermia if not rescued. You only have to drop to 95 degrees F to feel the effects of hypothermia.
Cold Weather Preparedness
It looks like another harsh winter, with ice storms and blizzards already carpeting much of the Midwest, Northeast and Canada, and cold weather preparedness is a must for survival. Failure to use precautions will lead to a condition called hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal body core temperature is defined as between 97.5-99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (36.0-37.5 degrees Celsius).
In your efforts to be medically self-reliant, one of the major factors that must be taken into consideration is your environment. If you haven’t prepared for the weather, you have made your environment your enemy, and it is a formidable one. The last ice storm caused 27 deaths, some of which were avoidable. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared to prevent death from exposure and to know how to treat someone who is hypothermic.
How Your Body Loses Heat
Your body has various methods it uses to control its internal “core” temperature, either raising it or lowering it to appropriate levels. The body “core“ refers to the major internal organ systems that are necessary to maintain life, such as your brain, heart, liver, and others.
In cold weather, your blood vessels constrict to conserve heat. Muscles “shiver” as a method of heat production. You can voluntarily increase heat by exertion; it is recommended to “keep moving” in cold environments for this reason. Part of the healthcare provider’s role is to educate each and every member of their family or group on proper planning for outdoor activities. Monitor weather conditions as well as the people you’re sending out in the heat or cold.
The body loses heat in various ways:
Evaporation – the body perspires (sweats), which releases heat from the core.
Radiation – the body loses heat to the environment anytime that the ambient (surrounding) temperature is below the core temperature (say, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). For example, you lose more heat if exposed to an outside temperature of 20 degrees F than if exposed to 80 degrees F.
Conduction – The body loses heat when its surface is in direct contact with cold temperatures, as in the case of someone falling from a boat into frigid water. Water, being denser than air, removes heat from the body much faster.
Convection – Heat loss where, for instance, a cooler object is in motion against the body core. The air next to the skin is heated and then removed, which requires the body to use energy to re-heat. Wind Chill is one example of air convection: If the ambient temperature is 32 degrees F but the wind chill factor is at 5 degrees F, you lose heat from your body as if it were actually 5 degrees F.
Most heat is lost from the head area, due to its large surface area and tendency to be uncovered. Direct contact with anything cold, especially over a large area of your body, will cause rapid cooling of your body core temperature. The classic example of this would be a fall into cold water. In the Titanic sinking of 1912, hundreds of people fell into near-freezing water. Within 15 minutes, they were probably beyond medical help.