Header image: December 11th, 12:19PM Sky Camera image from the Gibraltar School District WeatherSTEM unit in Wayne County, Michigan.
If you’re humming the tune of a popular Christmas carol right now, you’re not alone. As many of us prepare for the holidays, a formidable cold snap is consuming most of the northern half of the country over the next few days. For many of our more southern WeatherSTEM users, you may luck out this time, but a true taste of winter is right around the corner.
Emergency managers and safety professionals preach the “5 P’s of Cold Weather Safety”. Over the next few blogs, we’ll break down each safety tip into further detail.
1. PROTECT PEOPLE:
Naturally, the first thing we think of when we hear the word “winter” is “Cold!” Certainly a drop in temperatures is a clear hallmark that winter has arrived. Of course, how cold it gets is relative to your location. For our more northern sites to see low or even high temperatures below freezing, into the single digits, and even below zero is the norm. For our Florida users, this may mean high temperatures in the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s. Don’t laugh, Northerners; this is serious.
Sure, while it may not get to be below freezing or even below zero in the South like our stations closer to the North Pole, it can still be life threatening. Why? Simply put, many Southerners are not equipped for the cold. Homes may not be built with the same levels of insulation and weather-proofing. Believe it or not, some homes might not even have heaters. Unfortunately, this often coincides with residents who are in poverty, elderly or ill. These populations may not have the resources they need to protect themselves and can be particularly susceptible to problems.
Learn More: CDC – Hypothermia
The primarily health risk from cold temperatures is hypothermia. Hypothermia is a medical emergency when your body is losing more heat than it can create. When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system, and other organs cannot work properly. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to heart and respiratory failure, causing death.
For this reason, many jurisdictions throughout Florida and the Deep South will open “cold night shelters” to accommodate residents who need a warm place to stay. The forecast temperature required to trigger a shelter opening varies by location but can range from overnight lows of 30 to 50 degrees or less.
Learn More: 19 Easy Ways to Winterize Your Home (credit: Popular Mechanics)
The National Weather Service does issue a few temperature-related products for severe conditions (Frost Advisories, Freeze Watch/Warning, Hard Freeze Watch/Warning, Wind Chill Advisory/Warning). The thresholds for these products vary by location. Consult your local Weather Forecast Office for specifics to your area. However, it is incumbent upon local officials and individuals to recognize when cold temperatures above those temperatures will pose a threat. Paying close attention to the daily and weekly forecast is important to stay aware of what’s coming ahead.
Learn More: National Weather Service – Cold Weather
In addition to keeping an eye on the thermometer, anyone venturing outside also needs to keep an eye on the wind speeds. We call this “wind chill”. Wind chill is more than just a measure of what it “feels like” to you. When unprotected, your skin is feeling the effects of the radiant cooling of the cold air, but also the evaporative cooling caused by the wind. This tag-team attack can result in actual freezing of your skin, called “frostbite”. This can permanently damage your skin. If severe enough, loss of fingers, toes, and other extremities is possible.
WeatherSTEM Lesson: Wind Chill
Learn More: CDC – Frostbite
So, how do we protect ourselves? First of all, if you don’t need to head outside, stay inside where it’s nice where it’s nice and warm. Secondly, wear appropriate warm clothing for the conditions you’re going to encounter. If extreme cold, be sure to cover up all exposed skin. Consider dressing in layers as opposed to just one large piece of clothing. That way, if you start getting to warm due to physical activity, you can simply remove a layer or two. Make sure you always have a plan to seek warmth, whether indoors or inside a vehicle, in case you start getting chilled. By all means, avoid getting wet. Wet clothing will rapidly make hypothermia much worse.
How to use WeatherSTEM to keep you and your family safe and warm:
- Plan ahead with temperature, wind, and wind chill forecasts from your favorite WeatherSTEM site.
- Set up Personalized Notifications with your WeatherSTEM account (Get a log in, it’s FREE!) to alert you on your preferred device when temperatures or wind chill values reach desired trigger levels. Learn: App Personalization
- Download the WeatherSTEM app to lookup current conditions at your favorite WeatherSTEM site. Note that WeatherSTEM automatically calculates Wind Chill for you on our station websites and in the mobile app.
- Watch more Lessons in our Learn library about cold weather science and safety.