Right now the United States is in the middle of brutal, record-shattering conditions. Cities around the Midwest are facing lows plummeting as low -60°F with wind chill factored in. Subzero lows across the United States are currently widespread, so literally just stepping outside is putting many people at high risk for injury.
The coldest recorded temps in the Chicago so far were -23°F at O'Hare International Airport and wind chill temps as low as -55°F in West Chicago. Parts of Iowa are getting hit with the most piercing coldfront in over two decades: temperatures of -60°F with windchill.
Things are actually starting to get surreal out there. A massive cloud of steam fog is rising above the Great Lakes, once moving rivers are freezing, and railroads are being set on fire just to get through the final days of January.
The Arctic blast in the midwest has already taken eight lives. Widespread news sources are advising that everyone facing the extreme cold stay indoors as much as possible. Now more than ever, it is especially important to make winter safety your priority.
Hypothermia and Even Frostbite?!
Hypothermia is a genuine concern whenever the winter cold exceeds freezing temperatures. When the core body temperature of a person decreases to 95°F that means hypothermia has begun to set in. It affects humans in three main stages:
Mild: Shivering and increased heart rate set in as an attempt to to preserve body heat. Mental confusion and clumsiness may also begin to surface.
Moderate: Amnesia/confusion, slurring of speech, lessened reflexes, and decreased dexterity become present.
Severe: This stage of hypothermia is most dangerous and worsens as internal body temps drop to 82 °F and below. Shivering stops as extreme cold sets in—inflamed skin, hallucinations, and lack of reflexes are present. Oddly enough, when humans are experiencing severe hypothermia paradoxical undressing is fairly common. This is a phenomenon of intense confusion where the exposed individual quite literally becomes exposed, removing their clothing having lost losing rational thinking.
When mild hypothermia sets in it’s important to bundle up and get indoors. Drinking warm liquids can also help get you back to a healthy temperature. Seeking medical attention well before severe hypothermia sets in is incredibly important; hypothermia is vicious and unforgiving.
Frostbite is another unusually relevant health concern for people in the U.S. right now. Most people in the U.S. aren’t used to facing frostbite-worthy conditions, but the recent Arctic blast means that exposed skin can be frostbitten within five minutes. Do not go outside without layering up and having proper warm clothing. Cover hands and face and be sure that you aren’t outdoors for long if winter clothing becomes wet.
Other Common Associated Injuries
Traveling in extreme weather is especially dangerous. Car crashes and slide-offs are drastically increased in the winter. Becoming stranded in the conditions blasting the Midwest could be a deadly mistake. When facing extreme conditions like sub zero temps the best option is simply to stay indoors and avoid travel.
It’s also important to be aware of safety hazard indoors during the glacial weather. Afterall, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time inside. Avoid using a kerosene heat source or any other inexpensive heaters. These heating solutions are much more likely to cause a fire. Also never use an oven as an indoor heat source, or anything else that can emit carbon monoxide into a living space.
Those Especially at Risk
Elderly, children, and homeless people are all much more prone to injury in harsh winter storms.
Be sure to help out elderly people clear snow from walkways whenever possible. Older people are much more susceptible to injury doing these basic tasks and can become hypothermic more rapidly.
Young children will want to play outside in the winter wonderland of snow, but do so sparingly. Kids can become moderately hypothermic without even realizing it, especially when they are so busy playing outdoors that they don’t realize just how cold they really are. Supervise children when they are outside. Don’t let them play for more than an hour at a time (even when properly bundled) without breaks to warm up indoors.
The homeless population needs help in these particularly frigid phases of winter. Over half a million people were sleeping outside on any given night this month. Those sleeping outdoors face many additional challenges and don’t have the luxury of warming up indoors. In order to help you can donate any extra warm clothing you may have, or buy warm drinks or meals to those in need. If you can’t do this and want to help, consider donating money to local homeless shelters.
While conditions may seem bleak in the midst of this Arctic blast, remember that spring is just around the corner. Stay warm and stay safe; we can make it through this!