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Serving the Susquehanna Region

Cold Temperatures, Wind Chill, Frostbite, and Hypothermia: A Little Preparation Can Go a Long Way

by UPMC Susquehanna

tony Tony Bixby,
Director of Prehospital Services,
UPMC Susquehanna
Cold weather comes with winters in Pennsylvania. It’s important to remember that a little preparation can go a long way to keep you safe and warm when the temperatures plummet.
Listen to Your Body
When the weather turns cold, it’s important that you listen to your body when exposed to the cold. Our bodies are designed to regulate our temperature and when it gets too hot or too cold, the brain sends signals to the body to get it back to a healthy temperature. The most common signals from our brains are shivering, goose bumps, the urge to curl up or hug our body, and change or loss of color of the skin (pale, red, or blue).
Dress in Layers
Dress in layers and cover your head. When heading outdoors in the cold, it is important to be prepared for changing conditions. Being out in the elements unexpectedly, or underdressed and underprepared can put you at a greater risk for developing hypothermia or frostbite. But even when under cover or inside a car, hypothermia can still develop.
When outside in the elements, hypothermia and frostbite can be avoided by wearing loose fitting, light-weight layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, insulated socks and water-repellant shoes. Layering makes adapting to changing conditions and activity levels easier. Proper layering allows you to remove or add insulation so that you never get too cold or too hot preventing excessive sweating, which can cause additional heat loss, especially when you slow down, expose your skin, or stop to rest. Base layers should be light-weight, form fitting, and composed of materials that will wick moisture from the skin (polyester, merino wool, silk). External layers should have insulating properties (down, wool, and fleece) and provide protection from the elements (waterproofing, wind-breaking).
Mind the Temperature and Wind Chill
Wind chill, as defined by, is how cold it actually feels on your skin when the wind is factored into the temperature and forecast. Meteorologists refer to this as the “feels-like” temperature. A surface loses heat three ways: conduction, convection, and radiation. Wind chill affects the body through convection, or the movement of air around the body. The wind strips away the thin layer of warm air above your skin. The stronger the wind, the more heat lost from your body, and the colder it will feel. When the winds are light, it will feel closer to the actual air temperature.
The “feels-like” conditions are what you should prepare for when heading outdoors, taking weather alerts (frost advisories, wind chill advisories, etc.) and their warnings seriously as frostbite and hypothermia can rapidly occur in some conditions.
Have an Emergency Kit
It is also important to make sure you have an emergency kit prepared and ready in your vehicle or carry extra kit items with you in a backpack if possible. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommends that the vehicle kit contain the following items: a flashlight and batteries, a battery-operated radio, jumper cables, an extra cellphone and charger, a snow shovel, matches and candles, first aid supplies, extra warm clothing and gloves, a blanket, ice scraper, bottled water, non-perishable food, and anything else you may need to accommodate family traveling with you (special medication, baby supplies, pet food, etc.).
If you are not using a car or vehicle when outdoors, consider taking along first aid supplies, extra warm clothing and gloves, a small blanket, bottled water, non-perishable food, and additional special medication, baby supplies, etc. just in case you become stranded.