Information adapted from the National Weather Service

Cold weather?  In the Midwest? No way!

Some hazards come as a complete surprise, while other hazards you can anticipate happening every year.  While extreme cold weather can be quite the burden, and even deadly, these events are so regular that they are easy to plan for in advance.  Learning about the hazards associated with cold weather is the first important step in developing a safety plan that you can implement every winter.

Brr… It’s Cold in Here

While snow-related hazards are definitely a concern, long exposure to cold temperatures are a hazard within itself and are a risk with or without accompanying snow.  One of the most major risks is hypothermia.  Hypothermia is a condition when the body’s internal temperature reaches below 96 degrees.  Once the body reaches lower temperatures, one might experience sluggishness, confusion, and eventual loss of consciousness. Certain medications and conditions can make the body more vulnerable to hypothermia, and seniors have the highest risk of death due to the condition.

Hypothermia is more likely to occur during long periods of exposure to cold temperatures.  With enough time, it can even happen in temperatures as high as 60 degrees!  That being said, the best way to prevent hypothermia is limiting exposure to the cold.  Frequent indoor breaks during outdoor activities, such as when shoveling snow, will help warm the body up.  Wearing layers is also important: having multiple layers will allow you to wear exactly as much as you need to stay warm, and take off layers if you start to sweat (the moisture will cool you down and make it worse!).  Hypothermia can be very dangerous, but fortunately also very preventable.

When Pipes become Popsicles

Another possible risk during extreme cold is frozen water pipes. Frozen pipes can lead to massive damage when the frozen water expands, putting pressure on the pipe and rupturing.  According to the University of Illinois, pipes are typically in danger once they reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit, quite a bit past the freezing temperature of 32 degrees.  Wind chill will also increase the likelihood of complications and ruptures.

There are a few preventative measures you can take before and during cold weather to prevent ruptured pipes.  First, minimize any exposure to the cold by insulating pipes and keeping exterior doors (such as garage doors) closed.  In a pinch, duct tape and newspaper can act as insulation until more permanent insulation can be installed.  It’s also important that temperatures are not just warm, but consistent; it may be tempting to lower the thermostat while away or at night, but a consistent temperature above 55 degrees is healthier for your pipes.  Lastly, keeping the faucet slightly running will allow any melting ice to drip out, preventing extra build up that can lead to a burst.

More information and plumbing tips can be found at this handy resource.

Snowy Road Troubles

With any snow there is the risk of slippery roads and accidents.  Nearly 2000 people die every year due to icy road accidents.  Of course the best prevention is to check the weather and look out for emergency alerts (such as the ones sent via McDonough Community Alerts), avoiding being on the road in inclement weather.  That’s not always possible, so if you do need to be out on the road, planning in advance can prevent worsening an accident with a case of hypothermia.  Winter car kits were covered in this previous post, but in short they consist of first aid kits, blankets, water and snacks, and any other resources that would be handy if stranded.  In order to prevent hypothermia, it is very important to not leave a stuck car unless absolutely necessary.  Many preventable deaths due to hypothermia are from trying to walk to get help instead of waiting and calling from a warm location.  Always travel with a full tank and a phone charger in case you need to wait for help for an extended period of time.

As the temperature reaches single digits here in McDonough County, these tips will help prevent burdensome weather from turning into a tragedy.  We can’t stop winter from coming, but we can brace ourselves from the worst of its impact.

-Stay Safe McDonough County!