Stay Safe in the Extreme Cold

You'd think I'd be prepared for this type of weather after living in the frozen tundra of upstate New York for four years. But on this bitter cold morning, not even my multiple layers, gloves, hat, scarves (yes, plural), and down jacket that falls below my knees could keep me from forgoing my 5 minute walk to the subway and beelining for the first cab in sight.

Here, in New York City, we're experiencing a bit of the painful cold front that has been making its way across the country, causing temperatures to plummet into the negatives, schools and offices to close, and families to stay cooped up at home. More than just a nuisance, this type of extreme weather can be very dangerous without the proper precautions and bundling. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help you and your family stay warm, but most importantly, safe, when temps drop far below freezing.

1. Take wind chill into account. The wind chill is the temperature your body feels outside when the air temperature is combined with the wind. (For example, even though my trusty IPhone tells me it's now 9 degrees Fahrenheit, it happens to feel like -4 with the wind chill factor. Awesome.) Keep in mind that it may be even colder than the temperature you read, so prepare accordingly.

2. Dress in layers. Seems like it goes without saying, but there is actually a right way to pile everything on. The CDC suggests making sure inner layers are light and loose fitting, and preferably made of wool, silk, or polypropylene, since those materials hold more body heat than cotton. Ideally, the outer layer of clothing should be tightly woven and water resistant. Also, keep in mind that your child generally needs to be wearing one more layer than you since kids lose body heat faster than adults, according to the AAP.

3. Focus on the head, hands, and feet. Those other layers are important too, of course, but the head, hands, and feet are number one priority since this is where the most heat is lost. A hat, scarf or mask to cover the face, mittens – which happen to be warmer than gloves – and water-resistant boots are all a must.

4. Limit outdoor activity. Some experts advise that kids should stay in when wind chills fall below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter how bundled or excited they are to play in the snow. Try to make necessary trips outdoors as brief as possible and avoid exertion since cold weather creates more work for the heart to keep the body warm. Put shoveling or outdoor activities on hold in extreme weather, and if there's no getting around it, dress as warmly as possible and work slowly.

5. Beware of frostbite. Any exposed areas of the body are at risk of getting frostbite, which can cause permanent damage and amputation in serious cases. If you see skin that has turned grayish-yellow and feels unusually firm or waxy, or has gone numb, seek medical care right away. If you're unable to, the CDC recommends getting into a warm room as soon as possible and soaking the affected area in warm (not hot) water, or using body heat to warm it. Avoid artificial sources of warmth, such as heating pads, fireplaces, or stoves, and do not rub or put pressure on the area since that can cause more damage.

6. Pack dry clothing. Send your child to school with extra clothes if it's wet or snowy out so he can get out of damp layers and warm up quickly.

7. Make an emergency survival kit. You can find a full list of ways to prepare your home for extreme winter weather, here, but you should also have a few essentials on hand. Create an emergency survival kit stocked with foods that don't need to be cooked or refrigerated (crackers, canned goods, dried fruits, etc.), baby formula if you have a little one, water in case the pipes freeze (5 gallons per person), and any necessary medications.

8. Conserve heat. Cut down on drafts inside your home to keep in as much heat as possible. The CDC recommends closing off unused rooms, stuffing towels under doors, closing draperies, and covering windows with sheets or blankets at night to help insulate the house.

9. Prepare your car. Keep the gas tank close to full to help prevent ice from forming in the tank and fuel lines. And, if you haven't already, check the antifreeze level and battery, replace windshield-wiper fluid with a mixture appropriate for winter, change worn tires, and check air pressure. Don't forget about keeping an emergency survival kit in the trunk in case you're ever stuck in cold weather.

Stay warm, everyone!

Image: Family warming feet by the fireplace via Shutterstock

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