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Be prepared! How to stay safe in this weekend’s winter storm

January 04, 2024

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Be prepared! How to stay safe in this weekend’s winter storm

With a winter storm in the forecast, take steps to ensure you’re safe, warm, and prepared, whether you work outside or just want to have some cold weather fun.

According to Dr. Creston Tate, medical director of WellSpan Urgent Care, it is important to check the weather, outside temperature, and wind chill before heading out. Using that information to decide when to shovel and what to wear can help prevent weather-related injuries. 

Dress for the conditions

If it’s cold outside, dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing. While hypothermia is most likely to occur at very cold temperatures, it can also occur at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from submersion in cold water, rain, or sweat. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.

Recognize the signs of hypothermia

  • Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, is a dangerous condition that can occur when you are exposed to extremely cold temperatures.
  • When this occurs, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to a lower body temperature.

  • Symptoms of hypothermia:

    • shivering
    • exhaustion
    • confusion
    • slurred speech
    • drowsiness

  • Seek immediate medical attention if your body temperature dips below 95 degrees.

Recognize the signs of frostbite

  • Frostbite is caused by freezing and leads to the loss of feeling and color in affected areas like extremities (the nose, ears cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes).
  • Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation (removing the affected body part).
  • People who are most at risk include those who have blood circulation and are not properly dressed for the cold temperatures

  • Signs of frostbite include:

    • Redness or pain in any skin area may indicate its onset.
    • A white or grayish-yellow skin area.
    • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.

  • What to do if you suspect frostbite:

    • Get out of the cold and into a warm setting immediately.
    • Try to keep from walking on feet or toes that show signs of frostbite.
    • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
    • Submerge the frostbitten areas in warm water (not hot).
    • If warm water is not available, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, you can use the heat of an armpit to warm frostbitten fingers.
    • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.
    • Seek medical attention.

“Cold related injuries are much more common than we can imagine. From dry and wet hypothermic injury to potentially permanent injury form frostbite,” Dr. Tate said.

Our bodies are able to compensate amazingly by internally shunting blood to vital organs when thermally stressed, but this allows for potential injury to other, more vulnerable areas, he explained.

Shovel with care

Choose a shovel with a small, plastic blade. A shovel with a plastic blade will weigh less than a shovel with a metal blade. A smaller-blade shovel will also limit you to small scoops.

Shoveling snow is a cardiovascular exercise that involves muscles in your legs, back, core, shoulders, and arms. At the same time, pushing a snow blower is also hard work.

When shoveling, lift with your legs and not with your back:

  • Bend at your knees.
  • Choke up on your shovel to keep blade as close to your body as possible.
  • Push up with your legs, not the upper body or back, to lift the load, and reduce strain on your back.
  • Do not twist your body.
  • For heavy snow, push the snow rather than lift or throw it.
  • Take breaks to catch your breath, stretch your arms and back, and stay hydrated.

“Pay attention to the warning signs, like loss of sensation, pain, color changes, shortness of breath, chest pain on exertion, or lightheadedness,” Dr. Tate added. “If these develop, stop, rest, and seek help if they are severe and/or don’t resolve in short order.”

If you do find you’ve overdone it, visit WellSpan.org/GetCareNow to find the right care, fast.