Make cold weather safety a priority
Cold weather can be just as dangerous on land as it is on water. Take precautions and make cold weather safety a priority this winter.
Pay attention to the weather. Just like during boating season, knowing the forecast could save your life by giving you a chance to prepare for cold weather or, better yet, avoid it altogether.
Damp cold vs. dry cold
Don’t just pay attention to the ambient temperature; pay attention to the wind and water as well. The wind magnifies cold temperatures, windchill can kill, and a dry cold feels far more tolerable than a damp cold.
Located so far inland, Fairbanks, Alaska, has no large body of water nearby to moderate the temperature. It’s dry with not much wind. This makes the cold in Fairbanks surprisingly tolerable even down to 20 or 30 degrees below zero. On the other hand, in Bethel, Alaska, the effects of the Bering Sea produce strong winds across the tundra and 20 degrees Fahrenheit can be downright dangerous with a 20- to 30-knot breeze. Frostbite and hypothermia are common there. Louisiana’s high humidity makes temperatures above freezing dangerously cold.
Know what to wear for cold weather safety
Dress in layers. Avoid moisture from sweat and rain, which can be a killer in cold weather. Avoid sweating at all costs. Dressing in layers allows you to shed clothes when you are active and put them on when you are at rest. Wear a base layer designed to wick moisture away from your skin. A middle layer should provide insulation. The outer layer should be water- and wind-proof to keep deadly rain and wind chills off your skin.
Wear a hat. You lose a tremendous amount of heat through your head, face and neck. Cover your skin with a face mask, goggles, socks and mittens (better than gloves). Exposed skin is far more likely to freeze and result in frostbite.
As your body tries to conserve heat, it will shunt circulation from your extremities to your core. Garments with sleeves are far more effective than vests at keeping the core warm.
Cover your mouth and nose to minimize breathing painfully cold air into your lungs. A neck tube or gaiter is far safer than a scarf. The loose end of a scarf is a strangulation hazard if it gets caught on a ski lift, a car door, or in an escalator’s rubber railing.
Additional cold weather safety precautions
Keep your house between 65 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and wear enough clothes to keep you warm while at home. Be sure to eat enough food so that your body can produce the energy it needs to provide warmth. Winter is not the time to diet. Your body needs available calories to produce energy.
Ask your doctor if your medications may make you more susceptible to cold injury, and check on your elderly family members and friends frequently to be sure they are safe during the winter months. –Jeff Short, M.D.
This article first appeared in Anchor Watch, the newsletter of Annapolis Sail & Power Squadron/5.