Officials Warn of Dangers Leading Up to Arctic Blast

| January 29, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – With frigid temperatures approaching our area in the coming days, officials are warning of the health risks associated with extreme cold.

(PHOTO: A woman walks her dog during a winter storm in Pennsylvania. AP Photo/Matt Slocum.)

The National Weather Service of Pittsburgh has issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook stating that cold temperatures and wind are expected to create very cold wind chill values on Wednesday and Thursday. A Wind Chill Warning was issued early Tuesday morning.

According to Bill Modzelewski of the National Weather Service Pittsburgh, the temperature is expected to drop slightly below zero on Tuesday night and head even lower through Wednesday.

“On Wednesday, the high for the day should be between zero and five degrees, but it will be coldest on Wednesday night with a low forecast between negative ten and negative twelve degrees,” Modzelewski said.

“The wind chills Tuesday night are expected to be between negative ten and negative twenty degrees with wind chills down between negative twenty-five and negative thirty degrees Wednesday night.”

According to Modzelewski, this particular cold blast appears to be heading into dangerous territory.

“Anytime you get below twenty-five degrees below zero, that’s the criteria for a wind chill warning, and that’s where it gets pretty dangerous.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health notes that lower than normal temperatures and added wind of this severity can cause heat to leave a person’s body more quickly than normal, sometimes resulting in serious health problems.

The most common cold-related health risks are hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia most often occurs after exposure to very cold temperatures and affects a person’s brain, preventing them from thinking clearly or moving well. It is particularly dangerous because people often don’t realize what is happening and don’t do anything about it.

Those at the highest risk for these cold-associated health issues are the youngest and oldest of the population. Infants lose body heat more easily than adults and unlike adults and infants are unable to make enough body heat by shivering. Those over 65 years of age also often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), those subject to hypothermia are most often older people with too little clothing or heat, babies sleeping in cold rooms, children left unattended, adults under the influence of alcohol or drugs, individuals with emotional disabilities, and individuals who stay outdoors for longer periods of time.

Warning signs for hypothermia for adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. Warning signs in infants include cold bright red skin and a lack of energy.

If you notice any of these symptoms, the first recommended step is to take the person’s temperature. If the temperature registers below 95° F, the situation is an emergency, and the person needs immediate medical attention.

If medical attention is not available, the CDC recommends warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

An individual with severe hypothermia may become unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, the victim should be handled gently, will require immediate emergency assistance. Even in cases where the victim appears dead, the CDC states that CPR should be provided and should continue while the victim is being warmed until the victim responds or additional emergency medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who have appeared to be dead have still been successfully resuscitated.

Frostbite

Frostbite, a bodily injury caused by freezing which creates a loss of feeling and color in affected areas, most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and/or toes. Frostbite can do permanent damage to an individual’s body, and severe cases have been known to lead to amputation.

Individuals who have poor blood circulation and those who go out while not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures are the most often affected.

Indicators of frostbite include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness. According to the CDC, victims of frostbite are often unaware of what is occurring until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

It is recommended that people get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin at the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area.

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical attention. If medical attention is not immediately available, it is recommended that the victim get into a warm indoor area as soon as possible and immerse the affected area in warm, not hot, water. If warm water is unavailable, the affected area can be warmed using body heat, such as by placing frostbitten fingers in the armpit area.

The CDC recommends avoiding walking on frostbitten feet or toes, as it can increase the damage. Frostbitten areas should also not be rubbed or massaged, and should not be warmed using a radiator, stove, fireplace, heating pad, or heat lamp, and numbed areas can easily be burned.

While these steps may help prevent further damage, frostbite should always be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Prevention

The cold-related health risks of hypothermia and frostbite are best prevented by avoiding being outside during periods of extreme cold. If you must go outside, be certain not to stay out too long, dress warmly, stay dry, and pay attention to your body’s signals. Shivering is an important first signal that a person’s body is losing heat and a sign the person should return indoors soon.

Pets in the Cold

Humans aren’t the only ones in danger when the temperature and wind chills drop down well below zero. Pets can be in danger from the cold, as well.

According to Deputy Ryan Williams of the Venango County Sheriff’s Office, who also functions as a humane officer for Venango County, cold weather should always be taken seriously when it comes to the safety of animals.

“The law says that animals aren’t allowed to be tethered out for more than a half hour when the temperature is below 32 degrees,” Deputy Williams noted.

“You should also make sure animals stay well hydrated and have access to adequate shelter when they are outside for a period of time and don’t ever leave animals outside too long in the kind of bitterly cold weather that we have coming.”

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet. When frigid temperatures hit, dogs and cats should only be outdoors for very short periods of time with their owners’ supervision.


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